The Artistry of Innovation

By Brian McCreath

Jan. 20

Classical music is often characterized as tradition-bound to a fault, but a few items popped up on my radar recently that reminded me that the music world is filled with unbelievably creative thinkers who see possibilities others hadn’t thought of.

Tune in on Friday afternoon after 2pm, and I’ll have some musical examples from these stories:

NPR featured a story about a particular model of piano made in Australia by Stuart & Sons, which builds instruments with 102 keys. Most of today’s pianos have 88 keys, so doing the math gives you an idea of what kind of extended range results from those extra notes. (One maker, Bösendorfer, makes a model with 97 keys, which was built for Feruccio Busoni in order for him to play transcriptions of Bach’s pieces that were written for organs with 32-foot pipes.) We’ve got the story here, and on Friday I’ll feature Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 6 in a performance by Gerard Willems on one of these instruments, pictured below (image courtesy of Stuart and Sons.

One of the characteristics advocates of the Stuart & Sons piano point to is actually not the availability of higher and lower notes on the piano, but rather the effect those higher and lower notes have on all the rest of the notes. The extreme low and high end notes add to the resonance and overtones (or sonic color) created by the “normal” range of notes, just by vibrating. And while it’s carried out in a completely different realm, it’s the idea of resonance and projection that inspires a lot of what you see in the trumpets made by David G. Monette, like this decorated Raja Samadhi model:

This is the instrument Monette made for Charles Schlueter, who played Principal Trumpet with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 25 years before retiring a few years ago to devote more time to teaching and solo work. (Full disclosure: I both studied with Schlueter and worked for Monette many years ago.) When you look closely at the bell of that trumpet, you’ll see that there is actually a bell within a bell, which, again, adds a new level of focused vibration to the sound created by the trumpet, resulting in a kind of resonance other instruments don’t have. See what you think on Friday when you hear Copland’s “Quiet City.”  (And for more pictures and some explanation of the various details of the instrument, visit Monette.)

By the way, another instrument used by Schlueter on his new recording is the flumpet (seen in the picture at left standing up behind the Raja Samadhi), which was invented by Monette in response to the late, great jazz player Art Farmer. Farmer loved the flugelhorn, but he got tired of constantly putting down that instrument to play the trumpet in other situations. So Dave built a hybrid for him that allows the player to get the best of both worlds.  (images courtesy of David G. Monette Corp.)

Another Boston Symphony Orchestra player who pushed the technological envelope forward in the string instrument department was Luis Leguia, who also retired a few years ago. He was inspired through his love of boating to see what carbon fiber could do for string instruments, and you can see in this picture of one of his violas what that looks like up close.

It was on a carbon fiber cello made by Luis and Clark that Shauna Rolston performed Manuel de Falla’s Suite Popular de Español when she visited our studio in 2006.  (image courtesy of Luis and Clark)

Finally, one more story caught my eye last weekend in the New York Times. This one isn’t about instruments that have evolved, but rather the evolving way musicians use technology in their performances. And no better example could have been found than Boston’s Borromeo String Quartet, who perform not by reading sheet music but by reading off of Apple laptop computers, turning pages with foot pedals, which is what they did when they visited our studio to play Bach’s music in 2009. Tune in to hear that performance, and to read the whole story, check out the New York Times.

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