A Piano Technique for Horowitz’s Steinway – an amazing instrument

December 14th, 2008

Well it happened, I finally got my chance on the Horowitz Steinway. I heard Kemal Gekic played it Wednesday evening at La Gorca country club, and they took a day to move it back to the Steinway gallery, so it was Friday when Misha Dacic and I had the whole place to ourselves.

Kemal Gekic on the Horowitz Steinway: incredibly light touch needed

Wednesday itself was quite an experience. At the rehearsal, we could tell that no ordinary way of touching the piano would do the trick. Many people don’t like the piano – I think it is because they haven’t figured out how to coax that golden sound from it. I could see and hear Kemal adjusting his technique to suit the incredibly fine tolerances needed. An incredibly light touch is needed, but not a superficial one. And slowly, more and more of this burnished brass, golden velvet sound began to arise. Each voice is so clear in relation to its neighbours that you can get away with pedalling several notes and maintain clarity. At the end of the hour Kemal said he was more exhausted than he had ever been after a practice session or performance. The instrument demands the utmost in your attention – if you are even a micrometer or a milligram off, it won’t give you that special sound.

At the recital again you could hear him going further and further “in” to the instrument – by the end it was his totally, and the audience was wild with rapture – they had never heard anything like it.

Be neutral in order to give yourself totally to the instrument

On Friday I sat at the instrument and felt totally incapable. But I had to do something, this was my chance! So I tried a Mozart sonata and slowly acclimatized my touch, getting rid of any last remaining vestiges of collapse or pressing, allowing my fingers to just reach, just join and nothing more. I felt the need for my body to be more plastic. I felt my shoulders melting as my whole body tried to give itself more to the instrument. It is paradoxical – you must become more neutral and avoid digging in to the instrument in any way, avoid any sort of force, and yet you must give yourself to the instrument utterly – mentally, aurally, and there must be a corollary physical melting inside that has nothing to do with collapse but has to do with the body letting go of any inner constriction that may be blocking some minor part of you from total participation in this sonority-love feast.

I tried some Chopin, one of the Ballades, and as my sound got bigger I resisted the temptation to get excited inside. I could feel the “excited” impulse welling up in me, but I could also feel this impulse contributing to “excited” moves, a small amount of overmoving which was enough to disturb my contact with the instrument. The sound reverted to simply beautiful instead of astounding and never heard of before. It takes far more mental concentration than we are used to to maintain one’s relationship to this instrument. If husband and wife took such care of each other there would be no more divorce!

The Horowitz Steinway requires a weightless, incisive touch

When Horowitz did a bold voicing, it sounded like he was banging it out, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I tried it, and it simply doesn’t work, especially not on that instrument. Much finer treatment is needed. The touch needs to be weightless and incisive. You need to stay totally calm inside, virtually detached. You have to monitor everything that’s going on – if even one component gets away from you, you are lost. The body needs to be fluid, not held but also not collapsed anywhere.

The thumbs need to stand up, to stand alone, to be gloriously independent from the rest of the hand.

At a certain point I felt so much electricity coursing through me that I had to jump up, run around, fall down on the ground and just shake for awhile, it was crazy. Misha recorded a few bits on his cellphone, and even on his cellphone you could hear that magical Horowitz sound. It was uncanny.

I am still in shock.

How the Horowitz Steinway stimulated a new evolution in Kemal Gekic’s piano technique

Today Kemal played a second recital on the instrument at the Miami Steinway Gallery, and spoke afterwards to the audience about his own artistic relationship to Horowitz and what he has learned from the instrument. He told of not really liking it when he first tried it several years ago, of feeling in the end that he shouldn’t really be playing it – as if his playing was too rough for it. But just at the end of that tryout, he played Liszt’s Waldesrauschen and heard some colours that he had never heard before, and this kept haunting him afterwards. It was the incredibly light touch of Waldesrauschen that opened up the piano and made it shimmer in an unheard of way, something unimaginable. This one experience “infected” his whole subsequent musical and pianistic development, and you will hear this documented on the next series of CD’s he will release next year. The Debusssy-Faure-Ravel CD is to die for – already he is exploring an entirely new colour world. But I am straying from the subject, back to here and now, Miami, December 2008.

The Horowitz Steinway evokes a higher musicianship, a deeper musical self

I only pray that the entire La Gorza recital gets put on YouTube (I will keep you posted) because it was like having the old man back with us. Kemal’s playing was speculative, introspective, the playing of “composer’s mind,” just as was the playing of Horowitz. I have never heard Kemal play better. Nay, I have never heard him play nearly so well! It was the joining of Kemal’s genius and sensitivity with this miracle of an instrument that transported us all to some ethereal realm for a couple of precious hours.

So… it is possible – to make a piano sound that beautiful. Only three ingredients are needed. An instrument that responsive and beautiful in its expression, the talent to handle it, and the knowledge of how to handle it.


This post has been incorporated into the last chapter of Alan Fraser’s Honing the Pianistic Self-Image

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