by Adrienne Jill Foon
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Pianomania is a glimpse into the life of Stephan Knupfer, Steinway & Son’s Chief Technician and Master Tuner in Vienna, Austria. His job relies not just on a thorough technical knowledge of the piano but also on knowing the individual sound and timbre of each instrument, it’s limits and it’s capabilities in relation to what each pianist wants.In addition, Knupfer is expected to know each pianist’s preferences and styles. Stephan’s passion for his work comes across immediately. He is very focused like the Einstein of piano technicians—always thinking about how to produce certain sounds and coming up with inventions to create the effects he hears in his mind and what is asked of him by the pianists or what he could have done to make it better. He works hard trying to figure out exactly what his client wants in terms of sound. He often consults other specialists when a pianist asks for something specific such as for the piano to sound like a clavichord for one of the recordings. Unfamiliar with the clavichord, Stephan goes down to see and hear different clavichords to replicate that sound. Since each piano and the room they are played in vary dramatically he is constantly working and making minute adjustments even switching pianos around as in the segment with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, for the performer to try out. He works in Austria’s most prestigious theaters with the likes of Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Lang Lang, Alfred Brendel, Till Fellner, Julias Drake, Ian Bostridge, Igudesman & Joo, and others.
Stephan’s ability to understand and communicate transcends any language and cultural barrier making the piano itself feel like it’s own language that he, the performer, and the piano share together. Stephan treats every performer with the same kindness, attention, and respect whether it be the intense and nit picky Pierre-Laurent Aimard or the silly comedy duo of Igudesman & Joo.
The documentary shows behind the scene segments with Stephan working with the different pianists to create the sound they want for their performance. Sometimes it is just a little tweak here and there and other times he is experimenting with putting sound panels on the piano to bounce the sound for a specific effect wanted by the performer. He goes to great lengths to appease his pianist. For Lang Lang he searched every room of the building to find the strongest piano bench because of the dramatic bouncing that is part of Lang Lang’s performance style. For Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Stephan was very challenged because the piano Pierre-Laurent had come to try out for recordings he intended to do there was sold by the time he was ready to record. With Stephan running in and out of the recording studio making adjustments for each piece he was able to make Pierre-Laurent Aimard very pleased with his recordings. Stephan upholds the prestige that old masters have in maintaining incredibly high standards and knowledge. An extraordinary man and a truly engaging documentary.
Adrienne Jill Foon is a native of Los Angeles. She received a degree in Marketing at the University of Southern California and has worked in the music industry for over 10 years in tour booking, publicity, and management. She is currently working on a book of poetry to be completed this year.
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