The Grandpianohall Blog.


 

In this Blog Grandpianohall shares the knowledge and experience of the team with you on various topics: individual grand pianos, restoration companies, the piano brands, concerts, music websites and a few selected artists. Enjoy!

 

Playing a song from the Fabulous Baker Boys movie

Always looking for stuff to play on my grand piano, I recalled watching the movie The Fabulous Baker Boys (from 1989) – in which Michelle Pfeiffer sings a fantastic cover of „Making Whoopee“ accompanied by Jeff Bridges on the piano (in reality played by Dave Grusin). Michelle Pfeiffer sings that song actually herself and I think she does a great performance – both in singing and acting.

 

So I started looking for transcriptions of that song as played in the movie. I ended up with the song book by Adam Biggs from the UK and ordered it directly from his website. I actually started an email exchange with him and he told me that he listened to all the songs from that movie over and over again and over a long time painstakingly wrote it all out.

 

The result is actually great, I especially like „Making Whoopee“ but also „Funny Valentine“ (not so much the violin bit of that in the movie and on the film music cd). Adam told me that he actually met Dave Grusin at the jazz club Ronny Scotts in London a few years ago and that he praised the transription work!

 

I recommend everybody who liked the movie and the music from Dave Grusin to buy the song book from Adam Biggs. Here is the link to his website:

http://www.adambiggs.co.uk/store/p5/The_Fabulous_Baker_Boys_Songbook_Original_film_score.html

 

A Birthday Gift and an encounter with Chick Corea

A birthday gift and an encounter with Chick Corea

 

I usually don´t share any personal stuff anywhere publicly, but I will make an exception to the rule this time. Recently as I turned 50, my wife made me a very nice gift: a beautiful piece of music for me (and others) to play on the piano, composed by Tobias Gravenhorst, the very gifted cantor and co-organist of the Cathedral of Bremen. For those who like a bit of history: Johannes Brahms conducted the premiere of his Requiem in this church in 1868 himself. But I am getting sidetracked.

 

You´ll the find the scores below this article.

 

Not only was I presented the scores of „Two Waltzes for Five“, Tobias also played the piece and improvised on it on my grand piano. You can listen to it on youtube or to another version of it on soundcloud.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RZkfr_UURo

 

https://soundcloud.com/user-167920404/zwei-walzer-fur-funf

 

I practiced the piece on a nice grand piano in a hotel in the Bavarian Alps and must say the 5/4 beat is quite challenging. But the sequence of chords is beautiful and gives the piece some mystic atmosphere. Anyway being at that hotel, I was looking forward to a solo concert of Chick Corea on our last night there. Many classical and jazz musicians give concerts at that hotel in return for a few free nights there mostly when starting or finishing a concert tour in Germany. I never heard him play live so I was very excited finally to be at one of his concerts.

 

After playing some very nice pieces – he started with Armando´s Rhumba – he stood up and asked the audience „now who is the lady here in the audience that wrote me this nice letter and asked me to play a piece that she had composed for her husband“? My wife stands up and says „that was me!“. Chick made me stand up as well and says „Well Happy Birthday. I tried to play the piece before thie concert, but it was too difficult for me“. To which I replied „for me as well...!“. He made me come on stage and played me a very nice improvised portrait on the big Yamaha Grand.  Now that was something special. For copyright reasons I cannot share that recording with you, but I assure you the improvisation was awesome!

 

After the piece he invited me to improvise with him but I replied – still baffled – that that would be too embarrassing (for him and the audience)....I thanked him and shook his hand. What a night!

 

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A Town of Pianists

About Igor Levit and Daniil Trifonov


 In 2016 I had the privilege of attending live concerts of two great pianists: Igor Levit (born 1987) and Daniil Trifonov (born 1991).  Besides being pianists, they have something else in common, which I found interesting. After the concert of Trifonov, I remembered a recording of Vladimir Ashkenazy (Rachmaninow´s 2nd and 4th piano concerto with the Concertgebouw Orchestra & Bernard Haitink), another great Russian pianist (but of another generation).

 

What do the three pianists have in common? They are all from Russia? Correct. But it goes even further. They were all born in the same town called Nizhny Novgorod (formerly known as Gorki), a city located 250 miles east of Moscow with 1.2 million inhabitants – comparable to Dallas, Texas. Only that I don´t know three world-class pianists born in Dallas, let alone one.

 

 Gorki is also known for being the town where nuclear physicist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner (1975) Andrei Sakharov lived from 1980 to 1986 – not quite by his own will. The co-inventor of the Russian hydrogen bomb turned dissident had protested heavily against the Russian intervention in Afghanistan in 1979, after which the Russian government sent him to Gorki, a town then completely off-limits to foreigners, in internal exile.

 

 Vladimir Ashkenazy - born 1937 – started playing piano at the age of 6. After he won the Gold Medal of the Queen Elizabeth Piano Competition in Brussels, the Russian government sent him to the United States to give concerts there in 1958. He was provided with a passport specially for this trip. Remember these were the days of the Cold War, five years after Stalin had died. Even a privileged star-pianist such as Ashkenazy never could speak his mind in public and had to be very careful in a nation where the central government tried to control everything. He met an Icelandic pianist at the Moscow Conservatory (both were students there) whom he later married. He was able to emigrate to London with her in 1963 and moved to Iceland a couple of years later. Since 1982 he has been living in Switzerland.

