Here comes the sun

written by Brian Wilson
08 6 13

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

And I say it’s all right

(George Harrison)


I have been working! I have visited piano shops and tried out pianos. I have attended a concert at Wigmore Hall. I have heard street music and the band with the changing of the guard. There is music everywhere. On Thursday, I had an appointment with Steinway Hall in Marylebone. I am lost for words and struggling with what to write.

Ulrich Gerhartz has been living and working in London for over twenty years. He completed his apprenticeship at Steinway and Sons in Hamburg and through a series of events, he ended up moving to London. His title is “Director of Concert & Artist Services.” I have been trying to make an appointment with Ulrich since I was awarded my Fellowship, and trying to find time when Ulrich was in London was difficult. The pianists he was worked with this week is a who’s who of the piano world.

I am waiting on the lounge in Steinway Hall for our appointment, and the door opens and I instinctively knew who he was. A friendly face, build a little smaller than mine, and somewhere around the same age. I instantly liked Ulrich, and felt I had known him for years. He apologises and says he is a little behind schedule for preparing a piano that will be used for the Proms. He also just finished preparing a piano to go to Berlin for a recording session. I sat and watched him work.

He has the hands of a surgeon, and tools are in a specially made flight box. Every tool is in order, and each has a place. He starts chromatic scales and I know he is going to do some voicing. A piece of chalk in a holder, and he starts to mark the keys for the hammers he wants to address. I hear six or seven that I would like to change, yet Ulrich goes further, with different chalk marks on keys for the type of voicing he wants to perform. After needling the hammers, he makes sure he does not leave visible signs of his work. Presentation is important.

He says he has chosen this piano for the concerto performances at the Proms as he requires a powerful piano to fill the hall. He talks about each piano by their last three digits in the serial number and he knows the personality of every one. There are currently seven Steinway Model D’s in the room (12 in hire fleet), and he can tell me the numbers of every piano and where they have been or where they are going. A new D (selected by Ulrich in Hamburg for a major London venue) is brought in by the carriers and he will not untie the action straps until in front of the new owners. He still gets excited by new instruments.

The Proms piano is now finished and I look at the action and then try the piano for myself. These instruments are constantly worked on and refined. He says that you must always strive to improve the instrument, and always leave the instrument in a better state than when you started. These instruments are prepared so well, I wondered how you could find room for improvement. Replacement of parts or strings is essential and you must educate the owners about tuning, service and part replacement and supplying the best instrument at all times.

I try the piano out and immediately impressed with the sound. The sound is huge and you just know that this instrument will project into a large hall. I then try out different instruments. All these instruments are amazing in their own right, but they each have a different personality but Ulrich says these are the individual personality and not forced out of them. One piano suits me so well and it makes me smile while another I find difficult to control and I forget the notes I am playing. This one was not for me.

Ulrich would be described as a quite man but carries himself with a high level of confidence. He speaks to a Steinway Artist who has come in for some recording, and recommends a piano to him. The mobile telephone doesn’t stop with messages, and then he speaks to a famous pianist who is sending around the house keys in a taxi so Ulrich can tune her piano.

We stop for lunch and Ulrich starts to talk about pianos and working on pianos. He seems to know what I need to hear and knows what I am looking for in my career. Never compromise on your standards. Constantly improve the instrument. Let your work speak for you. Do what you say you will do. Don’t give in. So many more statements that I cannot remember them all.  I have never been understood like this before. I have never been so motivated yet instead of getting animated and talking fast, I feel this energy building inside of me. This has only happened twice in my career. I got goosebumps from the energy.

We move away to look through Steinway Hall and he describes the place when he first started. Things were messy and there was no teamwork or standards. Teamwork, understanding your team, communication and support is what is required to run his department. He laughs and says that you won’t find a website that says how good he is. Look at my pianos he says.

I look at his pianos. I am surrounded by the most amazing pianos and the best technician I have ever met. I will always remember two other things. Meeting Ulrich and saying goodbye to him. The genuine enthusiasm of meeting another technician even though he needed to work will always be in my memory.

I hope one day I can inspire another technician like I have been inspired.

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