Thoughts on pianos from internationally acclaimed pianist Konstantin Soukhovetski
Having been a professional pianist may entire life (since age 4) I have spent countless hours honing my piano technique and developing my mastery of the extraordinary instrument that piano is. We had Bluthner upright when I was born and piano was played in our home on a daily basis. It is a lovely instrument, one of the best upright pianos ever made and my first encounters with the piano were definitely at our family’s Mahogany Bluthner bedecked with golden candelabras.
When it became apparent that I was getting more serious with the piano my parents went on a hunt for a baby grand that would be suitable for professional piano studies. Enter: Schveighofer. This unique Viennese piano manufacturer no longer exists but at the turn of the 20th century it was one of the premiere art case piano makers in Vienna and was definitely quite the looker. The double-folding lid, the rare wood and ornate carvings along with the unique cross-stringing ensured that Schweighofer was worth a pretty penny it was selling for at the time.
The main motivator for my parents was an interesting suggestion of one of my piano teachers at the time: the get the piano with the stiffest action possible to develop and strengthen finger’s micro musculature during hours of my practicing. Since my parents aren’t professional musicians they went with the suggestion to find a monster-trainer piano to create ‘olympic’ hands. So my Schweighofer was a custom rebuilt specimen with action so loaded with lead weights that it still remains the stiffest action I have ever encountered. The keys were, of course ivory but the action was more like iron.
Whether or not this actually had an effect on my technique will remain unverified ethos as I did practice an average of 6 hours per day for years. I did develop a very athletic technique at a very young age and I did end up with hand injury years later while getting my graduate degree at The Juilliard School. These days I choose the lightest action possible – and would not dream of playing hours and hours on a stiff, shallow action of an older, rebuilt instrument. After my hand injury from overuse I have redeveloped my technique to be stronger, more efficient and completely relaxed on contemporary pianos with lighter action. Honestly, though I shall never know if I would have had the same success at a teenager at piano competitions were it not for my iron baby grand in Moscow. .
Since my moving to New York in 1999 to attend my alma mater – The Juilliard School (from where I received 3 degrees in Piano Performance along with a number of awards) I have had the privilege to play on all the world’s prestige pianos and, naturally have formed my personal preferences. But in all fairness – the créme de la créme of the top brands are all equal in terms of quality of action and sound. They simply possess their own characters that are as diverse as that of people. The Juilliard School’s official piano is Steinway – an easy choice as they are one of the absolute best ever. Since my time there Juilliard added Fazioli to its piano fleet – a worthy development and an equally amazing piano. I have played my Carnegie Hall debut on Bosendorfer, Lincoln Center Debut on Steinway, won major awards playing Yamaha and Kawai and experienced some of my most unforgettable and glamorous career moments on Bluthner Lucid pianos.
To me, what makes the best piano is first and foremost a combination of the sound and action: I like light, super responsive action and long, rounded sound with prolonged decay and resonant overtones. I like silvery, colder sound as I can make it warmer; while if the sound is warm to begin with it is impossible to make it cooler. Those qualities are my personal choices and to me they are pretty much a prerequisite to really like the piano. And then – design.
I personally never owned an ebony piano. My first instruments were exotic veneers and currently I’m enjoying my white grand, whose maker shall remain nameless. Having played on some of the most extraordinary pianos in the world I came to appreciate the daring of the designer pianos without compromise of the highest performance qualities. Twice I was flown to a 90.02 m / 295′5″ super-yacht where I gave private performances on a super-piano of such kind. Alas, due to NDA I cannot say anymore about that experience but it remains one of my most treasured memories.
It is through experience that I came to be irrevocably in love with ultra-luxury designer pianos. On that level, the top performance piano is used as a base on which amazing designs are created to take the very idea of the piano to the whole new level of object a’art. In the past all such art case pianos were made of exotic woods, carved and painted by top artisans of the times. They were embellished by bronze, gilded brass and solid gold.
What makes my heart flutter when it comes to piano design is innovation of materials and transparencies. A see-through piano, a carbon fiber piano, a 3D printed aluminum alloy piano – that is really 21st century to me.
Naturally, it is unreasonable to expect a concert venue to purchase such instruments since it is an absolute expression of a singular personal style of its owner and does not lend itself easily to being ‘borrowed’ by every pianist who graces stages of Carnegies Halls of this world. Therefore, the timeless elegance of polished ebony shall remain forever associated with A-class concert venues globally. But when it comes to one’s home – it’s another story. And in post-pandemic reality small-scale home entertainment is here to stay for years and years, and I believe it will usher in a true renaissance of at-home music making. For that purpose our options are many and exciting! The only parameter besides one’s personal taste is a matter of coin.
True designer pianos are very expensive and what you pay is what you get, when it comes to pianos. As a professional I will never choose the looks over the quality of sound and action – so low-end designer pianos are simply not in the running. The obvious necessity to cut corners usually leads to poor action, terrible metallic sound and lack of resonance so the piano sounds like a digital synthesizer. Clearly that won’t do. But if money is no object the top-tear pianos sound and feel amazing, while having the looks right out of a sci-fi blockbuster.
As an artist I work with sound so its qualities are the most important things in my book. There are ways to play the piano that will test the range of its sound production ability and will truly reveal the mastery of its builders. My process of determining the sound and action qualities of the piano are: rapid loud, rapid slow, crescendo and diminuendo, dark and light, double-notes (especially thirds and sixths), octaves, successions of chords, glissando loud and soft, glissando on a crescendo and diminuendo, trills. The overlap of the notes – or what I call “super-legato”.
In my work with Luxury Pianos I use 35 years of my professional career as a reference library to enable you to get the piano of your dreams. Whether or not you play the piano yourself I’m happy to lend my knowledge and understanding of different piano qualities to make your choice the right one and take the guessing out of the equation.
To learn more about Konstantin Soukhovetski, please visit his website. www.konstantinthepianist.com