 

 Not only of course is he a famous pianist, he became a conductor as well. The story is that when he lived in Iceland, he invited Daniel Barenboim to conduct two piano concertos: one with him as the pianist, the other with Pinchas Zuckerman. Zuckerman had to cancel because of illness, so for the remaining concert Barenboim spontaneously proposed to Ashkenazy: „You conduct it, I play the piano!“. So they did. The start of a conducting career....

 

The other thing I remember about Ashkenazy: he attended a concert of Glenn Gould – 5 years his senior and the first foreign pianist to play in the Soviet Union after 1945 – at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in 1957. Initially sparsely attended, the story goes that shortly after Gould started to play „The Art of the Fugue“ by Bach on the grand piano, attendees ran out to telephone their friends to immediately come and listen to Gould´s Bach playing, which was a complete relevation to Russian music students and professors at the time. At the second half of the concert, the hall was packed. Ashkenazy is quoted with saying of that concert: „You felt you were in the presence of a person totally ­absorbed in his strange and enigmatic world, who was at the same time in total control of what he was doing“. One of legendary concerts one wished one could have attended.

 

Igor Levit was taught to play the piano by his mother at the age of 3 – and gave his first piano concerto with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Nizhny Novgorod at the age of 6. His family moved to Hannover in 1995, where he started to study music at the age of 13. He concluded his studies by playing in his final exam the Diabelli Variatons – and received the highest note ever given in the history of the Music School. Meanwhile Levit is living in Berlin. Levit is said to be the innovator, the analytical pianist and an absolute perfectionist. He tries out new music – like from the composer Rzweski with whom he is befriended. I attended his concert in Bremen, where he spoke to the audience (with humor) before playing Rzweski´s piece „Dreams II“. He didn´t play the piece by heart, but had the scores with him on the piano – on a tablet. First time I saw that during a live concert. He played Bach, Beethoven and the Rzweski piece with much clarity and maturity.

 

He regularly stands in for colleagues who get ill or else. There is an anecdote, that as Levit is just in a cafe in Hannover he gets a call whether he can stand in for Maurizio Pollini in Vienna – in six hours. So he jumps on a plane and arrives at the concert hall 30 minutes before the concert starts.

 

Trifonov also learned at a young age to play the piano. He stayed in his hometown until the age of 8. In 1999 his moved with his parents to Moscow to study at the Gnessin Institute. After graduation he moved to the US to study with Sergey Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Whereas Levit seems to focus on Beethoven, Bach and modern 20th century music, Trifonov seems to focus on Chopin, Scriabin and since the age of 21 (only 5 years ago) on Rachmaninov – which he claims he had never played before. He now lives in both in New York City and Moscow – whilst not on tour, which he seems to be most of the time looking at his schedule.

 

Almost everywhere he goes and plays, he is regarded as a sensation by both the audience and the critics. With inexhaustible energy, he seems to master brilliantly Rachmaninov, Chopin, Listzt and Debussy in one evening – not just technically but with the whole range of musical emotions that these composers offer in their compositions. I saw him play Rachmaninov´s 2nd piano concert in Bremen and was thrilled.

 

Did Levit ever met Trifonov? I couldn´t find any info on that. But Ashkenazy met Trifonow: Ashkenazy conducted the 3rd piano concerto of Rachmaninov in 2015 with Trifonov as soloist. I wonder whether they spoke about their hometown. Reading the critics, that must have been an absolute wonderful performance.

 

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Are Grand Pianos a good investment?

Invest in a Grand Piano


Since I am often asked whether Grand Pianos are a good investment especially in a period where everything seems to go up in value as interest rates are zero or even negative with so much money around chasing investments, I am sharing some facts and my thoughts with you.

 

Imagine your great uncle of 96 years dies and his wife asks you whether you want to have his Steinway A model, which he bought back in 1956 and is a 1926 model made in the Hamburg factory. She tells you you can keep the proceeds if you want to sell it and buy anything else for it. Are you sitting on a small fortune? Maybe if the instrument was tuned and played regularly and the mechanics were overhauled every 20 years or so by a piano technician knowing his trade. But this is seldom the case. What if the instrument was last tuned 20 years ago, was standing near the heating during winter and treated more like a nice looking piece of furniture for great aunt´s tea parties?

 

In the former case the of the instrument being maintained and tuned and being in excellent shape, and you sold the A model via e.g. eBay to another retail customer, you might get about 25,000 EUR for it. In the latter case (the piano being a piece of furniture standing next to the heating), selling it to a dealer or restorer, you might get 5,000 EUR for it – and more because it is an original Steinway then because it is still a great grand piano - in order to get a good price for it on the used grand piano market, the restorer will have to invest 15k EUR of his time and parts in it and earn a margin of about 5k EUR.

