was exhibited]. The only manufacturers who continued producing straight-strung instruments after that date were Erard and Broadwood.’ (Broadwood introduced cross-stringing in 1896.) The key challenge for Maene when he began work on Barenboim’s straight-strung piano was therefore to produce an instrument powerful enough for today’s concert halls while capturing the timbral qualities favoured by the artist. The result is a hybrid incorporating elements from old and new pianos. ‘It made no sense to invent a new piano – though the combination of elements is new,’ says Maene.
Apart from the parallel strings that give the piano its name, Maene’s instrument features specially designed bridges, ribs and bracings. The strings are also yellow rather than red brass and the hammers have been repositioned to create, says Barenboim, ‘a different relationship between the tip of the fingers and the key’.
During my tour of the Chris Maene Workshop, I was fortunate enough to see one of the new instruments being constructed, allowing a close-up examination of its constituent parts. One innovation of which Maene is particularly proud is the soundboard, which combines wood grains that run in different directions – lengthwise in the bass, diagonally in the treble. This helps to optimise the sound and keep each register more localised. As
Maene puts it: ‘If you cook three different vegetables in the same pot they will influence other another. If you cook them separately they will keep their individual taste.’ The Barenboim-Maene Concert Grand was launched in May 2015 with complete cycle of Schubert sonatas at London’s Southbank Centre. IP correspondent Michael Church described the piano’s sound in these performances as ‘intimate and contained, with dry top notes but a sinewy bass which really sings’, allowing ‘both Schubert and Barenboim to come across in a refreshingly new way’. Barenboim subsequently released a solo album titled On My New Piano, showcasing the straight-strung instrument in works by Scarlatti, Beethoven, Chopin, Wagner and Liszt.
Compared with straight-strung historic instruments, Maene’s pianos feel similar to modern concert grands, so players don’t require extra training to use them. Nor do they require specialist technical support, but can be tuned and maintained by someone familiar with modern instruments. This opens the way to future developments: ‘I believe there is a lot of scope for differentiation,’ says Maene. ‘For example, pianists often want to choose between different Steinway instruments depending on the repertoire they are playing. In fact, modern pianos are all very similar, but it would be possible to make instruments in which the differences are more pronounced, designed with specific repertoire in mind.’ IP
Technicians at Maene’s workshop install a cast-iron frame for a new straight-strung instrument www.international-piano.com
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