A 10-hour surgery gives my piano the feel and voice of angels
When my Steinway concert grand and I were reunited back in April, I thought it sounded great at its new desert home in Scottsdale. It was a vast improvement over its sound in the damp and humid Hawaii climate (see REUNITED: MY STEINWAY AND I – http://wp.me/p1jFeo-2fs).
In fact, my 7-foot grand ($81,000 list price) sounded better than even some of the 9-foot top-of-the-line Steinway Model D pianos ($156,000 list price) which I played side-by-side in the Steinway dealer’s showroom. But I knew it wasn’t perfect. The action (touch and feel of the keys) was still harder than that of a Model D. And there were some other minor issues with a couple of individual keys that needed adjustment.
In other words, nothing that a listener would necessarily notice. So Tony Smith, the Steinway tech, and I agreed to tackle these issues in the fall, after the piano has had a chance to “settle down” and acclimatize to the desert dryness.
Yesterday, Oct 11, was the D-day. It was the day Tony was to perform a major surgery on my Steinway, akin to a heart transplant in a human body, but also including the entire vascular system’s overhaul. As in complex medical procedures, there were no guarantees that the operation would be successful. I just had to pray and hope that the skilled “surgeon’s” hands produce the desired result
And what was that?
“I want to retain the beautiful sound of my piano,” I said to Tony before the start of the surgery. “But I also want to have the feathery keyboard feel of a Steinway Model D ($156,000 list price) or of a 9′ 6″-ft Bösendorfer concert grand ($250,000 list price).”
In other words, it was a tall order.
STEINWAY’S SURGERY LASTED 10 HOURS
The surgery started a little after 11AM. It ended around 9PM. Tony, who is also an accomplished pianist and thus understood the finer points of my request, spent nearly 10 hours practicing his art and magic.
Here’s the gist of the surgery in technical piano terminology:
Full prep and regulation. File hammers, lubricate action centers, key pins, capstans, regulate and adjust all points, tune, voice. Full tuning.
Tony was finished just as Elizabeth and I arrived back home after a dinner function. Tony looked dead tired with bags under his eyes. But his eyes were sparkling,
“You will be amazed,” he said. “This is not the same piano anymore. It’s night and day difference in sound quality as well as the feel. This piano now sounds like the new ones I tune in showrooms or for major concert events.”
At first, I wasn’t going to play it right away. It was getting late at night and I wanted to be fresh when I did it. But with a statement like that from the Steinway tech who is usually a master of understatement, I could not resist.
I sat down and played a few segments of Chopin’s “Grand Valse Brillante” and the Etude “Tristesse.” I was totally blown away. It did indeed feel like a new and different piano.
“This is effortless,” I said when playing some particularly difficult passages of the Grand Valse. The keyboard felt feathery, just that of 9-foot Steinway.
Tony just grinned in self-satisfaction.
And the sound was not only the same as before, it was out of this world… crystal clear, sheer perfection. It does not get better than that.
“This was an exceptional experience,” Tony said. “I can sometimes spend hours on an instrument but I don’t often get this kind of a result. This was amazing for me, too.”
So Tony left around 9:30 last night a tired but a happy man.
STEINWAY’S ASCENSION AND REINCARNATION
This morning, I spent an hour or so playing the various piece of Chopin, Mozart, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. Some soft and slow. Other fast and furious. The piano responded as it it were on autopilot.
“My old Steinway died and ascended yesterday,” I told Elizabeth yesterday. “And then reincarnated as a Model D.”
Here’s a collage of some my new recordings on this reborn Steinway. Any imperfections in this recording are that of the pianist not the piano.
PART 1: CHOPIN’S GRANDE VALSE BRILLANTE
MY STEINWAY’S ASCENSION, REINCARNATION – Part 1 – Chopin’s Grand Valse Brillante – recorded on Oct 12, 2017 – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – camera work by Elizabeth Fuentes
PART 2: CHOPIN’S ETUDE “TRISTESSE”
In this part two, you can see and hear me play Chopin’s Etude “Tristesse” (Sadness). Chopin supposedly said this was his favorite piece of all he had composed. His music is full of melancholic feelings. So no wonder he felt that way about this slow and mournful etude.
