7 Apr, 2018 5:00am
By: Dionne Christian
Arts & Books Editor, NZ Herald
At first glance, it looks like an ordinary Steinway piano — if you can use the word ordinary to describe a hand-crafted instrument, with some 12,000 individual parts, produced by a company with 160 years of heritage behind it.
Oh, and a starting price tag of $225,000.
But the Steinway Spirio has a surprising — possibly spooky — feature which could shock those who have previously seen pianos where the keys move by themselves and the music booms only at the movies.
It's the world's first self-playing piano and now it's launching in New Zealand. The Spirio
comes loaded with pre-recorded performances, played by some of the world's finest musicians.
Keys move with the music and the sound is so rich it's impossible to differentiate the system from the pianist's original playing and is guaranteed to raise the pulse rates and send a shiver down the spine of piano music fans everywhere.
Piano specialist John Eady, from Auckland music store Lewis Eady, says it works by using an iPad app (an iPad is included in the price) which is programmed with classical, jazz and popular music recordings.
Select which track you want — and there are performances from more than 1700 Steinway artists — sit back and enjoy. Eady says the blending of art and technology is the most significant development in 70 years and, despite the price tag, there is good interest in the Spirio.
He's already sold three — a smaller model is $225,000; the larger $275,000 — including two to a rich-lister who wishes to remain anonymous. He bought one for his Auckland home and another for a property in Hawke's Bay.
Eady says no matter what audio system you have at home, you'll never be able to get the same sound quality using speakers and acoustics as you get from the piano itself.
"You could spend more on a sound system than one of these pianos and still not get the same quality."
Best of all, when you want to tickle the ivories, it becomes a "regular" Steinway.
"It's actually creating more work for pianists," says Eady, "because some are buying a Spirio, listening to a performance and then deciding to invite the pianist to play for them and their friends."
Multi award-winning New Zealand pianist Jason Bae, based in South Korea, is one of those who have recorded performances for the Spirio system including Rachmaninov's Moment Musicaux No.4 Op.16 at the Steinway Piano Gallery in New York.
Bae admits when he first heard about it, he was sceptical but has become a devotee.
He now describes it as a joy to play, saying no machine-manufactured instrument produces the same sound as one that's handmade.
He's looking forward to the next innovation - a piano where the pianist can record themselves and play it back.
A pianist from a young age, Bae was the youngest concerto soloist when, aged 13, he performed with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra for the SkyCity Starlight Symphony Concert in the Park; at 20, he became the first NZ Young Steinway Artist and a fully-fledged Steinway Artist in 2016.
He's returned home to play — and not play — at the Steinway Spirio launch in Auckland before a New Zealand tour which will take him to Wellington, Christchurch, Cromwell and The Hills in Queenstown.
No, the Spirio isn't going with him but he'll perform on other Steinway pianos before returning to Auckland later this month for a performance at Lewis Eady Music.