The Importance of Tuning for better performance

Seminar 6th May 2019 – Hammerwood

Click to access tuning-seminar.pdf

This seminar will bring together interesting people from different dimensions of performance, music appreciation and piano technicians converging around four brilliant musicians and a collection of instruments. Music is vibrations, no more, no less, and so tuning them either to be together or not together is more than mere academic stuff of ivory towers. Colour is experienced with music as a result of synesthesia – but in the old days, composers composed in a sort of colour that could actually be heard by everyone. It’s been forgotten and this is why instruments at Hammerwood have been tuned so that people can hear and experience it.

Excited musicians will be demonstrating and talking about it, music lovers will be hearing it and piano tuners will be coming to hear what it’s all about. It’s all about what music sounds like, the emotion it conveys and how music communicates, not as an optional entertainment the budgets for which can be cut, a sport for fingermechaniks, but as a language and as powerful as the heritage of Shakespeare.

Many people have expressed interest in coming and if you are, it would be really helpful if you could let us know. Details are on and perhaps you might pass this on to anyone who might not have heard of it. We’d really like to know how many chairs to put out and numbers of coffee cups needing to be available.

The seminar on 6th May is a crescendo that’s been building for three decades, and quite a historic event bringing top musicians, Steinway artists, music lovers and piano technicians together in a way that’s happened only a couple of times before. Eben Goresko is well documented on YouTube but a number of people have been pioneers for a long time. Carl Radford in 1991 was writing “It may be that in the next decade or so you will see a change in the temperament of piano technicians.” Tuner Ed Foote was the technician for a groundbreaking recording for Enid Katahn in the late 1990s and on YouTube there is a groundswell of pianists breaking away from standard equal temperament piano tuning.

Whether or not this is a matter of historical authenticity is a matter of debate, often with fiercely held opinions, but increasingly tuners in France and in the USA are trying alternatives to Equal Temperament, not always overtly, and reporting that the sound of the piano can be improved or a charm given to the music in some way. US piano tuner Bill Bremmer has had a significant following for years, Peter Grey also in the US writes interestingly and in particular Jason Leininger reported on the PTG Forum: “UT adds a noticeable variation to the sterilized and homogenized sound that has unfortunately become a defining characteristic of the piano today….(one part of which is dogmatic use of ET). . . .  this lack of tonal variation in the acoustic piano is one important reason why it is having more trouble competing with electronic keyboards.  Some people are losing interest in heavy, shiny, black, loud, powerful, sterilized, piano shaped objects.” 

Personally over the past three months I’ve had the opportunity to tune a number of instruments in a region in France which has given an insight into what happens harmonically when one tunes, to analyse the tonalities of standard and non standard tunings and how the results can be applied to different pianos. Later this year one of the International Piano Competitions will be using an unequal temperament and the tuning will make very obvious the difference between the fingermechaniks and the truly sensitive musicians. This distinction is a major reason why a sea-change in tuning style may start to turn back the tide of performers for whom the instrument and the repertoire is only a technical challenge, an entertainment or sport, rather than a communication of a deeply moving language of humanity.

As well as instruments tuned in a standard “well temperament” we’ll be showcasing the Jonathan Bellman Chopin Temperament for the first time particularly liked by Adolfo Barabino using Pianoteq simulation from MODARTT as well as a real acoustic instrument.
The main acoustic instruments for the day will be the 1885 Bechstein tuned to the Kellner Bach temperament, an 1802 Stodart tuned to 1/4 comma Meantone, an 1819 Broadwood tuned to Kirnberger III, the 1859 Hallé Broadwood tuned to Kirnberger III and a 1905 baby Broadwood tuned to the Bellman Chopin temperament. In addition two 1970s harpsichords, a Morley and a Clayson and Garrett will be available for performance as well as tuning experiment, as well as a chamber organ in Meantone.

The day starts at 10.30 for 11am. A train leaves London Victoria for East Grinstead at 9.21 and taxis are available from East Grinstead. Road Runners 01342 324444 and Western Cars 01342 323000 are helful and can meet trains from East Grinstead, Dormans station or Cowden to where trains run from London Bridge.

Performers Adolfo Barabino, Alexandra Kremakova, Jong-Gyung Park and Gary Branch will be speaking about their experiences in playing in non-standard tuning and performing items from Baroque to Debussy and Berg.

