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Topic: Krystian Zimerman's customized Steinway . . .  (Read 14855 times)

Offline malwambi

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Krystian Zimerman's customized Steinway . . .
on: March 02, 2012, 01:26:17 AM
Hello Piano Friends,

I've been listening to a lot of Zimerman's recordings lately. 

Mind.  Blown.

Anyway, I've been reading up about Zimerman as well to learn more about him, and I came across this article:

https://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/04/what-led-to-krystian-zimermans-surprising-performance-walkouts-.html

I learned that he transports his customized Steinway with him to every concert, and even re-assembles it himself by hand.  The article didn't discuss his customizations in depth apart from noting custom keys and hammers.  Anyway, a couple questions:

QUESTION 1:

I know that Horowitz did the same (taking his piano everywhere).  Why do you think pianists do this?  Does it really make that much of a difference whether it is your own Steinway or one of 10 that you get to choose from at the concert hall?  Or do you think they're just being prima donnas (and rightfully so)?  Do you think it is just that even minute differences are important to someone who plays at that level?

QUESTION 2:

Does anyone else know more about the specifics of his customization?  If so, what has he done?  How do you think it impacts his playing?

Thanks!

Offline quantum

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Re: Krystian Zimerman's customized Steinway . . .
Reply #1 on: March 02, 2012, 06:58:05 AM
A majority of musicians do carry their instruments with them.  Vocalists have no choice but to use the instrument that is within them.  For pianists, it is the norm that you expect to play whatever the venue has at hand.  As part of their craft, pianists must learn to deal with the differences between instruments, and adapt their music accordingly.  At times this quirk can be very rewarding as one can be granted access to exquisite pianos one would otherwise be unable to afford.  On the other side, it can also be downright frustrating when one is dealt a dilapidated instrument.  One should never assume that because the concert or recording session is to take place at an established venue that the pianos are in a decent state of repair.  Several of my teachers who have concertized and recorded have told me tales of beat up pianos in places where you would expect otherwise. 

Pianists are also of the disposition that the instrument on which they practice and spend most of their time getting to know, is not the instrument on which they present music to others.  It is not unusual that one has to make significant changes to the interpretation of a piece to negotiate the quirks of an instrument.  You spend weeks perfecting your vision, then upon playing the concert instrument you come to the realization that most of what you planned will be utterly unusable on that piano. 

If you've ever spent a time playing multiple pianos of the same model - I mean quality time making observations on how the instrument sounds and how it reacts to your playing - you will realize that each piano has its own personality.  A piano is far much more than its physical parts, as a good deal of the sound is formed by the skill of the piano technician that regulated, voiced and tuned the instrument. 

NY Steinway has been criticized by many for being "inconsistent" from instrument to instrument.  Others see this as an opportunity to find the piano with that unique voice. Go to a Steinway dealer and try out a lineup of pianos.  See if you can notice the differences. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline john90

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Re: Krystian Zimerman's customized Steinway . . .
Reply #2 on: March 02, 2012, 10:38:06 AM
Glenn Gould also customised his piano actions. According to the wikipedia entry, this was necessary to get the intimacy he required with the instrument. I guess this is especially important if it is going to be recorded.

Offline pianowolfi

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Re: Krystian Zimerman's customized Steinway . . .
Reply #3 on: March 02, 2012, 11:01:09 AM
You might want to listen to this radio interview (5 parts), there he explains the one or other thing about his piano customizing.

Offline goldentone

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Re: Krystian Zimerman's customized Steinway . . .
Reply #4 on: March 03, 2012, 09:15:16 AM
Good educational post, Quantum.  It seems the import of your post is a critique on Zimmerman, as in lacking the versatility that professionals are forced to acquire in their encounters with differing and subpar pianos.  Am I right?  I have never heard of a piano made that it could be broken down into parts and reassembled.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

Offline john90

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Re: Krystian Zimerman's customized Steinway . . .
Reply #5 on: March 03, 2012, 11:36:42 AM
Thanks Wolfi. Zimerman mentions that he has several keyboards for some pianos, and many pianos, so he can select the appropriate piano for the performance. I must say that from the press reports, especially after his speeches, I had dismissed him as a krank.

After hearing the radio interview, I am totally enlightened. He is quite the opposite. Very humble, understated. He focusses on live performances, avoiding solo recordings for 10 years plus. He spends a fortune transporting pianos, and delivers the maximum quality in his earthly powers to his audience. Moving your own piano is simply a question of logistics. It is not practical for most people, but for someone spending years preparing for a concert, spending an extra 5k$ to get the desired effect for a concert series is priceless for the listener. Many performers take their own piano today, or at least send in their own tech. It seems he is a piano tech, does his own work, or at least supervises it. He describes how he had to scratch make parts for the Steinways in Poland as the government had no money for expensive foreign spares. He served his time winding Bass strings as a student. How many concert halls will have a fresh Steinway anyway, how long would it take him to fix the one there already?

So he prepares as much as possible, but in a precise effort targeted way, a method he honed by listening to (and not liking) his digital recordings. Basically, try and remove as many variables as you can before the performance (like bad pianos), leaving as much room as possible for artistic performance on the day. This doesn't mean analysing his performances note by note, knowing exactly how the piece will sound in advance, quite the extreme. He practices multiple fingerings for passages, selecting as appropriate for the moment, never playing the entire piece before the concert. That would be completely pointless, as he doesn't know the audience, the room, the weather, the background noise on the day, or even how well the orchestra will play. The idea is to give the listener the the best possible performance, using the most appropriate fingering and expression for that day, in that concert hall, on that piano with that particular action, with that level of background noise. If the audience is really almost silent, the quiet passages deserve a totally different rendition to playing with police sirens outside, people coughing. It is the mood of the listener that you have to play to. Has there been some rail disaster the day before? Have we the euphoria after an election? Taken to extremes, in the radio interview he discusses how some performers simply missed out notes in old recordings, because they couldn't be heard on playback. This allowed the performer to focus on notes that could actually be heard to compensate. As for the political speeches, and not wanting to play in America, after you have had two Steinway D's that you have paid $1000's to transport, and spent many years honing to perfection impounded and destroyed by US customs, you may start to get paranoid and think someone doesn't want to hear your music. That didn't stop him wanting to play in the US though.  I think it is the closeness he builds to the audience, the freedome he feels living in neutral Switzerland, also the level of paranoia that having two Steinways smashed must bring, surely he must have felt bullied, that made him feel a fraud, a tool of the state, if he didn't stand up and say what was on his mind politically. All very exceptional circumstances.

Offline drjabeles

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Re: Krystian Zimerman's customized Steinway . . .
Reply #6 on: July 16, 2022, 12:12:30 PM
Not coming to the USA because of fear of piano damage is one thing and understandable

Not coming because of politics and USA policy is not understandable however if one is using USA pianos and playing under American conductors

His playing remains impeccable and hugely musical, nonetheless
 

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