Tools of the trade

12th September 2013 | Concerts, Musings | 1 comment

I am still working on the jury of the ARD Competition in Munich, which reaches the Final of the piano trio competition on Saturday.

Obviously I can’t write anything about the competitors, but I can say how interesting it has been to hear so many different groups playing in the same hall. In the first round, there were twenty-four trios, and naturally all the pianists had to play the same piano. It’s fascinating how at one moment it seems that the acoustic of the hall is not favourable to the piano, while half an hour later, when someone else is playing it, you can hear everything clearly. Sometimes you can see pianists pausing for a second to hear how the sound is ringing out into the hall, and adjusting their touch accordingly. One can learn a lot from seeing and hearing the same instrument tackled by 24 different pianists.

At the same time, there is enormous variety in the instruments used by the violinists and cellists of the trios. Some are fortunate to be playing on wonderful instruments with enormous carrying power, while others are doing their best with more homely instruments. I’d like to say that we are not influenced by the quality of the instrument, but of course it is impossible not to respond to a magnificent violin or cello. The variety of those instruments introduces an extra complication into the assessment. How would violinist A sound if they were able to play on the instrument of violinist B, an instrument worth a million dollars? Would cellist X sound so striking if she or he had to play on cellist Y’s modest instrument? We try very hard to concentrate on artistry, but this being music, sheer sound quality cannot help being a factor.

I said to my string-playing colleagues that it would be interesting to have all the violinists play the same violin, or all the cellists the same cello. They laughed and said this would never work, because you have to spend a lot of time with a particular instrument, especially one with a complex personality, before you really know how to handle it. Yet I can’t help pondering the curious situation in which such a huge range of string instruments passes before us, while all the pianists have to play the same piano.

1 Comment

  1. Stephen

    As a piano teacher I train my pupils to remember that every piano is different and we have to make the best of it. At competitions and concerts it never fails to amaze me how adjudicators never even mention the fact that pianists have to play on a different, unusual piano. We are expected to make the instument sing And produce the best tone. This must me a factor in their performance, especially children learning the piano.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *