PULLMAN, Wash. — As soon as Gerald Berthiaume touched the keys of the Fazioli, he knew he was playing an incredible piano.
Berthiaume, the program coordinator for Washington State University’s School of Music and Theatre Arts, was piano shopping for the university at Baldassin Performance Pianos in Salt Lake City, the only licensed dealer in the west where a Fazioli can be purchased.
He found the Italian piano’s construction and luxurious sound to be far superior to its competitor, the better-known Steinway made in New York City. “This was an incredible piano, but I knew we couldn’t afford it,” Berthiaume remembers.
Indeed, the Fazioli – the Ferrari of pianos – is priced from $70,000 for a 5-foot, 2-inch grand to more than $160,000 for the 10-foot, 2-inch concert grand, the world’s largest.
But with some wheeling and dealing, the School of Music and Theatre Arts acquired the Concert Grand Fazioli with a combination of trade-in pianos and cash for the total bargain price of $100,000. WSU is the only university in the United States to own such an instrument, Berthiaume says.
The Fazioli will make its debut at a gala recital set for 7 p.m., Jan. 23, at the Kimbrough Concert Hall on campus. A reception will follow. Among the guests will be the instrument’s creator, Paolo Fazioli.
WSU faculty members Michelle Mielke, Susan Chan, Charles Argersinger and Berthiaume will perform works by Modest Moussorgsky, Frederic Chopin, Alexina Louie, Claude Debussy and Sergei Rachmaninov.
Fazioli pianos are entirely handcrafted from red spruce cut from Italy’s Val di Fiemme, the same forest where Stradivarius gathered wood for his violins. The piano’s craftsman, Fazioli, chooses the wood himself, says Berthiaume, selecting the one perfect tree out of 200 that has a natural resonant quality.
Over a period of two years the timber is transformed in a laborious process, including a natural drying period that takes six months to a year. The soundboard is electronically tested for perfect pitch as well as a tiny portion of strings normally untested by other manufacturers. The bridge is built with wood of varying hardness.
“All of these things together combine for an incredible sound and ringing quality,” Berthiaume says. “It is unlike any other piano I’ve ever played.”
The Fazioli Grand Piano debuted on the European market in 1981 and since then has gone on to win praise from world-class musicians. Fazioli, an accomplished musician in his own right, began making the pianos when he was unable to find the perfect piano.
“His father was a furniture maker, and he asked dad if he could have a corner of the store,” Berthiaume says.
Now Fazioli has his own shop in Italy, where less than 70 Fazioli pianos are completed annually. Some competitors create more than 3,500 a year. About 65 percent of the buyers are individuals, while 35 percent are sold to institutions such as concert halls and recording studios. The pianos generally have a glossy black finish but customers may choose exotic wood inlays, bronze ormolu or carvings. WSU’s Fazioli has a plain black finish on the outside and a finish on the inner rim that is unique to the Fazioli piano.
WSU music students and faculty will put the grand piano to good use. It will be housed on the stage of the Kimbrough Concert Hall for rehearsals and recitals.
For more information, contact Berthiaume at (509) 335-3239.