Photo by Daniel Aulsebrook

Photo by Daniel Aulsebrook

Selecting the Perfect Piano

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Sir Andrew Davis once said that Jean-Efflam Bavouzet was not only the most fantastic pianist, but also one of the wackiest guys he knows.

Next month, Maestro Davis will conduct his very good friend, Bavouzet during Rachmaninov’s popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. But first, this world renowned pianist has to choose the perfect performance piano.


How do you select a piano suitable for performance?

For acoustic reasons, the pianist sitting at the piano is not always the best placed to judge the instrument. You get the full picture of it only when you hear it from the hall. In the basement where you usually select the instrument you can only judge the keyboard’s response. Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, who hated the piano selection process, said, ‘a piano is your destiny’. And similarly, classical pianist Arthur Rubinstein said, ‘There is no such thing as bad pianos, only bad pianists!’ I like to think of these quotes sometimes!

Most pianists choose Steinway. Is this your piano of choice?

Everybody would admit that a gorgeous Steinway is quite unsurpassable. This said, when performing Haydn and Mozart, I definitely prefer a beautiful Yamaha CFX. Pianos are not like cars. Too many parameters are uncontrollable therefore the brand name is not enough; you must hear and touch the instrument to apprehend its artistic qualities.

How do you work with a tuner to ensure the piano is perfect for performance?

This is difficult to express with words. If there is time available, I can get into the details of the piano with the tuner, alongside the obvious requirements. Sound quality demands may vary according to the nature of the concert – that is recital or concerto – but often I have confidence in the tuners.

In your career to date, what has been your favourite place to perform?

So many places to choose from, but my favourites have been Chicago Symphony Hall, Berlin Philharmonie, Carnegie Hall, Concertgebouw, St Petersburg Philharmonie, Musikverein, Wigmore Hall, Sala Sao Paolo, Casa da Musica Porto, and so many more!

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Photo by B. Ealovega

As a piano gets older does its sound change?

The instruments don’t automatically age either beautifully or badly. The key factor is the technician who takes care of it.

How do you look after your own piano?

I deliberately don’t have high quality instruments at home. This is the best way to not be disappointed on stage!

How do you prepare for a concert – mentally and physically?

There is no recipe to follow: you sleep well, you eat well, you are prepared and the concert is ok. You sleep badly, you don’t feel well, you are tired of travelling and the concert is fantastic! Go figure!

Do you practice on the day of a performance?

Yes, normally 4 – 5 hours. Sometimes I don’t practice the repertoire to be played at the concert. I do like practising in the evening, especially after a matinee concert.

Do you have a lucky charm or perform any rituals before a performance?

I eat an apple and walk around barefoot. Then I like to think that the composer is in the hall. My friend Gábor Tákacs-Nagy once told me: ‘When performing, we need to be the tour guide and the tourist at the same time’. These thoughts, more than any rituals, are inspiring for me.


Jean-Efflam Bavouzet will join the Orchestra in June to perform Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini under the direction of Sir Andrew Davis.