One fringe benefit of organising concerts is the opportunity to spend time with the performers and get to know them a little better. Many of you will fondly remember the piano recital by Gergely Bogányi at Angels Resort Porvorim in November 2011. How quickly the years go by!
It was a fantastic concert, to be sure. His visit stands out in my memory for this of course, but also for the sense of urgency he showed for getting to the sun, surf and sand as quickly as was possible. Hungary was in the throes of one of its coldest winters, and temperatures had plummeted to serious double digits below zero. Bogányi needed some vitamin D in a hurry. I had gone to fetch him from the airport, and he didn’t want to wait even to first check into his hotel; where was the nearest beach? So we took a detour to Bogmalo. Bogányi shed his layers of winter clothing and donned swimwear he purchased at the beach, and in a trice, we were in the Arabian Sea, soaking in the afternoon sun.
We got talking, and it was then that Bogányi told me about a ‘new piano’ he was designing. The conversation then drifted on to other things, so I really did not get a sense of how developed and how close to fruition his piano project was.
So when news of a “revolutionary”, “Space-age”, “Wonder piano” began to trickle into my newsfeed on 21 January, it came as a pleasant surprise to learn that its creator was Gergely Bogányi. The piano made its début with Bogányi himself playing upon it at a gala concert at the Academy of Music in Budapest on 21 January, the eve of the Day of Hungarian Culture.
So what is the Bogányi piano, exactly? The promotional website has a glossy video on its home page triumphantly proclaiming “a new dimension of quality sound”, “born out of deep love and humble respect for the classical piano tradition.” It has a rather mystifying mantra: “Sound beyond Time”.
To look at, the Bogányi piano would fit right in aboard the Starship Enterprise. It has the aerodynamic design and sleek lines of a luxury automobile. It has two wide sweeping legs instead of the standard slender three, and their curved shape helps deflect the sound of the piano to the audience from below the instrument as well as from above.
The bigger innovation, however, lies within, unseen. The ‘soul’ of a bowed string instrument is its soundpost, and indeed it is even called ‘alma’ in many languages. Similarly the ‘soul’ of a piano is its soundboard. Traditionally made of wood, it is replaced in the Bogányi piano by a futuristic, space-age ‘composite,’ complex material used in space technology. As Bogányi explained in an interview, “Wood has both, its advantages and disadvantages. It’s fragile, it changes and reacts to all external effects. Composite is not prone to such changes”. So a Bogányi piano ought to be more weather-resistant. The elements (heat, humidity, cold, damp, dryness) are sworn enemies of any stringed instrument having wood in its design. The Bogányi piano promises to hold its tuning for longer as well.
The composite material is a multi-layered carbon-fibre with a rippled surface that is sprung and detached from the piano frame.
Bogányi explains how and why his piano needed to be born. “For years I have played with a sound in my head, different to that which I was playing. It was always in another dimension different from the actual sound coming from the piano. Somehow, it was a more beautiful harmonious, flowing sound. I understood this might have been the same with J.S. Bach, Beethoven and Franz Liszt. To the extent that Liszt, for example, worked with the piano manufactures at the time to modify and improve the sound to match the expectations he had in his mind.
“In those days these famous composers made a difference and some strides in the traditional piano design. Today, I have taken the same approach. I felt passionately and was intrigued to find out how I could make a difference. How could I bridge the gap between the ‘miraculous’ sound in my head and that of the sound I was hearing?
“I had also spent countless hours with my professional piano tuner, who travelled the world with me. Trying to find that consistent, quality sound in every piano. It was always so difficult with each concert hall having such different conditions that affected the piano. Dryness, dust, humidity were always a factor. Could we find a way to keep this quality consistent?”
Bogányi also drew huge inspiration from the brilliant (but unsung after his death) Hungarian piano maker Lajos Beregszászy (1817-1891). Beregszászy made innovations to the piano action and soundboard that were bought by the famed piano manufacturer Bosendorfer. He made learned improvements upon the agraffe, the ‘hook’ that prevents a piano string from vibrating between the pin and the bridge. The Bogányi piano incorporates the Beregszászy agraffe system in its design. Bogányi felt the urge to take up the Hungarian thread of piano innovation following in Beregszászy’s footsteps.
The instrument is priced at around EUR 200,000 and has a patent in many countries, including the USA and China.
Piano expert Károli Reisinger, CEO and owner of New York’s piano repair shop Klavierhaus, was present at the début of the Bogányi piano and was “mesmerised” by its sound quality, which according to him restored lyrical qualities to the piano sound-world after a century spent of developing more power from the instrument. “In this design you will be able to hear the 1850-1860 era qualities, lyrical, bell-like, precise – and also the modern instrument that our time is used to, which is clarity”.
Four-time Grammy nominated jazz pianist Gerard Clayton was also impressed. “The sound almost feels as if you’re in a bubble, it’s so clear. It’s a new sensation”, he said.
The sound clip on the website is indeed beautiful, but I’d love to hear it up close. Will the Bogányi piano stand the test of time and enter the annals of the instrument’s history? Or will it be a quirky blip on its timeline? Will its Sound truly transcend Time, as its by-line suggests, earning it immortality and the worship of pianists everywhere? Only Time will tell.
(An edited version of this article was published on 1 February 2015 in my column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)