MY STEINWAY’S ASCENSION, REINCARNATION – Part 2 – Chopin’s Etude “Tristesse” (an excerpt) – recorded on Oct 12, 2017 – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – camera work by Elizabeth Fuentes
PART 3: SCHUBERT’S IMPROMPTU
Next came Schubert’s Impromptu in A♭ major. It is the last piece I played when I thought I might become a professional pianist. By contrast to this recording, the impromptu sounded nearly perfect back then.
At 15, I was then attending simultaneously the Belgrade Music Conservatory (piano) and the freshman year of high school. And then I quit my music to pursue other interests, partly under my father’s influence (“how are you going to support your family as a musician?”).
So I became an engineer, like my father. Except that I never really practiced this left brain profession. And now I have returned a full circle back to music and to my right brain. C’est la vie…. (“such is life”).
Anyway, back to Schubert…
MY STEINWAY’S ASCENSION, REINCARNATION – Part 3 – Schubert’s Impromptuin A♭ major (1st movement) – recorded on Oct 12, 2017 – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – camera work by Elizabeth Fuentes
PART 4: BEETHOVEN’S “MOONLIGHT SONATA”
I didn’t plan this, but it seems fitting that the next piece I recorded was the first one I learned to play when I started my return to classical music in 2005. About 45 years after Schubert’s Impromptu, I tried playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
And it was a struggle even though the first movement is technically relatively easy for a pianist. My fingers felt like led soldiers. It took several months to get to an acceptable level of performance.
Yet unlike back when I was 15, and playing technically much more masterfully, back in 2005 time I found myself playing with my heart, too. Tears would roll down my cheeks brought about by the beauty of Beethoven’s music even if I occasionally hit a wrong note or a chord. I didn’t care.
I also improvised, not always sticking exactly to the written music. At first I did it with apologies to great Ludwig. Later I felt Beethoven (and Mozart) were guiding me to do so, to build upon what they had created. In recognition of that, back in 2010, I even produced a visual blending of our faces.
And now, with that as a preamble, here’s my latest recording of the Moonlight Sonata on my newly incarnated Steinway.
MY STEINWAY’S ASCENSION, REINCARNATION – Part 4 – Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” (1st movement) – recorded on Oct 12, 2017 – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – camera work by Elizabeth Fuentes
FIVE MONTHS AGO…
May 2, 2017
MOZART & RACHMANINOFF PUT MY NEWLY-TUNED STEINWAY THROUGH ITS PACES
I could not be happier with the sound of my Steinway concert grand, now that it has been tuned for the first time in Arizona by the best local tuner, according to the Steinway dealer. It actually sounds much better than in Hawaii. And it is definitely richer than the sound of Steinway’s largest concert grand – Model D – which I have played both here and in Hawaii.
Tony, the piano tech agreed who did the tuning, agreed. He is also an excellent pianist. So he knows the instrument both as an engineer and artist – from the left and the right brain.
“It’s the dry air,” both Tony and I agreed. But that also poses new challenges. We will need to try to increase the humidity inside the house to prevent the wood from shrinking too much. And the piano will have to be tuned a couple of more times before the end of year before it gets fully acclimated to the desert.
After Tony had left, I sat down to put my Steinway through its paces. I did not plan the pieces I ended up planning. I just played. And Mozart and Rachmaninoff took over and did the rest. So now you can judge the quality of its sound for yourself.
MOZART & RACHMANINOFF PUT MY NEWLY-TUNED STEINWAY THROUGH ITS PACES – recorded by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic on May 1, 2017
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UPDATE MAY 3, 2017
BEETHOVEN’S MOONLIGHT SONATA RETURNS TO THE DESERT
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It’s interesting how life evolves in cycles,. Like a spiral staircase to heaven. With some detours here and there are we generate karma that blocks our upward thrust.
This evening, I was compelled to record Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on my Steinway, newly reunited with me here in the Arizona desert.
I don’t know exactly. I have recorded this piece of music many times before, including some rather unorthodox orchestrations. Such as with the Tibetan bowls and the wind and the bird calls in Maui (on Feb 24m 2011, for example. Which connected the East and the West – http://altzar.org/Music/Concert34_Beethoven_TibetanBowls.html).
With tonight’s recording, however, I think it was going back to my roots. Or at least my roots here in the Arizona desert.
