Stefan Knüpfer *1967
Sometimes Stefan Knüpfer has nightmares about torn strings. The Hamburg native is the chief technician for Steinway & Sons, Austria. In the Vienna Concert House, he is responsible for the tone of the grand pianos of great pianists.
When star pianists like Alfred Brendel, Lang Lang or Pierre-Laurent Aimard give a concert, every tone has to be right. Even more; it has to have its own character. Whether open, closed, more intimate or rounder – the pitch expectations of the pianists are exceedingly precise. Stefan Knüpfer attempts to please everyone in every situation. And even when his daily clients are the world stars of piano music, Knüpfer always remains down to earth and maintains his sense of humor.
Stefan Knüpfer loves his instruments and working with them. When he tunes a grand piano, he controls the hammerhead, string for string and tirelessly looks for the perfect pitch. He cannot understand colleagues who work with a measuring device that ascertains the right tone frequency. „Those who tune exclusively with the device depend on their eyes, not their ears. “ Knüpfer prefers to listen closely. Not even a piece of dust is allowed to be removed from the sound board afterwards. “Everything changes the pitch. “ He comprehends a sound not as a defined frequency, but rather as a color within whose shades and progressions are possible in innumerable nuances.
Knüpfer began his apprenticeship as a piano builder and concert technician at Steinway & Sons at the age of 15. Previously, he himself had wanted to become a pianist. But he didn’t consider his talent to be adequate. Even then Knüpfer’s expectations of himself were too high.
The film accompanies Stefan Knüpfer in his unusual profession and shows – beside the passionate technician – the person. Like when he lovingly takes care of his dog Julius during the breaks, or bringing home made cookies made by his wife to his colleagues.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard * 1957
Pierre-Laurent Aimard *1957
Pierre-Laurent Aimard tweaks on every single tone of the grand like no other pianist. Because what would rhythm, melody and interpretation be if the sound of the instrument did not match them? Every piece has its own character. And one has to be able to hear it.
Aimard is only satisfied then when the sound is perfect. And until this perfection is reached sometimes an entire concert grand piano has to be exchanged at short notice or sound recordings made several times. The end is an ambitious goal: Perfect music.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard began his studies at Conservatory in Lyon at the young age of twelve. Later he entered the College of Music in Cologne, and perfected his playing under Yvonne Loriod, the wife of composer Olivier Messiaen. In 1973, at the age of 16, Aimard won the Chamber Music Prize of the Paris Conservatory – a pivotal point in his career. And later in the same year he was awarded the first prize of the international Olivier-Messiaen-Competition. In 1976 he was one of the founders of the Ensemble Intercontemporain.
From then on, Aimard’s path crossed those of famous contemporary composers like Boulez, Stockhausen and Ligeti. Aimard is also known for his talent to make this contemporary music accessible – without neglecting his traditional repertoire as a soloist and chamber musician- to a wide audience. Aimard plays alone or with the orchestras of such conductors as Christoph von Dohnayi, Kent Nagano or Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Aimard is the artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival since 2009 and for the next three years.
In the film, Aimard plays the central role among Stefan Knüpfer’s clients. The preparations for his recording of Bach’s “The Art of Fugue” compose the most important narratives.
More about Pierre- Laurent Aimard!
Alfred Brendel * 1931
Alfred Brendel gave his last public concert in December 2008; but even after the end of his active career, he doubtlessly remains one the great contemporary pianists. The benchmark of his career is his interpretation; consistently true to the composition. Unlike many of the younger pianists, Brendel is of the opinion that the artist should adapt to the work, not that the work should adapt to the artist. A high quality delivery was always more important to him than pompous promotion of oneself.
Unlike many other pianists, Brendel’s career was not predetermined. He was not considered to be a child prodigy nor does he descend from a musical family. Brendel was born in Wieseberg, in Moravia (in today’s Czech Republic), as the child of a family with German, Austrian, Italian and Slavic roots. He began studying the piano at the age of six. After attending several master classes (with the Swiss pianist Edwin Fischer, among others) he developed his playing style auto didactically.
Brendel was the first pianist who recorded Beethoven’s entire body of piano compositions – and remained faithful to his passion for the great composer until the end of his career. In 1999 he recorded all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos once more with Sir Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic. Brendel was also one of the few pianists who recorded all of Mozart’s piano concertos. He has receives innumerable awards for his work, the German Recording Prize, among others. Brendel has been living in London since 1971 with his second wife, Irene.
In the film we see Alfred Brendel in his recital of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert compositions at the Grafenegg Music Festival in August 2007.
More about Alfred Brendel!
Lang Lang * 1982
Let’s hope the bench holds up! Wherever Lang Lang appears, he always wants the most stable sitting accommodation that the House can offer, because the Chinese pianist is known as much for his wild emotional style as for his musical talent.
The eccentric artist has advanced to the status of a downright pop star even in Germany. Millions of viewers saw him in „Wetten dass…“, Kerner and Beckmann invited him to be on their talk shows. An unusual media presence for a classical musician. In China, it is said, his success has given the piano hitherto unknown popularity; about 20 million young Chinese are now taking piano lessons.
Allegedly, Lang Lang became aware of Western classical music in a rather unconventional way; this through one of the episodes of the cartoon series Tom and Jerry that he saw on television at the age of two. Cat Tom’s interpretation of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in cis-Moll is supposed to have awakened his interest in piano music.
From then on, his career took off like a rocket. He had his first piano lessons at the age of three, and at the age of five he won a piano competition in his home town of Shenyang in North China. At the age of nine he began studying music at the Conservatory in Peking, and at the age of eleven he won his first international prize at the Fourth International Youth Competition in Germany. He had his international breakthrough in 1999, when he filled in for the impeded Andre Watts on short notice and played Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto under the direction of Christoph Eschenbach. Since then, Lang Lang’s schedule is full of concerts all over the world.
