The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor wins a rave review from the New York Times for his performances of works by J.S. Bach and Frederic Rzewski. But Taylor also invents pianos as well as plays them.

May 20, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

You really could not wish to have better review than the one that New York Times music critic Zachary Woolfe last week gave University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor for his performances of music by J.S. Bach and Frederic Rzewski’s massive theme-and-variations on “The People United Can Never Be Defeated.” 

How often do you get words like “dazzlingly virtuosic” or “lively yet magisterial” or “passionate precision” or “masterly” or “pianistic fireworks” applied to your performance?

And how often do you get praised for programming that is different from the way some pretty famous pianists including Ursula Oppens, have programmed the same pieces? (Below is a concert photo by Richard Termine of The New York Times.)

Here is a link to the Times’ review:

And here is a link to the entry on the UW-Madison School of Music’s new website blog Fanfare — a great idea since so much great music (and so much FREE music) is going on at the UW-Madison — with more about the concert:

Christopher Taylor at Miller Theater in NYC CR Richard Termine of the NYT

But Christopher Taylor does not just PLAY the piano with world-class mastery and artistry.

He is also inventing a piano, a two-keyboard Steinway much like a harpsichord and the rare piano he inherited from the deceased Danish native and UW-Madison Artist-in-Residence Gunnar Johansen (below) and has performed on many times in many works, including J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.

VT-Compress (tm) Xing Technology Corp.

First, Taylor informally wrote to The Ear about his project:

“After some delays I’ve finally finished getting made a little documentary about the latest progress with the new double-manual piano I’m in the process of developing — quite the mammoth project.   I think the film covers the basics OK.  I thought you might be curious to see what I’ve been up to.

“There’s still a long road ahead, but I’m encouraged to think that a complete instrument may yet emerge one day.  I’ve also been learning a lot of unexpected skills and having fun in the process …”

And then, on my request the ever-busy but generous Taylor (below), who is always teaching and performing as well as inventing, wrote a more formal introduction:

“About four years ago now, while working with the existing double-manual Steinway that the UW owns, I began to develop my first ideas about a possible successor instrument, one that would use modern technology to overcome some of older piano’s practical limitations.

“As it has turned out, developing this invention has provided an excellent opportunity for me to synthesize many of my preexisting interests, not only in music, but in mathematics and computer science as well.


“Since submitting a patent application in November 2011 (with the aid of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF)), I have worked extensively to turn the diagrams on my hard drive into a reality, with assistance from many people, particularly the engineers and machinists at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery and my piano technician Robert Hohf.

“In the process I’ve had to learn about many fields that were new to me, including some basic electrical engineering, printed circuit board design, computer-assisted 3D modeling, and CNC machining.

Christopher Taylor playing two-keyboard

“It’s hard to predict when a completed instrument may emerge — having built my proof-of-principle models, I’m hoping I may eventually get some assistance from a piano manufacturer.

“Whatever happens, I am fairly determined to get it built one day, and when I do, I intend to promote it in the way I have promoted the existing instrument, traveling the country with it (taking advantage of what I expect will be its greater portability), performing works like J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, making new arrangements of existing solo or chamber literature, and commissioning brand new compositions from adventurous composers.”

So after all that build-up, here is that YouTube video with UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor explaining the new piano and how he will use it:

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