Friday, May 30, 2008

Delivery Day!

Steinway promised to show up sometime between 10am and 11am, which is ok because I had a few things to do in preparation for the piano's arrival. The truck rolled up at about 9:45am and left less than a half hour later. Raymond and his assistant have done this before. This chronicle is a little lengthy and bloated with photos (and even video!). So let's get started.

It's here! It's here! I can only hope that everyone reading this will someday experience the thrill I got having a Steinway truck outside my house.

The movers are quick and efficient, but handle my newborn with great care. There's nothing sloppy about the way they move... you can tell they're watching every corner and bump.

Through the front door...
...and into the gallery. The legs latch into position and are then tightened by hand. But to make sure they're tightly latched, the movers whale on them with this huge Thor's Hammer. Raymond is at the beginning of a full-arm swing at the treble leg here.
Once the tail leg, treble leg and lyre are secure, they tilt the piano over into position before attaching the bass leg.
video

A couple more thumps by Thor and the bass leg is in place.
video

The piano is up. Raymond, please put away that hammer. I don't think my heart can take any more piano bashing.
But does it play well? Heck ya! (Our dog Maple seems to like it, too).
Who's a good dog? Who's a good dog!? I may be biased, but I think Maple kicks the RCA Victor dog's butt. And that's Kashmir on the half-wall trying to get up the nerve to jump inside for a closer look. If a thing has an inside and an outside, Kashmir prefers the inside.
Shiner finally decides to grace us. In the video he's trying to pretend he doesn't even notice the sudden appearance of the huge monolith that all the other apes are obsessed with. But as cool as he is, he still has to sneak a look as he passes by. Watch it again and notice Kashmir trying to climb inside from beneath this time.
video

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Piano 101: Coda

When I decided to start practicing again and build a program, I had no idea how obsessed I would become with the piano. I want to play them all.

I've had fun practicing, performing a little and recording some pieces to post here for family and friends. It's all been an absolute joy for me.

Hanging out at the Steinway Gallery was a roller coaster. Playing all those great pianos was a real high, but there was no way I would ever be able to get one. The less expensive Bostons were beautiful, but still out of reach. And there was no shortage of other good pianos I couldn't afford either. I finally got curious enough to ask about Steinway's relatively inexpensive "third string" line: the Essex. Like the "second string" Boston, these are pianos that are designed and sold by Steinway, but manufactured for them in Asia: Boston by Kawai in Japan and Essex by Young Chang in Korea (with one or two models built in China by Pearl River).

The biggest Essex is the 183, at just a sliver over six feet. It shares many of the design features of the Bostons and Steinways, including the wide tail of the four longest Steinways. I was really impressed with the 183, although the voicing and action of the floor model was a little uneven. When I mentioned it to my Steinway guy, he said he'd have his tech do some work on it. Over the next month, I went in every weekend to play it and give my impressions. And every week the tech would work on it some more. The tone and playability turned out exceptional. So the Steinway Gallery ended up with a floor piano set up exactly to my tastes... and a piano that I couldn't live without.

After more financing obstacles than I care to rehash, giving up expensive coffee, Trappist beer and ice hockey, I was able to work it out. Steinway delivers my brand new Essex EGP-183 tomorrow morning. My own piano. I'm so excited, I think I will barf.

So even though Piano 101 has come to an end, I expect that my new piano will inspire many posts to come. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Piano 101: 10. Sonetto 104 del Petrarca

Franz Liszt published some of his greatest solo piano music in three volumes he called Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage). The second year ("Italy") includes three pieces inspired by the Italian poet Petrarch. Sonetto 104 del Petrarca will be my final recording in this series. So sad.

The piece is one of my all-time favorites. It really showcases the piano, with singing melody, percussion, lush orchestral voicing and shimmering effects. I loved playing it years ago and I love it even more now.

Track 10: Sonetto 104 del Petrarca (Franz Liszt)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Piano 101: 9. Toccata pour le Piano Opus 54

Jenö Takács was a twentieth century Austrian composer. According to my Austrian edition (Doblinger), this piece was written in 1946. The metronome marking is 96-108 half notes per minute. And as if anticipating our disbelief, the composer also notes that the total performance time is around four minutes. The composer's insistence notwithstanding, I couldn't bring myself to record it that fast. So my version has parts that get up to 96, but mostly hangs down in the low 90s or high 80s.

I decided to include this piece because my uncle Marty liked it so much. He came to visit us in Ottawa one time and I played it for him. He suggested that after finishing the piece, I should leap up, kick over the bench, knock out the lid prop and slam down the fallboard. I never took him up on his choreography, but from that point on I couldn't play the piece without it crossing my mind.

Track 9: Toccata pour le Piano Opus 54 (Jenö Takács)