Scenes from the forest of hybrid keys

On Thursday 24 February 2022, the pianist and composer Jorge Romero colored one of the halls of the Reial Acadèmia Catalana de Belles Arts with Schumann, Debussy and Ginastera.

Jorge Romero studied in Córdoba, the United States and France to become a pianist and composer, taught music in Argentina and lives in Paris as a performer, composer and pedagogue. The week of 24 February was his first visit to Barcelona, where he came to give a concert with the hybrid piano of the ACOUHYB project.

He and Sergey have known each other for several years. Sergey tunes his piano regularly: "His work is excellent. He started telling me about his experiments with acoustics and that he was starting to experiment with the pedal. I was interested," Romero tells me, a week later, in an interview. After listening to several recordings of the new sound, Jorge Romero came to give a concert.

"I got to know the piano less than 24 hours before the concert. It was the evening before, after Sergey had prepared it. I expected it that way from the recordings I had heard, but I was surprised all the same; a musician has in his inner hearing the image of what he is used to, and this piano was different. I had to find a way to adapt to this other kind of sound."

"I found two options in the pedal: one, to give a new timbre to a whole section (as with the beginning of Debussy's Voiles), and another is what Sergey calls, it seems to me, superimposing tembral layers. This second one can be applied in passages with two superimposed layers, like the beginning of Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie. It allowed me to play with the colors.

The adaptation process was complex: "Adapting not only to the timbre of the piano made it difficult for me to adapt to the different volume of the piano. Working with one string, I had to exercise another kind of control on a dynamic level (pianos, fortes, crescendos...)".

Once he was familiar with the sound and volume, "the second step was to choose in which works and in which passages I could use the pedal. In many cases I had planned well, but in some cases I had to change. The first piece I tried on the hybrid piano was Schumann's Eintritt, with which I would start in concert. In it, the first part of Scenes from the Forest, Schumann goes for a walk in the lushness". So did, too, Jorge Romero. "I began to try it out. I had the idea that because of Schumann's (romantic) style, it would be more difficult for me to find passages for the pedal in him than in other composers. That's why I started with him, in fact. I was surprised to find that it came out very well in a delicate work: Vogel als Prophet. I think that ended up being where I used the pedal the most, because I associated it with the main theme and I liked it."

The repertoire was chosen for two reasons: "I wanted to think about the piano and the audience. I considered that the audience had to start from a well-chained program, and that presenting three composers of different styles (romantic, impressionist and Argentinean) would show more possibilities of the pedal. The idea was to get out of the specific color imagined by the composers; Schumann composed with the typical piano in mind, but at the time of the other two there was already the intention to look for new sounds". The other idea of the program was to find a set of pieces that "represented a story, titles, images... All the works allow the audience to form an image and make their sensibility flow." Romero too, as a composer, had an image to propose to the audience so that they could make it their own: "In the case of Debussy I wanted an image that was more ethereal, floating, a different color to what we usually do with Debussy. In Ginastera it was harder, drier. In Schumann I wanted to discover the sonority, to awaken new sensations, rather than impose an image".

Asked if he would like to do more concerts with the hybrid piano, he replies: "The idea is to try other composers. I have the feeling that there are 20th century composers who would be well suited to the sound, apart from Debussy. I'd like to experiment with Béla Bartók, Francis Poulenc... And, above all, I'd like to compose something for this piano. I think I could make much more use of the piano and Sergey's idea. And even more so, if he also continues to look for new timbres (as he already does)".

I ask him the first image that comes to his mind when he hears the Hybrid Piano: "The idea comes to me of a funambulist walking on the rope with his bar, looking for the right balance between waves and timbres".

Acouhyb's idea seems promising to him: "Being able to explore new sounds is always welcome in the world of music. It is at the basis of human evolution. Bach didn't conceive of the piano works we use now, for example, but it looks very good on this one; it illuminates his work in other ways. Why not do the same with other composers and other sounds?"

Nadja Bas

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