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#111815 - 05/20/06 03:06 AM Russian Pianos - Story
ntman2 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/09/05
Posts: 205
Loc: Abingdon, Maryland
This interesting story was published in the Baltimore Sun Paper:

Music fades for Russian pianos
In land of Rachmaninoff, the best keyboards are foreign-made
MOSCOW // The workers labor in a vast factory furnished with electrical saws and half-cut timber slabs that are part of a vanishing tradition, sanding wood to a smooth finish, drilling holes in what at first seem random shapes, then stretching long copper-and-steel wires, to finish the construction of one of Russia's cultural icons: a piano.

In the country of Rachmaninoff and Rimsky-Korsakov, the Lira plant here in the capital is the last factory mass-producing acoustic pianos in Russia. The country's oldest manufacturer, J. Bekker of St. Petersburg, founded in 1841, shut its doors in 2004 after years of financial woes. The Yartsevskaya Piano Factory, in the Smolensk region west of Moscow, went bankrupt the same year. A piano maker in Kazan, the Russian press reported, turned to coffin-making to supplement its diminishing income before going out of business.

"They all collapsed," Vladimir M. Larionov, Lira's director, says with obvious regret. "We lived through these times."

Lira produces 600 to 700 pianos a year, compared with the more than 7,000 uprights and grands it annually assembled from domestic parts during Soviet times. Its bright new showroom in northern Moscow displays a sampling of its instruments, including a model named after Tchaikovsky, a $2,000 instrument advertised as an "economy" piano for the middle class.

But the bulk of pianos for sale in Russia are better-known imports, which piano experts say typically have better sound and are of higher quality. Those instruments are bought by serious musicians and well-to-do Russians who consider a piano a desirable adornment to a spacious living room.

During the Soviet era, when schoolchildren learned to play in compulsory music classes, Russian manufacturers produced about 56,000 pianos a year. The instrument was a sign of culture, a family treasure to be passed from generation to generation, no matter whether one's son or daughter cared to play.

Lira, founded shortly before World War II as a wood-working factory that manufactured furniture and windows, entered the piano making business in 1956 thanks to a government order for 5,000 pianos. At its peak, the factory employed 1,100 workers, more than five times the work force today. Like the other dozen or more state-owned piano factories, Lira encountered hard times in the mid-1990s. The majority of its customers were public institutions, including the music schools and theaters that relied on the state for their budgets. When budgets were cut, new pianos were no longer a priority. Meanwhile, more foreign instruments, like Steinway pianos from Germany and the United States and the Kawai brand from Japan, began entering the Russian market.

Some companies hastily tried to privatize. Others tried to diversify. Lira continued to produce furniture and also began manufacturing piano components, such as keys, though it now uses keys and strings bought abroad.

Lira survived in part because of its diversification and, Larionov says, government-subsidized rent from the Moscow municipality. The factory went private in 2002, with the help of investments by a major furniture company. It now manufactures and markets dressers, sofas and armchairs at a store adjacent to its instrument showroom.

None of the pianos at the Moscow State Conservatory, which has trained many of the nation's great pianists, including Sergei Rachmaninoff, is Russian-made.

"We would rather invest in a more expensive, more serious instrument," says Yelena I. Kuznetsova, dean of the piano faculty, noting that Steinways have proven their mettle after being played by students 12 or more hours a day.

Two Steinways and a Kawai stand on the stage in the conservatory's Great Hall. By tradition, Kuznetsova says, the conservatory every four years purchases two new Steinways for the International Tchaikovsky Competition, arguably the most prestigious in the world.

Kuznetsova has been playing since she was 4. She has a German Bechstein manufactured in 1913 at home and a Soviet-era Lira at her country house.

She quietly laments that Russian piano making is a nearly lost tradition. Many of the nation's best players, she notes, got their starts decades ago on domestic instruments. And for that, she says, "We want to thank the factories."

At the Glinka State Central Museum of Musical Culture, in Moscow, the most treasured pianos are from abroad. Nina V. Mileshina, head of the department of musical instruments, points out the Steinway once owned by the virtuoso Nikolai Medtner and a 100-year old Bechstein - its quality and sound "delicious."

All the Russian pianos on display were produced at now-defunct factories. The instruments are there "out of patriotism," says Mileshina, not because of their quality.
Baltimore Sun Paper

It may be found for a while at the following URL:
My two cents -- Mason & Hamlin Model A

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#111816 - 05/20/06 06:58 AM Re: Russian Pianos - Story
Rich Galassini Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 10494
Loc: Philadelphia/South Jersey
We had a technician work for us in the early '90s that had worked in the Riga piano factory as a tuner. He was a pianist and conductor as well.

He felt the finest Russian piano was the "Red October", but added that that piano was still terrible.

Thanks for sharing,
Rich Galassini
Cunningham Piano Co.
Phila, Pa.
(215) 991-0834 direct line
Check out the Science Channel's "How Its Made" featuring our piano restoration:

#111817 - 05/20/06 07:17 AM Re: Russian Pianos - Story
ftp Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/10/05
Posts: 2365
Loc: Philadelphia
Very interesting article. I wonder what happened after the breakdown of the USSR culturally, is music no longer compulsory in the education program of the former USSR states or do they import from China?

#111818 - 05/20/06 02:11 PM Re: Russian Pianos - Story
whippen boy Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 3886
Loc: San Francisco
I've played both Lira and Riga vertical pianos.

End of story.
Grotrian 225
S&S Hamburg-C
M&H "A" at home

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#111819 - 05/20/06 04:09 PM Re: Russian Pianos - Story
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
Originally posted by whippen boy:
I've played both Lira and Riga vertical pianos.

End of story. [/b]
Hehe - Could it be a quality issue that has driven the Russians away from their own instrument builders? I owned a Belarus console that fell after about a year and a half of use.


#111820 - 05/20/06 04:31 PM Re: Russian Pianos - Story
sophial Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/05
Posts: 3546
Loc: US
It's interesting that for a country that has produced so many wonderful pianists, they don't produce very good pianos!


#111821 - 05/20/06 10:38 PM Re: Russian Pianos - Story
Rich Galassini Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/28/01
Posts: 10494
Loc: Philadelphia/South Jersey
This reminds me of a story,

In 1998 I first met Indrek Laul. As he walked into our showroom my first thought was to make him feel comfortable. In my provincial head I thought, "Why not use some Russian?"

So, I said (phonetically) Dobre Dyen (good day).

Indrek was quite gracious. He said he appreciated the effort, but the Russians invaded his country, burned their churches, tried to smother their culture and language...... You get the idea.

If you ever go to Estonia, don't try to fit in by speaking Russian.

My anecdote,
Rich Galassini
Cunningham Piano Co.
Phila, Pa.
(215) 991-0834 direct line
Check out the Science Channel's "How Its Made" featuring our piano restoration:

#111822 - 05/22/06 01:58 AM Re: Russian Pianos - Story
Baron de Cardenale Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/03/05
Posts: 61
Loc: USA-Russia-France
Soviet-made pianos are terrible overall. Sometimes you come across exceptional individual instruments though, that have undergone extensive technical work. Other than that, Soviet-made pianos that still overwhelm the territory of the former Soviet Union are much worse than piano built by socialist block Easter European countries in 60's though 80's.


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