There will be opportunities throughout the day for people to try out different instruments and tunings for themselves. 

In theory the formal part of the day will be finishing at 5pm but informally it’s not inconceivable that enthusiasts will be playing instruments until the light fails.

Contributors to the day

– —Adolfo Barabino—

Adolfo Barabino made his debut in England with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and he recorded the Chopin 2nd Piano Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra.  He is regularly invited to Japan, where he gave concerts in Suntory Hall, Tokyo Hamarikyu Asahi Hall, Kitara Hall-Sapporo, Minato Marai Concert Hall-Yokohama, Aoi Concert Hall-Shizuoka and in Narapi Festival, which was broadcasted by MBS TV.  Adolfo Barabino has made numerous live recordings, including playing Maurice Ravel’s Erard for “Canal 2” in France, for “Radio Classica” in Madrid and in South America where his performances of Mozart and Chopin’s two piano concertos with the Symphonic Orchestras of Venezuela, Lima, and Cuba, were broadcast by several national television networks. In Europe, Adolfo has given recitals in numerous capital cities performing in Munich and Prague, as well as concerts in collaboration with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the National RTV Romanian Orchestra and the Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana.  Adolfo Barabino is recording the complete Chopin’s works with ClaudioRecords.

—Jong-Gyung Park—  

Jong-Gyung Park was Born in Korea, where she started studying the piano at age three. Her studies took her to the Tokyo Music College in Japan, followed by periods of study in Korea and the United States. Her professional education followed at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where she earned a Bachelor’s program with full scholarship. After the studies in Boston, she was invited to take part in the prestigious “Il Fondazione per Il Pianoforte” in Como, Italy. This enabled her to interact with eminent figures in the music world including Karl Ulrich Schnabel, Dmitri Bashkirov, Fou Ts’ong, Leon Fleisher, Alicia de Larocha, and Martha Argerich. Firmly establishing herself as one of the leading pianists of her generation, she made her orchestral debut at the age of thirteen with Boston Symphony Orchestra and has since appeared with many international orchestras. Winner of numerous international awards, including Bronze medals at the Sviatoslav Richter International piano competition, the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Masters Competition in Israel and the Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition in Italy. Here JongGyung also received the Busoni Prize for commissioned work. In the UK, she was the winner of Haverhill Sinfonia International Soloist Competition. This resulted in her touring and playing throughout England and becoming well known to British audiences.

—Alexandra Kremakova—  

Alexandra Kremakova is a London-based pianist, harpsichordist and piano teacher. Her repertoire ranges from Renaissance and Baroque to Modern and Experimental music. Recent concerts include a theatrical performance of  ‘Crossing Dartmoor’, song cycle for tenor and piano by Australian-born composer Caitlin Rowley as part of Tete-a-Tete 2015 festival; a solo harpsichord recital in Hammerwood Park; ‘Musical Cabinet of Curiosities’, a  piano recital at the British Maritime Museum, and a performance of Liszt Piano concerto no.2 under the baton of Martyn Brabbins, as well as numerous other solo and chamber music recitals. She is a prizewinner in over 20 national and international competitions and has received awards from Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, Bourgas Municipality and Bourgas Rotary Club. Alexandra enjoys a busy life between solo and chamber music engagements and also works as a church organist. 

—Gary Branch—  

Gary Branch studied piano at Trinity College, London and in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, Gary became very interested in early pianos and their link to the great Classical and Romantic composers. Returning to the UK, he discovered Finchcocks Musical Museum, a specialist centre for period keyboard instruments. He is presently involved with the development of the Finchcocks Charity. Gary has worked with several well known musicians including Neil Jenkins (tenor), Kathleen Kemler (American flutist), Jamie Akers (lutenist/period guitarist) and Steven Devine (harpsichordist/period piano.) Gary has broadcast on BBC local radio and on television, including on the BBC’s ‘Great Railway Journeys’ at Finchcocks Musical Museum, focusing on a Broadwood and Sons square piano and it’s link to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; this was broadcast in January 2016. He records for the Resonus label including with Jamie Akers, Neil Jenkins and Kate Semmens . (soprano). He has performed across the UK and abroad as a solo pianist and accompanist.