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Daniel Barenboim reveals radical new piano design to the world and proclames that he has fallen in love with it. Conceived in 2011, the Barenboim piano has taken 18 months and 4,000 people hours of work to build – the piano has been compared to Steinway and may one day go into wider production
“I’ve fallen in love with it,” beamed Daniel Barenboim as he unveiled what he believes is a groundbreaking new piano, one which he conceived and commissioned, and has been dreaming about since 2011. “I want to spend as much time with it as possible.”
To a small audience of journalists, Barenboim played 30 seconds from the slow movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata on his traditional Steinway before playing the same notes on his new piano.
Some were thrilled by the difference. Others furrowed their brows at the similarity. What no one could disagree on was the maestro’s passion for his new instrument.
Barenboim declared it a “sound alternative”. One piano was not better than the other but: “There is a difference in the quality of the sound … it has more transparency, more clarity and by itself less blend but it gives you the opportunity to create a blend yourself as a player – and I like that.”
The exterior looks much the same as any other modern concert grand piano but inside there are some dramatic differences.
Designed by the Belgian instrument maker Chris Maene, the Barenboim has straight parallel strings instead of the diagonal-crossed ones of a contemporary piano. The wooden soundboard veins go in different directions. The bridges, ribs and bracings are specially-designed and the hammers and strings (yellow brass rather than red brass) have been repositioned.
All of this creates a piano which has a different sound and one which he has to play in a different way, he said. “It is a different relationship between the tip of the fingers and the key. And the peddling … the transparency of the sound makes you rethink the use of the pedals.”
Barenboim’s epiphany came in September 2011 when he visited Siena and got the opportunity to play on Franz Liszt’s restored grand piano. Struck by the difference in sound he began to dream of a brand new piano which combined the evenness of touch, stability and power of a modern instrument with the “transparent sound quality and distinguishable colour registers” of Liszt’s 200-year-old piano.
Almost all concert pianists today play a Steinway and even alternative makers base their instrument on the Steinway D, first built in 1884.
Its ubiquity is part of its strength, said Barenboim who has been happily playing one for 65 years. “The great advantage of Steinway is that over the years it has created an instrument that has enormous homogeneity. If you listen to some of the old pianos which still exist in recordings this homogeneity of the sound is quite obvious and wonderful.”
Barenboim approached Steinway to see if they could create his dream piano. They could not, but pointed him towards Maene who then stressed the need to have Steinway involved, not least because they would have to provide all the components.
“Let me make it very clear,” said Barenboim. “It is not a question that there was anything wrong with Steinway. What this provides is a sound alternative and as in everything in life, everything has advantages and disadvantages.”
As things stand, there are only two examples of the new piano, one for Barenboim, one for Maene.
It has taken 18 months and 4,000 people hours of work to build it and Maene is hopeful it may one day go into wider production. “I’m sure there will be a demand from artists who want something else.”
Next year he will be back, in what will be the 60th anniversary of his first appearance at the Royal Festival Hall aged just 13, performing both of Brahms’ piano concertos back to back.
In between the energetic 72-year-old will be at this summer’s Proms as a soloist and conductor of his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, consisting of young Arab, Israeli and European musicians.
Each time he will have his new piano. Even though he has only had the finished instrument for six weeks, his passion for it seems boundless.
But it was, he said, like falling in love with a new person. “You want to go with them everywhere … I want to play everything.”
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Is your piano in sound surroundings?
In order to keep your piano at its best you have to consider its surroundings. The environment in which the piano is positioned can have damaging effects if not monitored. Three of the largest and most common damaging effects are:
Below we explain the basics of what can happen if a piano is not cautioned against such conditions. A book could be written on each section, but for now here is an introduction to what to look out for and avoid.
Central heating is arguably the principal destructive element in modern living that pianos suffer from, especially older/traditional instruments. Central heating fast-tracks the natural tendency of wood to shrink and glue to deteriorate. If possible position your piano in a room that can be kept cool, or alternatively in a room that only has the central heating on its lowest setting. Extreme bursts of heat throughout the day will not be beneficial to any piano and will only reduce its lifespan.
We have all seen a piano with a faded case and sighed thinking how beautiful it must of once looked. Having your piano in direct sunlight is something to seriously avoid, not only will it damage the case of the instrument but it is a strong indication that the interior of the piano has been ‘baked’ to an extent and can cause major problems mechanically and structurally. The majority of traditional pianos were French polished, the chemicals used in French polish are nitrates and consequently light sensitive. Habitually a piano in direct sunlight will over time start to fade to a range of shades. Modern pianos have tackled this issue better and have used finishes that encompass an ultra violet resistance, but even so its not always successful.
Remember the difference between a damp room and a cold room! Cold will not cause detriment to a piano but damp will. When damp affects a piano, the results can be devastating. Usually the centre pins are the first victim, they corrode and seize. Replacement of the centre pins is very costly, damp will also cause the instruments strings to corrode. The treble strings almost have the ability to ‘go on forever’ and even if they have rust on them they will still be fairly responsive, however copper-wound bass strings will not last long.
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