 

Now let´s look at the investment case of a Grand Piano in another way. Again I will use the example of a Steinway Grand Piano, since I don´t have any other data available. In 1986 a Steinway B model (211 cm) the retail price was 27,180 USD in the US (I don´t have EUR values,  but they will have been similar).  In 2015 that same instrument very similar to the one from 1986 without major innovations had a list price of 96.900 USD in the showroom, 3,5x as much as in 1986! That means an average increase in sales prices of 4,5% per annum – with inflation being about 2,5% in that 30 year period, the real sales price increase amounted to almost 2% per year.

 

Now the good thing of a Steinway used instrument (condition: excellent, mechanics as new, no cracks in the soundboard etc) is that its price – depending on its age – are a percentage of the retail price of a new one. Assuming you bought a new Model B in 1986 for 27,000 EUR (ignoring the USD / EUR rate for now), the price you would fetch (retail, not wholesale) in 2016 would be about 55,000 EUR! After 30 years before selling it (assuming you kept the piano in a room with about constant humidity, playing it regularly), a restorer will have worked on the mechanics (replacing the hammers, fixing the soundboard, replacing some strings) and probably invoiced you 10,000 EUR, your profit would still have been about 18,000 EUR.

 

The same is true to a slight lesser extent if you buy a used Grand Piano say that is 30 years old today and in very good condition for 55,000 EUR. Assuming retail prices increase by 3% a year and you still get 45% of new value in 20 years, investing 10,000 EUR in the instrument, your profit will still be 12,000 EUR.

 

Is this example valid also for other brands? Maybe to a lesser extent for a Boesendorfer or a Grotrian Steinweg. Most likely not for other brands. Retail prices for new instruments also followed the same trend in the last 30-40 years as for Steinway models, but not for the prices for used instruments (in good shape). Only Steinway, being the primary choice for most concert halls and pianists with its continuous quality in production for more than 150 years and its known brands all over the world, can command premium constant prices also in the used market as far as I know.

 

So what is my conclusion? If you play the piano and appreciate the premium sound of a good grand piano, go and buy one. If you worry about the upfront investment and the question whether you can sell it after 25 years when your children prefer to play a violin or an Ableton Live, go buy a used Steinway and keep it in good shape.

 

And if you are very lucky and get your hands on an instrument at a good price formerly played by Prince or another VIP, you probably just won the lottery. For example the Steinway Z upright piano used by John Lennon for composing „Imagine“ was sold at an auction for 1.67 million USD to George Michael in 2000.

 

Glenn Gould´s Grand Piano

CD 318


 

At Grandpianohall we are fans of Glenn Gould, the famous Canadian pianist mostly known for his Bach interpretations. So this entry is about his most well-known and much written about grand piano, a Steinway D from the Concert Division (of Steinway) numbered 318, hence the name CD 318. The serial number of the instrument is 317194, which indicates that the instrument was built in the Steinway factory in Queens NY in 1945.

 

As most concert pianists, Glenn Gould seemed to have been very picky about finding the right instrument for his recordings and concerts (he was still giving them at the time). In 1960 he needed a new one, after a transport accident had destroyed his Steinway 174. He tried out many instruments at the Steinway factory in New York and wasn´t satisfied with any of them.

 

He then remembered a Steinway D he had played on when he was still a child at Eaton´s in Toronto and that was CD 318 – which Steinway then »lent« to him. He apparently adored the lean and bright sound of it and its quick and tight action. A lot of work was done still on the D model to make the action lighter than was the Steinway norm. I guess Glenn Gould was one of the most demanding clients for the Steinway technicians at the time. That so much work was done on an instrument which still belonged to Steinway (Gould bought it only in 1980) was quite special. How did it sound? See or listen to the videos below.

 

For the next couple of years the CD 318 traveled with him to all places where he gave concerts (until 1964). He used the grand piano for almost all his recordings with Columbia until about 1980, so the instrument did a lot of travel between foremost Toronto and New York, where the recording studio of Columbia was located.

 

In 1971 CD 318 was transported to Cleveland, where Gould promised to record the B major Beethoven piano concerto and the A minor concerto of Grieg with an orchestra to everybody´s surprise after a supposed concert pause of 7 years. The piano went, but Gould didn´t go apparently because he had the flu. The end of the story was, that the recording didn´t take place and the piano had to be transported back to Toronto. On its way back, the piano fell of a ramp and the instrument was seriously damaged: the plate was broken at 4 different areas, the keys had sprung out and the soundboard was splittered. It took Steinway a long long time to repair that one, and though after the repair it turned out that the sound quality hadn´t suffered, the mechanics were different then before. Gould still played on it until about 1980, when he decided to record on a Yamaha C9 grand piano, which he used in his 2nd recording of the Goldberg Variations in 1981.

 

So what is my point? Gould played on a used Steinway Grand for 20 years. He had the instrument changed in a way so that it perfectly suited his needs as a pianist. And last but not least: at home he had two more grand pianos: a Chickering on which he had played as a child and a Steinway B model.

 

In the last years CD 318 has been restored and is now on display at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa. In 2012 Lang Lang played on it (in the 2nd video) - in the first video is Gould playing extracts on it from the Well Tempered Clavier.