|Tom Hewson recording his new album in the|
Bösendorfer workshop Selection Center, Wiener Neustadt
Photo credit: Elisa Caldana
On Friday, Ermanno Basso, producer at CAMJazz, engineer Stefano Amerio from Artesuono studio in Udine, photographer Elisa Caldana and I were handed the keys to the Bösendorfer workshop, located about 50 kilometres to the south of Vienna, in Wiener Neustadt. There were kids-in-a-candy-shop smiles all round as we set up the recording gear in the new 'Selection Center' which opened in May 2010, a sizeable space designed entirely around the acoustics of the piano and inhabited by about thirty instruments of all shapes and sizes.
The windows look out onto a small yard where orderly stacks of sawn spruce tonewood sit three meters high, ageing over a number of winters before starting their slow transformation into one of the few hundred instruments that leave the workshop each year.
I had visited once before in 2015 after director Brian Kemble came to see a gig Fini Bearman and I did at Jazzland in Vienna. After chatting for a while with Bösendorfer's Technical Director Ferdinand Bräu about the new 280VC piano they had been developing, we took a walk around the workshop to see every stage in the manufacturing process. From the strings being spun by hand to the drop of the hammers being meticulously regulated by a silent row of pin-wielding technicians it was completely mesmerising. At the end of it all was the first finished piano sitting in the Selection Center. As soon as I played it I started thinking about how I was going to get to come back!
We pianists can't lug our felt hammers and personalised soundboards around, so discovering a new instrument is like discovering an entirely new vocabulary. Ideas that might sound dull on an old upright suddenly make sense. A little rhythmic riff at the bottom of the piano might seem so full of energy that you have to abandon your structural ideas for the piece on the spot (as I had to repeatedly do) and just go with what the piano is telling you! The acoustic, the view of the wood yard, the tools and piano skeletons in the workshop; everything feeds into the music, changing not only the way you feel when you play, but the substance of the music itself.
Two days, nine new pieces and three re-workings later we had an album. Stefano took a picture underneath the Bösendorfer sign to send to his friends at Fazioli (I'm sure they took it well) and the Italians headed back to Artesuono to finalise the mixes. Huge thanks to Bösendorfer and everyone at CAMJazz for an unforgettable opportunity.
Tom Hewson won the 2014 Nottingham International Jazz piano competition
"Essence" will be released in late 2017
LINKS: Tom Hewson's first album Treehouse
Pictures of the Selection Center and the opening ceremony in 2010
Tom Hewson writing in 2012 about Treehouse