Concert Piano Preparation – part 2 (Conclusion)

The primary concerns in concert voicing are evenness (funny how often that word comes up in piano work, isn’t it?) and colour flexibility. By evenness, of course, I mean that notes should not stand out from their neighbours by being either too powerful and brilliant or too soft and mellow. By colour flexibility, I mean that the tone should be able to change to meet the artist’s needs. For instance, a note should sound mellow or “pearly” when played pianissimo, but should sound brighter and have more “bite” when played at louder levels. The best way to achieve these results in voicing is to start out with good quality hammers and a solid regulation, then follow the tried-and-true methods laid out in Franz Rudolf Dietz’s “Grand Voicing “(1). Short-cut voicing methods may make a quick and obvious difference in a piano’s sound, and may be fine for some home pianos, but I prefer the slower and more controllable traditional voicing techniques, especially when dealing with fine concert instruments.
Because pianists do not all have the same preference as to piano tone, no one piano and no one voicing are going to keep everyone totally happy. I recall attending a piano recital where a faculty friend approached me at intermission and said, “Steve, I think your piano is too bright.” Another friend, overhearing, said, “I think it sounds gorgeous. It’s perfect!” A few minutes later, I ran into a technician friend who thought the piano sounded nice, ‘but it could stand to be a bit brighter.” Three different people, three different opinions. That incident taught me not to take any one person’s opinion too seriously. Naturally, the best approach to voicing pianos that are used by a wide variety of performers is to keep the hammers in good shape (some technicians file the hammers after every performance!) and keep the sound as even as possible. I try to make the overall tone quality match my conception of what a piano should sound like, always remembering that it’s generally better to err in the direction of “too brilliant” rather than “too dull” where a concert piano is concerned. If a particular artist requests changes in a piano’s voicing, I will usually attempt to meet that request, but now we’re entering the realm of “working with people.”
The Artist
Whenever possible, I like to meet with the pianist during the piano selection process. If the artist has chosen the piano prior to coming to the hall (some choose a piano solely by brand name), or if there is no choice available, I try to meet the artist at the beginning of rehearsal time, when the pianist is first trying the instrument. I introduce myself, ask the performer if there are any problems with the piano, and after any necessary discussion, I leave.
Where voicing is requested, I prefer to have the pianist present while I voice the piano. This approach helps eliminate misunderstandings, especially when I can get the pianist to participate with me in the process by trying the piano after each stint of needling or filing. If for some reason the pianist can’t be on hand for this type of work or to try the piano after the voicing is done, I’ve found he or she is usually reluctant to have any work done besides tuning. That’s for a good reason: they would rather know exactly what to expect when they sit down to play at concert time. (2)
Other People
Besides the artist, we often deal with promoters, stage managers and stage hands. The rule with all these people is…
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