Few people know that the piano is an Italian invention.
Around 1720 the Paduan Bartolomeo Cristofori created the "gravecembalo with piano and forte". An ante litteram design object. Three hundred years later another Italian, Luca Nichetto, designed a piano for the legendary brand Steinway & Sons: the Great Nichetto limited edition.
Nichetto has redefined all the external elements of the instrument, with an approach similar to a micro-architecture that led to an aesthetic evolution of the Model B. The piano favorite tail of keyboard superstar Lang Lang, so to speak.
The debut a few days ago in NewYork, with a concert in the Steinway Tower in Manhattan by the musician and songwriter Rufus Wainwright (with his Leonard Cohen-like intimate vein).
Luca Nichetto, who defines his plan for Steinway & Sons epic and tenacious and dreams, one day, of seeing it played by Lady Gaga and Eddie Vedder, told Interni about his project.
Do you actually play the piano?
Luca Nichetto: "No (laughs)! This is what Robert Polan, head of limited edition piano department at Steinway & Sons, asked me immediately, after calling me for a meeting knowing, from my post, that I was in New York. I was honest, declaring myself totally naive. When asked how I would approach the project for a piano, I replied: for me it is the king of instruments, but also a beautiful piece of furniture.
The approach must be as respectful as possible, similar to car design, that is to intervene only on the bodywork, without touching the engine, out of respect and incompetence.
The answers were liked and the collaboration began which also led me to the appointment of external creative director for the limited and custom piano division. In the meantime, the desire to learn to play has also come to me, it's the time I'm missing..."
How did you arrive at the final definition of the project?
Luca Nichetto: "I didn't receive a brief, but only indications of limits and elements on which I could intervene: legs, lectern, pedal board, wheels, color.
When I receive briefs that are limiting on one side, but free on the other, I try to find references, and often I end up in Venice, my personal safety box.
Not out of parochialism, but because it has such a rich history that I always find some inspiration.
During the visit to their factory, I noticed several similarities in the production phases of a piano, also for the environment in which it is made, and a Venetian gondola. Starting from the most banal observation that both are black and shiny in the collective imagination.
I tried to apply the flowing lines of a gondola to the piano-archetype, maintaining the iconicity related to Steinway's aesthetics.
I worked on more sinuous legs, on the more organic connection with the sound box, sculpting with bevels or light strokes to define the forms.
Any changes to the silhouette reflected on the sound, which is why the design process was very long and took four years.
I worked closely with Steinway's master craftsmen, but also with the sales office, identifying three colors that could attract different types of users: the classic black (The Black Polished), a more intense deep red (The Midnight Red) and a wood-color combination (The Walnut Veneer) for those who are attentive to the furnishing component".
What are the most innovative aspects of the Grand Nichetto piano?
Luca Nichetto: "I didn't have the instinct to force the image or experiment too much, because I think it's not right. Steinway is not a company born to be disruptive.
I had to look for the fil rouge between heritage and current events.
For example, a hundred years ago it would not have been possible to make the legs, the lectern, the music desk of this piano. I have updated the archetype with contemporary technologies, such as the use of 5-axis CNC machines or 3D veneer for the walnut version.
The top, however, is equipped with a crazy technology, Spirio. It is a system that digitizes textures, even of concerts that took place a hundred years ago, capturing the artist's exact pressure on the keys.
This creates a music library that the piano is able to reproduce. It literally plays by itself! It is also a valid study tool for a pianist, being able to record and listen to the performance again. In addition, Spirio technology works in broadcasting. If Lang Lang is playing in Beijing, you connect remotely and your piano plays the exact same music at the same time".
What did you learn while designing a piano?
Luca Nichetto: "To manage complexity. It was also a complicated job for the engineering request, very different from the approach of companies in Italy. Here there were engineers who didn't know about design, and vice versa. The figure of the head of the technical office who has an eye for everything, precious and typically Italian, was missing. At times, I had to fall into that role and face unexpected technical phases.
But for me the unexpected is intriguing and in this case it has provided me with interesting parameters. When you enter such a complexity, creating a sofa or a chair afterwards seems like child's play!"