In the film we see Lang Lang in performance at the large hall of the Vienna Concert House in November 2006, and the preparations with Stefan Knüpfer for this concert. In the film, Mozart and Schumann passages are primarily heard
More about Lang Lang!
Till Fellner * 1972
The well known pianist Till Fellner comes from Vienna, where he studied with Helene Sedo-Stadler. Later he studied with, among others, Alfred Brendel, whom he cherishes as an important mentor. His international career began in 1993 with winning the 1st prize at the Clara Haskil Competition in Vevey (Switzerland). Since then Fellner has been in demand as a guest of famous orchestras in the large music centers in Europe, the US and Japan, as well as at important music festivals. The directors with whom he has worked Claudio Abbado, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Christoph von Dohnányi, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Heinz Holliger, Marek Janowski, Franz Welser-Möst and Hans Zender. Till Fellner plays regularly in a trio with Lisa Batiashvili and Adrian Brendel, and further intensive collaboration associates him to the tenor Mark Padmore.
Till Fellner has been concentrating lately on work with the Orchestre National de France (Kurt Masur), the Philharmonia Orchestra London (Sir Charles Mackerras), the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (Kent Nagano), as well as the Munich Philharmonic (Lothar Zagrosek). Till Fellner’s most important recordings up to now are the works by Schumann, Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart und Bach.
In the film we meet Till Fellner in the Hamburger Manufacturing Company Steinway. As a musical advisor and expert, he helps Stefan Knüpfer with the selection of a new grand for the Vienna Concert Hall, to replace the Number 109 that is supposed to be sold to Australia.
More about Till Fellner!
Julius Drake *1959
Julius Drake’s passion is chamber music. Unlike most other pianists, this London musician, from the beginning of his career, never pursued the big solo piano concerts; in fact, he preferred to play music on the stage together with other musicians. Drake loves to accompany singers like Thomas Quasthoff, Dorothea Röschmann, Thomas Allen and Ian Bostridge on the stage. And when he organizes one of his own song recitals in the Middle Temple Hall in London, there is a hardly a famous artist who needs to be asked twice.
Julius Drake began taking piano lessons at the age of seven. Later, he studied at the Royal College of Music in London with Angus Morrison, where he discovered his love of chamber music. When he finished studying, the Australian pianist Geoffrey Parsons took him under his wing and opened up the large repertoire of song to him.
In the film, we see Julius Drake in the preparation of a song recital with the British Ian Bostridge at the Grafenegg Music Festival. Julius Drake and Stefan Knüpfer are good friends.
More about Julius Drake!
Aleksey Igudesman und Richard Hyung-Ki Joo
Igudesman & Joo combine great music and sharp humour in their barefaced classic-cabaret-shows. Above all, they make fun of the vanities of famous pianists and violinists. Stefan Knüpfer met Richard Hyung-Ki Joo when they were working with pop star Billy Joel, for whom Joo arranged and recorded piano-compositions. Through the work with Joo, Knüpfer also met Aleksey Igudesman. The two work have been working together since they were twelve. They had met at the Yehudi Menuhin School near London. Besides their shows as comedians, both are involved in other projects as serious musicians: They compose, perform as soloists, and are both founders of established chamber music ensembles: Igudesman plays in the string trio “Triology” and Joo in the piano trio “Dimension”. In these constellations, both have produced several well-known CDs. In the film, we meet the two in Stefan Knüpfer’s workshop, where they are plotting new pranks for the next programme.
More about Igudesman & Joo!
Chamber Orchestra of Europe (COE)
The orchestra was formed in 1981 as the former Musicians of the European Community Youth Orchestra (ECYO); which had the age limit of 23 years. Since the members had the desire to continue playing music even past this age, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe was established.
The Management of the orchestra is based in London. The members of the orchestra, however, travel to rehearsals and concerts from their home countries, since this orchestra is not a full time institution but works on a project by project basis and has no permanent location. Several of the concert halls in which the Chamber Orchestra of Europe can often be heard are the Alte Oper in Frankfurt am Main, the Cologne Philharmonic, and the Cité de la Musique in Paris. The orchestra also plays regularly at the Festivals in Salzburg and Berlin.
„Die Zeit“ wrote the following about Aimard’s last Mozart concert with the COE: „ This is one of the most beautiful Mozart recordings of all time. Aimard plays Mozart with greatness and pure esprit, with pizzazz and warmth, with Latin clarity and grandeur; he is lyrical without pampering, and represents Mozart’s severity and Mozart’s submissiveness. In short, he is the ideal Mozart pianist because he loves him; and because he has waited long enough for him.
More about Chamber Orchestra of Europe!
The recording engineers
Christoph Claßen *1968
Christoph Claßen is the musical producer at the „Art of Fugue“ recording by Pierre-Laurent Aimard. He is the primary point of contact for the pianist in matters of interpretation and sound. He tries to be the antithesis to Aimard and Knüpfer’s experiments by representing the commonly accepted sound aesthetic, so that an F does not sound like an F sharp, and a piano does not sound like an organ. Besides that, he is a chatterbox, especially in discussions with his partner, Tobias Lehmann.
Tobias Lehmann *1968
Tobias Lehmann is a sound engineer and part owner of the studio that works for Aimard. After the restructuring of the Warner Music Group and its associated label, Teldec Classics and the Berlin Teldec-Studios, he, Friedemann Engelbrecht und Martin Sauer established the Teldex Studio Berlin GmbH in January 2002. Thus the tradition of this studio is being carried on.