blend it like barenboim

Daniel Barenboim, piano hipster?

I was as disappointed as everyone to find that Daniel Barenboim’s new piano design, presented to a London public (although not the world) for the first time yesterday, was not some hopeless ramshackle wreck, a tangle perhaps of chicken wire and odd-shaped planks nailed together in a shed somewhere.

No, the actual design and construction was left to the likes of piano maker Chris Maene and manufacturers Steinway & Sons. So rather than standing there aghast, humouring some modern-day, deluded Gambara as he proudly unveiled his wonky handiwork, the crowd of journalists invited to the presentation could listen as Barenboim explained the thinking behind the new design

Part of the idea is that each register of the instrument – each string, even – should have its own sound that the player then has to work to blend together. As he said, “It gives you the opportunity to create a blend yourself as a player – and I like that.”

Already you may be able to detect the overlap with modern currents in food preparation and more besides: the move away from ready-mixed flavours, from homogeneity of blend, the emphasis on personal taste, perhaps even a positive revaluation of older modes of craftsmanship and the use of traditional tools (the impetus for Barenboim’s venture was the experience of playing Liszt’s piano in Siena).

A couple of years ago, the Twitter hashtag #hipsterclassical made a brief appearance. But in general, and using the term in an non-derogatory way (full disclosure: I am myself unbearded), hipsterism has made scant inroads into the mainstream of classical music. But such is its openness to artisan values, once you get past the gloss and sheen, that I wonder if Barenboim has just become one of its more unlikely outriders.

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