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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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Elvis would have been 80 years old today and the King himself had something of a penchant for pianos with history:
Elvis Presley’s beloved white Knabe grand piano, as featured in his music room at Graceland from 1957 to 1969
“This elegant musical instrument, so well-loved and played by Elvis, is presented with wonderful provenance back to the 1930s,” said Doug Norwine, Director of Music & Entertainment at Heritage, “not to mention that it was an emotionally-charged prized possession of the King himself.”
The Knabe piano, besides being owned by Elvis for more than a decade, is a storied set of keys that occupied the position as the house piano in Ellis Auditorium in Memphis, TN from the early 1930s through 1957, when Elvis himself bought it and had it refurbished in white. Not only is it an instrument that Elvis loved to play in his own home, it is also the very piano played by his favorite gospel performers at revivals that Elvis attended as a boy, during which, as an enthralled member of the audience, he surely must have dreamed of his own future stardom.
“During the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s, the stage at Ellis Auditorium was graced by the greatest local and national touring musical acts of the period including W. C. Handy, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and certainly many, many others,” said Norwine. “In 1957, this Knabe grand piano was sold during a remodeling project at the Ellis. He could have afforded any piano on the planet, but when Elvis heard this one was for sale, he didn’t hesitate.”
We can’t help you to buy this piano but we thought you should know about it as it is an important part of piano history and that’s something we all enjoy.
The king frequently had his picture taken at pianos but could he play ?
We called a few people in the know to find out and they said:
Yes he did, he learned as a child, he was not fantastic but he could ‘hold his own’.
There is a DVD of his last public performance floating around in cyberspace where he is playing a solo version of the Righteous Brother’s song “Unchained Melody”. He plays piano and sings, shortly after the video he Elvis Sadly died…. Or did he? 😉
About that chip shop in Peckham …
December 13th 2014 Auction Insight
Est: £14,000.00 – £18,000.00
A Steinway Model M in a mahogany satin case raised on square tapered legs. This piano was overhauled by Steinway in 1999 and sold at the Steinway convention of the following year. The work undertaken includes the piano being restrung, new hammers fitted, the action renovated and refinished casework.
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The dimensions and layout of your piano room will undoubtedly have an effect on the overall sound. Have you ever listened to a piano that is too powerful for the room it is in?
Not only can it be deafeningly loud but it will often result in a poor quality of sound. As a rule of thumb larger pianos are built for larger rooms, this is because they possess qualities and characteristics that best present themselves in larger spaces. The mighty sound of a double octave run in the lower end of a concert grand would be lost in a typical houseroom as there is insufficient space for the sound to develop and resonate.
Remember large pianos are designed to move large quantities of air & produce comparably large sound waves. To do this they need to be housed in an appropriate sized room.
What Is The Layout Of Your Room?
The height & shape of the ceiling are important factors to consider, depending on the ceiling the sound that resounds round the room can be different. For example consider speaking loudly in a cathedral and then in a flat ceilinged room, the difference is just as immense when considering a piano in relation to its surroundings. Consider the cladding of the walls whether covered in wood, plaster, thick wallpaper or acoustic tiles.
Lots of glass and shutters in a room can produce a hard & indistinct timbre whereas soft furnishings such as wall tapestries or draperies can be used to soften hard sounds.
One of the most neglected aspects of a room’s acoustics in relation to a piano is the floor. Is it bare wood, varnished, laminate or waxed? Maybe it is carpeted, the choice is myriad. With wooden floors the sound that is produced in the home can be very strong and overpowering, almost too harsh to be enjoyed. This can often be combated by placing a large rug under the piano to soften the sound.
These are some of the most basic factors that you should consider when designing the layout of your music room. However, having done all that is required you may still find the sound does not suit the room or the ears of the listener. This can be due to the quality of the hammers in the piano be they hard or soft.
A recent case in point which comes to mind was a medium size piano that was transported to a residential address. The sound that the instrument produced was so colossal & overpowering in the room that a technician had to be called in to ‘soften the blow’ by tuning, regulating & voicing the instrument.
To voice an instrument is a very specialised job and can involve either needling a hammers felts to alter its consistency or in extreme cases by doping or ironing the hammers to compact the felt and harden them, there by producing a brighter sound.
However please note that this process is not as simple as it sounds and if you believe your piano is in need of such attention then contact an experienced piano technician as it is a very delicate job
The list can be endless and very expensive if one becomes carried away with the latest trends of sound control. If you consider the above basic factors you will have a perfectly good music cave to hide out in!
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