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News and Notes: May/June 2017

Actors at the piano

Musicians are occasionally disappointed to see inaccurate portrayals of instrumentalists performing in the movies or on TV. For close-up scenes of a character playing a musical instrument, many actors use hand doubles, or act out a performance which is later overdubbed by a professional musician. Some actors eschew the idea of hand doubles or musical overdubbing, however, and strive to refine their musical skills when preparing to play the role of a musician.

Ryan Gosling, who recently played the part of a jazz musician in the movie La La Land, spent three months learning to play the piano so that his on-screen performances would be realistic. According to news sources, he practiced several hours a day in order to learn the musical excerpts which he performed himself in his Oscar-nominated role.

In Florence Foster Jenkins, actor Simon Helberg performed all of the music onscreen in his role as the reluctant accompanist to the infamously bad singer. Helberg was originally trained as a jazz pianist. To prepare for his role, he practiced for months, and studied videos of Horowitz and Rubinstein at the piano. Since each scene was shot live with no studio overdubbing, Helberg's musical background helped him follow the intentionally-stumbling Meryl Streep on the big screen. 


Christopher Taylor unveils "hyperpiano"

Pianist Christopher Taylor unveiled a new electronic double-keyboard piano in October on the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The piano is actually a combination of two concert grands and a two-tiered keyboard console. The 176 keys, five pedals, and a number of electronic sensors offer unique sonic and technical capabilities for the performer.

Taylor and his colleagues developed the new instrument over several years of work at the Morgridge Institute for Research. His debut performance was the Bach "Goldberg" Variations, a piece which helped him win the bronze medal at the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. 


World's largest grand piano


Daniel Czapiewski broke the world's record in 2011 when he built the largest grand piano in the world in Szymbark, Poland. This "Stolëmowi Klawér" is twenty feet long, over eight feet wide, and more than six feet high. It weighs over two tons. The names of famous Polish composers, including Chopin, Paderewski, Szymanowski, and Gorécki, are written on the piano's legs. 


Lang Lang signs with Universal


Pianist Lang Lang recently left Sony Classics to sign a new contract with Universal Music Group. Forthcoming albums, to be released through Deutsche Grammophon, will include a CD of educational solo piano music called The Piano Book, as well as a new recording of Bach's "Goldberg" Variations. 

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