Steingraeber Transducer Piano at Cremona Musica 2017

On Friday, September 29, Cremona Musica will host the Steingraeber Piano Festival, dedicated on the great German piano maker, a family owned company, active from 1852 in Bayreuth. In Cremona, Steingraeber will introduce the new Transducer Piano, able to play in different tunings through the transducer signals transmitted to the soundboard. Friday, September 29 at 2 pm, pianist Clara Murnig, sound engineer Maurice Oeser and composer Robert Platz will give a unique concert, presenting the Italian premiere of a new composition by Robert Platz, written for the transducer piano. We interviewed all the protagonists of this project.

Mr. Udo Schmidt Steingraeber is the head of the company, and gave us more details about the Transducer piano:  Can you tell us something about the transducer piano?

The Transducer Piano offers two sound levels in one and the same soundboard:
1) the traditional acoustic concert piano;
2) the 2nd level of piano-sound by transducer signals directly into the soundboard. For that, two transducers are installed directly into the soundboard wood.

How did you have the idea to produce it, and how it works?

The German composer HP Platz developed the first transducer piano at the IRCAM in Paris for his composition
Branenwelten. Mr. Platz is professor at the Musikhochschule in Würzburg, Germany, and asked for a cooperation for a further development of the transducer piano. So, the next step took place in Würzburg, Germany, with a Steingraeber semi-concert grand piano D-232. The Steingraeber technicians were very impressed by the sound result and started the research for further options offered by the transducers. They involved the sound engineer Robert Hofmann from the University of Music in Vienna to realize and develop the software for different additional features and capabilities:
– the performance of Quartertone Music from the 1920ties and 30ties (e.g. Charles Ives)
– to play in all tunings/temperaments, historical ones or oriental ones – whatever!

– to use the transducer input as a booster to increase the dynamic range of the acoustic piano enormously (e.g. for open airs) by adding the sampling sound to the original piano-soundboard by transducer.

Can a pianist switch to different tunings by himself during the performance, or this should be programmed before? 

To switch to another tuning/temperament system is a matter of seconds using the pedal.
The computer must be programmed before with the tuning/temperament you wish to get. The pedal offers four different options (further 4 and more options can be added).

Steingraeber develops these different tunings/temperaments by special demand from the Tehran University of Arts: Prof. Pooyan Azadeh, dean of their piano department, wishes to have the possibility to use a piano for the traditional music of Iran.

Do you have further innovative products to present in Cremona? 

The 2nd Steingraeber semi-concert grand piano D-232 in Cremona comes from Pianoforti Bergamini: it is a concert piano which offers the historical SORDINO pedal, and furthermore a “Mozart rail” to adjust the key dip to the historical depth of 8mm.
Last but not least, there will be a very astonishing innovation which seems to be marginal but helps enormously to project the sound to the hall: the lid of the new D-232 is extremely light! It corresponds to the weight of the very thin piano lids of the 19th century; the new lid is 45% less heavy than lids from industrial made pianos: that helps to “spread” the sound to the room more efficiently, and it is a pianist-friendly solution to make it easier to open the piano!

Austrian pianist Clara Murnig will play a very special program to show the possibilities of the Transducer Piano.

How did you choose the program for your concert in Cremona? 

I wanted to show the possibilities of the Steingraeber Transducer Piano in the best possible way. In the first part of the concert, the piano will play with the different tunings, as the strings are muted and the actual sound comes from the transducers inside the piano. In the second part, I will perform Robert HP Platz piece Unter Segel, where no electronic is used and the piano sounds in its traditional way. After it, I will play a second piece by Robert HP Platz, Branenwelten 6, where the computer is reacting simultaneously to my playing and plays additional sounds into the piano. So it is a mixture of acoustic piano and electronic.

What is the feeling of playing the Steingraeber Transducer piano, when using the electronic part? 

Playing with the muted piano can be quite tricky as the keyboard is super sensitive and reacts immediately to any touching. Playing Branenwelten 6 with the Transducer Piano is a great pleasure. It feels like playing with a partner with the only difference that the computer of course is always following my playing. Also I like the fact that playing the piece with Transducer Piano suddenly produces quite big sounds even though I seem to be playing “so little”.

Mr. Maurice Oeser is a sound engineer and will take care of the live electronics suring the performance of Robert Platz’ piece.  

Mr. Oeser, what are your current projects as a sound engineer? 

Currently I am finishing my Bachelor of Music at the music-school in Trossingen, Germany. Meanwhile, I am working as a freelancer with the SWR Experimentalstudio in Freiburg on different projects and events. For example, on the new string quartet by Robert HP Platz, which also uses transducers, and was premiered at the Beethovenfestival in Bonn just a few days ago. The next project after Cremona will be “Daily Transformations”, a new work by Clemens Gadenstätter for music and video, which will be premiered in Vienna this November.

What would you expect from the further evolution of interactions between piano and electronics in the next years?

I think the growing possibilities of electronics will continue to change the interaction with the world of classical instruments in general. The piano is special in different ways: first, it is THE instrument of the classical music and, thanks to its many possibilities and simplicity, plays a special role (it’s no coincidence everyone uses MIDI-Keyboards and not MIDI-Violins). On the other hand, just by its sheer size and complexity in functioning, it gives many possibilities for the manufacturer to implement special functions, like transducers, magnets, loudspeakers or MIDI-functions.
I could imagine that by the growing knowledge, power and precision of modern technology, there will be a qualitative step forward in building those new “crossover” instruments, where they are no longer unique, self-made curiosities, but will become more professional and well-thought-out instruments for new music, like the Steingraeber Transducer Piano.

Composer Robert HP Platz, tells us something more about his composition for the transducer piano:  Can you introduce the two compositions of yours that will be performed in Cremona? 

Unter Segel and Branenwelten 6 are together a large architecture of piano sounds, that form a continuum without interruption. Unter Segel is without electronics and establishes a development from horizontal/linear to very rich vertical textures. The enrichment of the piano sound made it necessary to reach out to the domain of electronics. But, naturally, I did not want to suddenly add something from outside: loudspeakers that automatically would be on another level than the piano sound. This made me do some research at Ircam (Paris) that finally resulted in the use of transducers. In the ideal case, the listener would not be aware of the moment when electronics come into the game: this is all one flux, one architecture, one drama.

You are also a internationally renown teacher of composition. Can you give an advice to young composers?

Once you have come to a clear concept: do never give up your ideas if there are obstacles. Be a team-worker, insist until your dreams come true! 
And be true to yourself!