The Fondazione Busoni – Gustav Mahler Stiftung, supported by the Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung commissioned Georg Friedrich Haas to write a new work for 50 micro-tonally tuned pianos and orchestra. The world premiere will take place in August 2021 within the Busoni Piano Competition, performed by the orchestra of the Gustav Mahler Academy. Klangforum Wien plans further performances of this exceptional project.
With limited approximations for six micro-tonally tuned pianos and orchestra, Haas explored the possibilities of such a combination by tuning the six pianos in twelfth tones, meaning that together they could play 72 twelfth tones within one octave. Now, ten years later, he refines the pattern with the help of 50 pianos which are tuned to an interval of 2 cents from each other – meaning 600 intervals within one octave.
But who could provide 50 upright pianos? Fondazione Busoni – Gustav Mahler Stiftung is supported by Hailun Piano, one of the largest piano manufacturers in the east. We talked to the company’s artistic representative, Sisi Ye, about the project.
What makes you, a Chinese piano manufacturer, collaborate with the Klangforum Wien, an Austrian ensemble for contemporary music?
Hailun is a piano manufacturer in China, but also an international company with a strong commitment to contributing to music and the arts globally. At the same time, the artistic goal of this particular piece is a spectacular one that cannot be found in our nation, nor our world or history.
We are pleased and excited to be an integral part of this project, and to work with the Klangforum Wien – which is also a highly acclaimed and globally recognized ensemble in the new music scene. Austria is also one of the European countries where Hailun has developed most of its dealerships and partnerships, which means we’re well-placed to offer the best resources and technical support to the project.
What role does national and international cooperation play for your company?
Hailun Piano entered the musical instrument manufacturing industry over 30 years ago, in 1986. Today, in terms of productivity and sales, Hailun Piano is the top company in the Chinese market. Hailun was also introduced to international markets such as Europe, North America, Japan, and even Iran, Israel, and India. We also have good relationships with many historical European piano manufacturers, and we exchange ideas and skills.
How would you describe the difference between the Chinese and the European market for pianos?
The Chinese piano market sees annual sales of 400,000 units for new pianos (excluding refurbished pianos), and the market continues to develop. Big brand names like Pearl River (which includes Ritmuller and Kayserburg), Yamaha, Hailun, and Kawai occupy more than 70% of the piano market in China. The most widely accepted products are priced around 15,000 – 30,000 CNY for an upright piano, which are mainly for amateur musicians. There has been a significant change in recent years, by which the quality demanded by customers in China is approaching the level required in the European and North American markets. I believe it is not only down to the financial standing of individual households, but also the prosperity of high-end concert venues and music institutions in our nation, which generates additional demand for fine instruments.
The composer Georg Friedrich Haas has written a new piece for orchestra or ensemble and 50 upright pianos that are tuned in microtones. Have you ever heard of such a piece? How will your pianos react? What do you expect to hear?
This piece will be a completely new work that nobody has experienced before. Certainly, we have more and more new compositions that utilize elements of microtonal tuning which New Music concertgoers may have experienced in the past. As a pianist and chamber musician myself, I know some great microtonal works, including the marvelous composition by Mr. Hass, In Vain...
(also a standard repertoire by Klangfourm Wien). The subtlety and special soundscape generated by the finely-designed microtonality is unique and overwhelming.
Microtonal elements are usually applied to instruments or the voice, but not to pianos as they lack tuning flexibility. I think people may have heard some piano solo or piano duet pieces that employ microtonal tuning, but I’m sure nobody can imagine the sound of a piece that’s for not just two, but fifty pianos. Haas is known for his ambitious ideas and for being extreme. The project is certainly challenging, but also very meaningful.
We are also proud to bring this exceptional and life-changing experience to the audience through skillfully-crafted pianos made by Hailun. We like Mr. Haas’ idea, and look forward to presenting this work worldwide together with Klangforum Wien.
Photo: Hailun Piano