We can build space shuttles, but we can't figure out the magic of wood as an acoustic material
For all of our astounding technilogical sophistication, the mysteries of wood still somehow seem beyond us.
Every few years, a news item flashes by announcing that a scientist has formulated a molecular explanation for the magic sound of Stradivarius violins. A deeper reading usually reveals that some part of the mystery has not been explained, usually because we're missing some secret ingredient in the varnish, or that there are no old-growth spruces left in that Val di Fiemme woods where the old masters sought their materials.
I bring this up because Le Figaro in France today published a short profile of La Roque d'Anthéron music festival master piano technician, Belgian Denijs de Winter, calling him "the piano whisperer." (The festival begins today, running to Aug. 21.)
In the article, de Winter says that one of his great accidental discoveries, many years ago, was that, contrary to all of the accepted wisdom in the piano world, exposing the wood of a piano to repeated changes in humidity levels is actually good for its sound, because it allows the soundboard to loosen-up, thereby improving its ability to transmit vibrations from the strings.
He went so far as to build a climate-controlled room in his Brussels piano-rebuilding workshop to observe this more closely.
If you can read French, you'll find the article here.
So, this is a long, roundabout way of suggesting that we poor little humans, instead of working against nature, as is our wont, might remind ourselves to accept her into our plans and calculations.
It's just really hard to quantify in scientific language.
Young Canadian sensation Jan Lisiecki is a guest of the La Roque d'Anthéron festival tomorrow -- same day as Yuja Wang.
Today, he has just finished giving a recital at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland -- a recital that should be available for free streaming at www.medici.tv by Sunday.
It's part of an amazing summer for him, which has put him in the big leagues. We're lucky that Stratford Summer Music has managed to snag him for three days of recitals: Aug. 4 to 6.