Great pianists need a piano to match their gifts

The Inbox

By Elizabeth Lolarga,VERA Files

When Cecile Licad blows into town for concert engagements, it is not egoism on her part when she asks for a piano that will enable her to give her best on concert night.

No one appreciates this more than Ray Sison, principal flutist of the Manila Symphony Orchestra, local producer of some Licad concerts since 2010.

Sison also produced Philippine concerts  of Germany's Rolf-Dieter Arens, France's Pascal Roge and Laure Favre Kahn, Russia's Sofya Gulyak, among others.

He says, "Every time we have a concert we learn something new about the preferences of each pianist."

Sison, who's behind ROS Music Center that specializes in music development for orchestra and symphonic brands, classical concert productions, acoustic construction and repairs and maintenance, calls pianists  "the most disadvantaged of all instrumentalists because they have to contend with an instrument that is always new to them."

He says,"Except for Vladimir Horowitz who could bring his own piano and technician with him, most pianists adjust to a piano's idiosyncrasies. The piano has many adjustments that can be made to it so a high-caliber pianist is used to these adjustments being near perfect. Their music is near perfect. The piano must follow suit."

To show how important the right piano is, Sison says, "When you tune a guitar, you use an electronic tuner and tune each string perfectly in about two minutes. A piano is more complicated because the higher notes have to be stretched up a bit ever so slightly and the bass notes stretched down. This is because the harmonics of the bass note has to be in tune with the fundamental of the treble note. Sounds complicated?  It is."

The University of the Philippines College of Music plans to introduce piano technology as a subject. He welcomes this, saying, "Pianists can benefit tremendously. They can do first aid themselves to ailing pianos or communicate with their technician on to how to bring out a certain sound they like to have."

A well-trained piano tuner and technician can make a huge difference.

Sison says, "So crucial is this that the likes of Vladimir Ashkenazy and Horowitz bring their own technician with them. Technicians can bring out the X factor of the piano. A good tuner must not only be in perfect tune, he must keep the piano in tune for a whole night of pounding. He must land the tuning pins so that they are stable. The idea is to tune a little sharper than the target. Let the pin settle into place by making light taps at the tuning hammer."

It is an openly known that cultural centers depend on the government for funds. They follow the bureaucracy rule of awarding piano purchase or repair to the lowest bidder.

Sison considers this still all right and a necessity in public offices. He says, "The crucial thing is to determine how far you want to fix the piano. Do you want it okay, slightly okay, very okay, good as new? All over the world the standard is good as new."

He cited the konzerthaus in Vienna that will start to replace ten-year-old pianos, even if in perfect condition.

There are ways to be able to get more concert-level pianos here. He recommends that "we be frank with our sponsors and communicate privately and politely about the state of the pianos every time a pianist plays there."

Sison said the Cultural Center needs to hear from the pianists adding that there are  donors willing to donate a piano or willing to take on the full restoration of the pianos guided by the factory specifications of the brand of the piano.

At the Holy Angel University auditorium in Angeles City, Pampanga, Licad will be heard there for the first time on March 22. The concert is special to Sison. His company built the auditorium.

He says, "The auditorium is very quiet inside. The only thing you will hear is the music. You can try to talk to someone at the back of the hall while you are on stage and understand each other. That's 20 rows away."

He has produced concerts with 20 people in the house and jam-packed ones, too, saying, "Fulfillment comes from seeing the pianist smile after and during the concert because the piano was a help, not a liability, from seeing the audience elevated to a certain high after hearing an inspiring concert, and from hearing for myself beautiful music backed by mechanical success brought about by the technician."

Licad's other provincial engagements are on March 25 at 5 p.m. at Island Cove Hotel and Leisure Park in Binakayan, Kawit, Cavite, and March 27 at 7:30 p.m. at Marco Polo Plaza Hotel in Cebu City.

May there be pianos worthy of her in all those places.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")