A Rising Star in the Piano World
Steinway & Sons, Bechstein, Bösendorfer – these are the three prestigious piano manufacturers – each with more than 150 years of history behind them. Alongside there are the Japanese brands of Yamaha and Kawai, the top 2 in terms of production. Hailed as the king of musical instruments due to its range of musical possibilities, the piano has played a key role in the development of western music. And although manufacturers think highly of its history and tradition, the piano market is currently shrinking, with sales of the grand piano hit particularly hard.
Amid this is an emerging Italian piano manufacturer breathing new life into the market – ‘Fazioli’. Established in 1981 – thus making it a relative newcomer – their annual production is a mere 130 pianos each year. Yet, their reputation has grown in such a short period of time they have already become the piano of choice for pianists in many international contests. Their breakthrough came when they achieved a spectacular feat in the 2010 International Chopin Piano Competition where out of 4 pianists who had selected to play on a Fazioli for their performance, 2 won prizes.
“The man behind Fazioli – Paolo Fazioli – knows the sound he wants. He is on a mission to create, without imitating other manufacturers, a special instrument that could bring out this sound in his head.”
This is what Akira Ochi – a piano technician who works at Fazioli’s Japanese supplier Pianoforti – tells us about the founder of Fazioli. He not only has the trust of local clients, but also the utmost trust of founder Paolo Fazioli, being the technician for the Faziolis’ used in international contests.
A ‘Living and Breathing Manufacturer’
“Since the pianos by the older manufacturers were designed and produced in an age before computers, the ‘result dictated the sound’. However with Fazioli being a modern manufacturer, a more technological approach is taken where computer simulations are conducted to some degree to find answers on how to achieve the sound we are striving for. I believe that is what sets us apart. Although the piano world takes the side that history has more value, Fazioli takes a different view where nothing is ‘finished’ to begin with – a mentality that a superior sound is just around the corner has taken hold in Paolo and the craftsmen. I liken Fazioli to ‘a living and breathing factory and manufacturer’, ever evolving.”
It was 10 years ago when Ochi first met Fazioli. The fact was that Ochi was working as a piano technician for another established piano manufacturers at the time. But one day he was invited to Northern Italy by a colleague of his at the time, Alec Weil – who would later become the Managing Director of Pianofortim, and tagged along for a visit to a studio owned by that manufacturer. “I had the nerve to ask if I could tune their concert grand piano, upon which I was offered that piano without any fuss made. They would never let an Asian handle a full-sized concert grand piano if it was by one of the famous manufacturers, so that was a surprise at first. Afterwards, when I ran through an octave, I was taken aback by the sound that came out. ‘Wait a minute, this sound doesn’t come out of our pianos’ I told myself”.
A Tone Like Nothing Else
Ochi knew he wanted to be a piano technician while learning the piano in elementary school, so he saved the money from his allowance to buy the tools to do it himself. Working hard to fulfill his dream, and following piano technician’s training at Kunitachi College of Music in Tokyo, he started to work at one of the legendary manufacturers immediately after. Naturally, the tone of that manufacturer’s pianos set the bar on which he judged pianos thereafter.
“I was blown away by the fact that unbeknownst to me was an instrument whose sound surpassed what I had previously thought couldn’t be bettered. It was a life-changing moment for me. I got caught up in finishing that piano, and when I let Paolo test it out, he was immensely pleased with my work. Following that, he let me listen to another piano manufactured 5 years ago ; the sustain was great and it had great resonance. Paolo told me that ‘this sound is produced after 5 years’. That was what convinced me that this man truly understood pianos and would leave his mark in its history. I wanted to create sounds with this man but knew the jump would not be easy.”
Ochi was without a doubt conflicted as to whether to walk away from a major and established manufacturer to a relatively unknown one. “I was torn, but upon asking myself ‘why did I become a piano tuner?’ I realized that I joined this profession because I loved pianos, not because I loved that brand. Based on that reasoning, Fazioli would be the place where I would most enjoy my work as a piano tuner. It is a choice I have never regretted.”
Art and Passion in a Piano
All the pianos at Fazioli are made entirely by their hands by just under 40 skilled craftsmen. It takes an astonishing 3 years to produce a single piano. The finished piano is then put through its paces by Paolo Fazioli, a pianist himself. Only those pianos that he is satisfied with are then shipped out.
“There are very few manufacturers today that make pianos the way we do. Other manufacturers have rationalized production to the point where each and every process is timed to the minute. Even the work is condensed to adjust a small piano. In Fazioli’s case, there are times when making the necessary adjustments on one piano can take around 3 days. Of course, it does help that there is a limited number produced, and you wouldn’t think that a manufacturer which only makes 100 pianos would be seen as competition by an established manufacturer. Yet, even with 100 pianos, if every one of those pianos were judged accordingly, I reckon there is a possibility that what we know about and how we see pianos, even the market structure too could be turned on its head. Without taking any cue from others, to let the sound Fazioli believes in ring out all the time. If you look after each and every piano, knowledgeable customers would definitely take notice, and we would gain a share in the market in time. That shift is indeed beginning to be felt.”
Unearthing the Piano’s and your own Potential
There is always this to keep in mind in piano tuning – “to not put oneself into the piano” as Oishi puts it. In other words, it is to not seek a sound dictated by one’s ego.
“Piano technicians are prone to forcing ‘their sound’ onto a piano, but that is something I would definitely not do. I want a piano to sing the way it was born to. Instruments react as more work is done on them, and I look forward to hearing a sound come out that is better than I expected. However, it will not turn out well if I set out to put my own sound on it. It is the true mark of a technician for an instrument to be played as it is meant to be, so I think the care put in is what makes the ‘Fazioli sound’.”
Ochi wants to introduce Fazioli pianos to Japanese concert halls in the future and wants to be at hand to listen and play them. At the same time, he wants to show the world the level of Japanese piano technicians.
A lot is asked from a piano technician – from acoustics to mechanical technology. From that point, the attention to detail that Japanese possess is not surprisingly a major advantage. Although there have been racial barriers more or less in the music world up to now, I am now in a blessed situation where I can spend time with a piano for days, to use my capabilities to the fullest. Of course I wouldn’t have encountered this profession without the manufacturers who paved the way with the piano’s history and traditions. While forever thankful for that good fortune, I want to remain in pursuit of a better sound. If I had never heard of Fazioli, I would not have had the opportunity to push myself as a piano technician, and it might have come to the point where I might have walked away from pianos. I cannot ask for more than to be sharing and working toward the same vision as Fazioli at this point in my career.”
Born in 1972. Realizing from a young age he wanted to be a piano technician, he purchased a $100 tuning hammer with savings from his allowance at 12 years old. After piano technician’s training at the Kunitachi College of Music, and 10 years at an established manufacturer, he joined Fazioli. He also works as a piano technician for international contests including the Chopin International Piano Competition.