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RETURN TO MY SOUND OF MUSIC (2005)
In December 2007, however, had the innards of my antique piano completely replaced. It cost more than I had paid for for the whole piano originally. But I figured, if I am going to play again, I had better do it on an instrument that at least sounds relatively good.
That was the start of my musical renaissance. When I got my restored piano back, circa early Feb 2008, I started to play again. This is what it sounded like in Apr 2008, for example, when I recorded the “Autumn Leaves:”
https://youtu.be/NRxtmQoOqBY [music video]
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was the first “serious” piece of classical music I learned to play. And as easy as it now seems, I struggled with it.
I remember flying from Phoenix to New York in Feb 2008, for example, for one of my frequent business meetings in the Shitty. I was seated in first class next to a man who was flying to Kiev, Ukraine, for a premiere of his new composition. He was going to conduct there the Kiev Symphony orchestra.
I confided in him about my difficulties in playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. He tried to comfort me that it’s really not that hard. He must have had a good laugh inwardly.
Now in hindsight, when I think about that conversation, I have to chuckle. Because the Moonlight Sonata is probably the simplest and the easiest pice of music I have recorded since back then. A piece of cake compare to some other Mozart, Rachmaninoff or Schubert pieces. And yet it is still also one of the most beautiful.
That antique piano was the one I had eventually shipped to Maui, and later traded it in for my Steinway (in 2010), along with my Mercedes “rocket ship” – the SL 600. Not literally. I used the money I got for my Mercedes to buy the Steinway.
And with that as a preamble, here is now…
BEETHOVEN’S MOONLIGHT SONATA RETURNS TO THE DESERT – a film by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – May 3, 2017
APRIL 24, 2017
FIRST STEINWAY SOUNDS AT OUR SCOTTSDALE HOME: MOZART’S “RONDO ALLA TURCA”
This morning, after traveling more than 3,000 miles across the Pacific and overland from California, my Steinway concert grand piano arrived at its final destination – our Scottsdale home.
The first music I played on it was Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” (Turkish March). Elizabeth was there to record this short excerpt – just so you can hear its sound in addition to seeing what it looks like.
Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” excerpt on my Steinway in Arizona – Apr 26, 2017 – a video clip by Bob Altzar Djurdjevic – filmed by Elizabeth – [VIDEO CLIP, 42 secs]
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The piano is a bit out of tune, but it is still a superior sound to any other instrument I have played, including the bigger and more expensive Steinway Model D’s. On Monday, I am having it tuned by a Steinway piano tuner. And then it will be perfect in its pitch as well the richness of the sound.
YEAH! Welcome to the desert, you “jungle kid.” 🙂 Great to have you back.
Here are some still shots Elizabeth also took this morning:
(For those of you who are new to this Steinway adventure, I have had it shipped from Hawaii to Arizona – see the story below)
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APRIL 24, 2017
REUNITED: MY STEINWAY CONCERT GRAND PIANO ARRIVES AT ITS NEW DESERT HOME
‘My Steinway concert grand and I are reunited after a 5-month separation. And it FEELS GREAT! Yeah!
When I decided to put my Maui property, the Rainbow Shower, back on the market in early December 2016, I had shipped my grand piano to the Steinway dealer in Honolulu on consignment. We were both hoping for a quick and mutually profitable sale.
When that did not happen by the end of March, I invoked the Plan B: Have my piano shipped to Arizona.
Shipping a Steinway grand piano is complicated affair even for a local move. But doing it across the Pacific ocean for 3,000 miles is an experience onto itself. In the process of doing, I learned so much that I feel I can now qualify for a piano dealer. 🙂
Anyway, my grand piano arrived at the Scottsdale Steinway dealer’s warehouse last week while Elizabeth and I were in New York. Today, the dealer and his crew of 3 uncrated it and reassembled it.
They were amazingly efficient. In less than an hour, I was sitting at my Steinway playing Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” (Turkish March). It’s my favorite piece to run a piano through its paces.
When Kevin, the dealer heard it, he asked me to play the same piece on his Model D – the biggest concert grand Steinway makes. Which was conveniently sitting right next to mine.
After I did it about four times, moving from one piano to the other, we both concluded that my piano had a better,, brighter sound. Yet the Model D is a more expensive instrument.
So now that my Steinway is out of the box, literally, they will deliver it to, and reassemble it at, my Scottsdale home on Wednesday. Then we will be finally and irrevocably reunited.