The AvantGrand: Even Better Than the Real Thing?
Remember the Disklavier? “Remember” might be the wrong word—I’d bet a few people reading this have Yamaha Disklaviers in their offices and homes, so the instrument is by no means a historical curiosity just yet. I’ve known a few composers with “Disklavier pieces” in their catalogs; fascinating works, in many cases, but performable only under very carefully arranged circumstances, often languishing for years, cicada-like, between emergences. In 2009, it’s hard to get excited about a piano with a floppy drive in it.
If the piano world isn’t abuzz over the new Yamaha AvantGrand, however, it should be. Because the AvantGrand—a sampler, in effect, that’s supposed to feel exactly like a grand piano when played, right down to the reverberations—doesn’t have strings, it can presumably be played in whatever tuning the owner desires. Suddenly Vortex Temporum doesn’t seem like such a stretch. Furthermore, the inclusion of harpsichord samples implies that (if only after a little good-natured hacking) the AvantGrand can be configured to take a wide variety of sample libraries, so if you’re just sitting around in your drawing room with the score of Sonatas and Interludes, you could snoop around for the appropriate sample library (or make one yourself, if you have a few days and a grand piano and some screws and plastic things) and play through it.
The possibilities are extensive. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the AvantGrand takes away as much as it gives. For every piece that might be easier to play on an AvantGrand, there’s one that would be simply impossible; the first that comes to mind is Vox Balaenae. If you push your chisel around inside an AvantGrand, all you should expect to hear is a soft scraping noise and the sound of your warranty being voided.
No matter how many testimonials from classical pianists Yamaha collects, it’s safe to say the old-school grand piano is unlikely to go out of style; the cocktail of well-practiced and -trained musical hearing, snobbery, and superstition that moves musicians (and venues) to purchase extraordinarily expensive concert grands is a thoroughly bankable concoction. Besides, the AvantGrand just doesn’t say “old money” like a Bösendörfer does, and that’s an important function for pianos, too. I’ll be curious to see how popular the AvantGrand turns out to be. If I were in the market, I might consider it. You?