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?

3 thoughts on “The AvantGrand: Even Better Than the Real Thing?

  1. Kyle Gann

    The prepared piano sounds for Sonatas and Interludes have already been sampled, by Mikel Rouse, and are commercially available.

    And I dunno, my Disklavier pieces are sort of the core of my concertizing output. But I’m glad to hear about the new piano.

    Reply
  2. augustusarnone

    Does anyone know about the Moog PianoBar? This device sits on top of an acoustic piano and scans the keypresses while you play, then outputs MIDI information. I haven’t tried this AvantGrand yet but I’m skeptical that any of these companies producing electronic keyboard instruments will EVER produce a playing mechanism that is on par with a real acoustic piano. With this device at least the action is not an issue. I’ve been practicing with the PianoBar for months. Practically speaking, you lose maybe 3/4″ of space at the back of the keys, and you’re playing might get a little tentative for fear of hitting the thing. I’ve been working on Etudes Australes, for example. The other issue is that the regulation is a little dicey, seems like the black keys are a bit loud in some cases. You have to calibrate it at the outset by playing all 88 keys as a scale. The pedal scanner works great though, for damper and UC pedals. The Midi output is thoroughly reliable and with no time lag, even in music like Xenakis’s and Cage’s. If you want just electronic, with no acoustic strings, I guess you have to mute the strings with felt ribbons. Anyway, decent solution, though I wonder if Moog has discontinued the device due to poor sales?

    Augustus Arnone

    Reply

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