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If you have never been bowled over by Frederic Rzewski’s Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues on a piano with a growling, rumbling bass register, perhaps you have never heard it on the Big Beleura, a nine-octave concert grand unveiled in Australia in 2018. The sound range was new to the piano world and the premiere audience knew it, rising at the end with a standing ovation. The designer-developer of the instrument, Wayne Stuart of Tumut, near Canberra, says, ‘It’s important to realise that we perceive sound not only through our ears but all of our body.’ The premiere audience was a full house of ‘very excited’ pianophiles who ‘ listened to every note and sprang to their feet’ at the climax, Stuart recalls. Their attention never waned. ‘Folk were there to get everything they could from the experience.’

Stuart, director of Piano Australia Pty Ltd that presides over the manufacture of the Stuart & Sons brand, believes his four-pedal expanded keyboard piano may show the way for the first radical advance in piano design in more than 130 years. Certain limited experiments aside, piano architecture has been frozen since the 1880s. ‘The piano has been screaming out for a complete rethink over the past hundred years,’ he says.

Big is beautiful

Michael Johnson reports on the exceptional depth, warmth and brilliance of the world’s first 108-key concert grand – the ‘Big Beleura’ by Australian maker Stuart & Sons

Beleura House and Garden on Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, was already an attraction for music lovers and is now boosted by the acquisition of the world’s first 108-key piano. (The Little Beleura, also a Stuart product, totals 102 keys and was already in use there.) The Big Beleura will come to the United States and Europe only if a buyer commissions a custom-crafted model for around US$250,000. Until then, YouTube videos and studio albums must fill the gap for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

Ashley Hribar, an Australian pianist of GermanSlovenian parentage, has logged the most hours on the massive keyboard and praises the instrument’s ‘amazing colour’. He says that the tone and the touch of the piano proved easier to master than he expected. ‘After about 30 minutes I felt quite at ease and everything became intuitive,’ he says. The 1,492mm-wide keyboard would be a stretch for child prodigies but average players seem unfazed. Long-limbed Hribar says he can reach both ends by leaning forward slightly.

Having launched the new instrument, Stuart tells me via email that his nine-octave design offers something akin to an orchestral soundscape. Hribar backs him up: ‘I cannot believe anyone who tries this piano will want to restrict

International Piano Guide to Instruments & Accessories 73

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