The Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand : a unique 21st century evolution of the grand piano!

Master piano maker Chris Maene and renowned architect Rafael Viñoly have developed the Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand.

The keyboard’s radial arrangement is extended to strings fanning out over a much larger soundboard that augments the instrument’s capacity for nuance, clarity, and power. 

The instrument’s ergonomically curved keyboard matches the natural sweep of a pianist’s arms rotating from the shoulders and facilitates effortless playing across all registers.

Though the curved keyboard might be the eyecatcher, the instrument as an entity is aimed for more dynamic range and a unique transparant sound.

Listen and watch Kirill Gerstein playing Chopin's Grande Valse Nouvelle at Verbier Festival here!



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The ergonomically curved keyboard

With over seven octaves, the keyboard of a modern acoustic piano is almost twice as long. The length makes it impossible to play its highest and lowest registers in the same neutral posture as when playing the middle registers directly in front of the pianist. Playing near the ends of the keyboard forces a slight physical contortion that engages more muscles, requires extra effort, and can lead to repetitive stress injuries.

The logical way to relieve this condition is by introducing a gently curved keyboard that matches the arc traced by a player’s arms rotating from the shoulders. This is the configuration of the Maene-Viñoly piano.

The design: form follows function

The rest of the instrument’s design and construction are a logical extension of its keyboard, which leads to radially arranged strings and a consequently larger soundboard. The piano’s rim, frame, and structure that hold the strings and support the soundboard also respond to the keyboard, as does its radial “action” – the mechanism that transmits the movement of the keys to the hammers that strike the strings. Together, these components give rise to the piano’s distinctive sound and playability. 

From idea to creation

Mr. Viñoly is an avid amateur pianist whose own experience and close friendships with master pianists has sharpened his awareness of the instrument’s biomechanical demands and inspired his idea to curve the keyboard. In a 2016 conversation with legendary artists Maestro Daniel Barenboim and Martha Argerich, he was encouraged to develop the concept. Soon after, Viñoly sought out a partnership with Chris Maene, who had previously developed a straight-strung grand piano for Maestro Barenboim. 

The further technical and aesthetic development leveraged time-honored piano building traditions, computer-aided design and acoustic modeling, and the generous feedback and support of some of the world’s most prominent piano technicians and artists including Emanuel Ax, Daniel Barenboim, Kirill Gerstein, and Stephen Hough, among others. 


Research & Development

Only a combination of traditional piano building experience, technological prowess, in-house research, and collaboration with external research partners, technicians, and the artists who validated the keyboard’s ergonomic and acoustic merits, could make the Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand a reality. 

Using computer-aided design techniques to run 3D simulations, cross-sections could be made in advance, before proceeding to the actual prototype phase. In an iterative process with Rafael Viñoly, the aesthetic design was coordinated with the technical design, which always prioritized acoustic performance. 

There was also close collaboration with several renowned external partners and institutes. Beyond the ergonomic advice provided by Prof. Pozzo and Dr. Gärtner, the University of Leuven, Belgium contributed research into the soundboard’s configuration, and the specialized engineering firm Technocon resolved the structure for the cast iron frame, which had to be very strong to absorb the enormous string tension, while also elegant and light to convey the strings’ energy to the soundboard without loss or distortion.

Rafael Viñoly — 'Chris Maene’s obvious expertise, sensitivity and commitment to excellence can only have come out of a lifetime of probing and learning about making pianos. But more than that, no other piano maker has the courage to challenge the status quo of a culture and industry that has seen little innovation on behalf of its most important exponents, professional artists. Chris has the courage of an artist, because he is one, as well as a consummate craftsman.' 

Chris Maene — 'Rafael Viñoly is an exceptional architect with a clear vision and a profound passion for his creations. In the instrument’s design, the visual aspects are a logical extension of the drive to meet its acoustic and ergonomic goals. By considering it as an integrated whole, he drove us to challenge a grand piano’s traditional set-up and embrace the consequences of the foundational idea. The result is astonishing: from Rafael Viñoly’s ideas arose a radically new concert grand, with a unique look and an exquisite sound!' 

Kirill Gerstein — 'The Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand advances the discourse of what a modern grand piano is, while acknowledging and utilizing the traditions and ideas of the past. Its curved keyboard, designed to follow the natural arc of the arm's movement, is the starting point for a re-examined lay-out of the larger soundboard that follows along this curvature. The unified design, ergonomics and function give the piano a unique sonic signature. This piano is a musical and artistic creation, as art innovates and provokes by building on the achievements of the past, to look into the future. I am thrilled and honoured to give the first ever public performance on the Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand.' 

 

 

Front view
Top shot
covered top shot
leg
back shot
Topshot keyboard
curved keyboard in production
work in progress
Michel Brandjes
Rafael Viñoly at work
Rafael Viñoly and Gregoir Basyn
Rafael Viñoly and Chris Maene, Michel Brandjes at work
Barenboim in the Boulezsaal
Kirill Gerstein playing at Ai Wei Wei Studio, Berlin