Belgian instrument maker Chris Maene and renowned conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim are turning the piano world upside down with a groundbreaking new concert grand
Daniel Barenboim is not only a guest conductor of the New Year’s Concert in Vienna, the Ambassador of Music Fund, driving force of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (where young talents from Palestine, Israel and other Arabic countries play together in peace), but also a celebrated pianist. Together with Belgian piano maker Chris Maene, he has conceived and developed a brand new instrument that may change the piano-world as we know it today.
Today, modern pianos have become highly standardized. There haven’t been many fundamental changes to the design of the modern piano in the last 100 years. Furthermore, it has been more than 80 years since a concert grand piano was built in Belgium. At a time when there are fewer piano factories in Europe, as pianos are now mostly built in Asia, Chris Maene is investing in the development, research and construction for this concert grand for the 21st century.
Photo: Chris Maene
Barenboim discussed his idea with Steinway & Sons who introduced him to Chris Maene, who had also wanted to create a brand new instrument inspired by the past. The two maestri were able to combine their respective musical and technical expertise to begin work on their shared vision. Just 15 months ago, Barenboim’s personal technician Michel Brandjes tested several 19th-century historic grand pianos from Chris Maene’s collection and some of the remarkable replicas made by him. His findings and reflections on the sound and technical aspects of the instruments were discussed with Barenboim who then commissioned Maene to work a detailed concept for the new instrument which was then developed, constructed, tested and revealed today.
Daniel Barenboim says:
“The transparency and tonal characteristics of the traditional straight-strung instruments is so different from the homogenous tone produced by the modern piano across its entire range. The clearly distinguishable voices and colour across its registers of Liszt’s piano inspired me to explore the possibility of combining these qualities with the power, looks, evenness of touch, stability of tuning and other technical advantages of the modern Steinway. I am so delighted to have worked with Chris Maene, who had the same dream and I must pay tribute to his incredible technical expertise and his deep respect for both tradition and innovation. I must also thank Steinway & Sons, for bringing us together and for delivering key components for our new instrument, thus enabling a perfect match of the traditional qualities and modern advantages.”
Chris Maene says:
“All my life I have been building replicas of legendary historic instruments. But for many years I have also been dreaming of building a new type of concert grand. It has always surprised me how the fantastic and unique sound diversity of the grand pianos of the 19th century disappeared. By the end of the 19th century many piano builders tried to copy the success of Steinway & Sons. In this process, they all ignored the straight-strung grand pianos with their unique sound characteristics. As a result, the 20th century offered us very similar instruments in regards of construction and sound. Therefore it has never been my goal to build another copy of a Steinway, but rather to make a different instrument in which I could incorporate all my expertise about building historic instruments. It has been a true honour to be able to work with Maestro Daniel Barenboim. I hold the Maestro in very high regard and was delighted to discover our mutual interest in straight-strung pianos. His input, confidence and order made it possible to build this new instrument: a concert grand for the 21st century. For me it is truly a dream come true.”
Chris Maene and Daniel Barenboim unveiled the new instrument at the Royal Festival Hall, London today, ahead of Daniel Barenboim’s Schubert Piano Sonatas recital series there.
(source: press release)