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Goodbye, Konstantin!

Recently Konstantin Feklistov, well-known piano tuner at the Moscow Conservatory and Philharmonic, visited the Bösendorfer piano factory and worked together with the experienced Bösendorfer concert technicians for several weeks.

Our Russian visitor spent his last evening before returning to his elitarian work-place in Moscow with us, dining in a typical Viennese restaurant.

Konstantin Feklistov, piano tuner at the Moscow Conservatory and Philharmony

Konstantin Feklistov, piano tuner at the Moscow Conservatory and Philharmony

“Working with pianos is my life.”

Since 1953 Konstantin's father Alexander Feklistov and his family live in Klin, an old Russian village located about 90 kilometres northwest of Moscow, on the railroad to St. Petersburg. In this small town, which is widely surrounded by forests of birch trees, the most important Russian composer of the 19th century, Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, spent the last one and a half years of his creative life. Loving the rural landscape and its simple people, Tchaikovsky found the serenity he needed “more than anything else” here, far away from the turbulence of big cities. This is where the gifted musician composed the magnificent ballets “The Nutcracker“ and “The Sleeping Beauty“, as well as the wonderful Symphonies No. 5 and 6.

Tchaikovsky Museum in Klin

Tchaikovsky Museum in Klin

Nowadays a lovely little house, painted blue and white, from which Tchaikovsky set off for his last concert tour to St. Petersburg on October 7th 1893, commemorates its famous occupant as a museum. It was founded by Modest Tchaikovsky, the composer´s brother, a hundred years ago. Day after day, admirers of the great composer come here in crowds to visit the living room, working room and library of their idol.

Every year on the seventh of May, Tchaikovsky´s birthday, the winner of the Annual International Tchaikovsky Competition is permitted to play the very piano which the famous musician used when he composed his 6th Symphony. That is also a special day for Alexander Feklistov. As tuner of the museum, he has been looking after all the instruments diligently and with great care. Since the age of 21, when became blind due to an accident, he relies on his accurately developed sense of hearing more than any other concert technician. Throughout the rest of the year Konstantin´s father is responsible for preparing regular small concerts in a newly built concert hall.

Taught by Jewgeni Artamonov

“I grew up in a big, happy family. I always admired the bravery my father showed in coping with his fate and his professionalism as piano technician despite his blindness,” Konstantin tells us. “I think I have got some of this talent from my father. When I was only six years old, I was allowed to tune a piano under his supervision. This fascination for technics and sound has not lost its grip on me.”
His father, however, wanted him to attend a gymnasium in Twer and acquire the necessary skills to become a conductor of choirs. At first, Konstantin followed the wish of his father, but at the age of seventeen he broke off his studies. “I knew that working with pianos was what I wanted to do in the future.” - The father accepted his son´s decision and consulted his old friend Jewgeni Artamonov.

Konstantin and his caring advisor Andrew Buczolits at Bösendorfer

Konstantin and his caring advisor Andrew Buczolits at Bösendorfer

Since 1970 the tuner Jewgeni Artamanov works in the Great Hall (Bolschoi Sal) of the Moscow Conservatory, one of the best musical schools in the world and “cradle” of famous musicians, such as Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Richter or Gileis. In the Kremlin, the Moscow Philharmony and the Slobodkin Hall Russia´s most famous and most respected tuner is much in demand as expert, too. “Here in Russia he´s number one”, Sviatoslav Richter used to say about Jewgeni, who worked for every great Russian pianist, past and present, over the course of his career as concert technician.

Moscow Conservatoty, founded by pianist Nikolai Rubinstein in 1866

Moscow Conservatoty, founded by pianist Nikolai Rubinstein in 1866

He should teach Konstantin the craft of a piano tuner. At that time, there was no federal teaching plan for this job in Russia. What an expert craftsman knew and wanted to pass on was what a pupil could learn, at least until he was ready to make his own experiences with the instruments.

800 pianos in the Moscow Conservatory

At first, Jewgeni Artamonov, who was full of esteem for the professional work of Konstantin´s father, could not understand why the father did not want to teach his son himself. But Alexander said: “I am blind and have my own methods. Konstantin has talent and must learn differently.” Finally, Jewgeni accepted Konstantin as his only pupil and for five years he taught him the skills and techniques that are necessary to tune a piano as well as possible.

“Jewgeni Artamonov is a great guy. Although he is generally a rather strict person, he was always friendly and helpful towards me. Even now he sometimes takes time for me and my concerns. He is like a second father to me.There is probably no piano which he does not know, since there are 800 pianos in the Conservatory in Moscow. He loves his job and is still so demanding that even nowadays he becomes excited when a famous pianist performs at the Conservatory. Through his job Jewgeni Artamonov has become a cosmopolitan. Pianists all over the world hold him in high esteem and like to invite him. But he became accustomed to traveling when he accompanied Sviatoslav Richter during many of his concert tours.”

“My father always spoke very respectfully of the Bösendorfer sound.”

Konstantin had his first encounter with a Bösendorfer piano at home in Klin when he was still a child. “Yes, there is an old Bösendorfer Imperial in the Tchaikovsky Museum. From time to time it is used in concerts. My father always spoke respectfully of the Bösendorfer sound.” And in the Conservatory in Moscow Konstantin also found an old Bösendorfer Imperial among the other pianos.

In the summer of last year, the board of the Moscow Philharmony decided to purchase a new Bösendorfer concert grand model 185 for the newly renovated Chamber Music Hall. Before, they had been deeply impressed by the moving concert that was given in front of 100 concert directors from Russia and other CIS-States by the famous pianist Andrey Diev on a Bösendorfer Imperial in the Tchaikovsky Hall of the Moscow Philharmony; and by a clear and convincing Bösendorfer-presentation designed by sales director Harald Kinsky and Olga Huber, dealer agent for Eastern Europe.

Konstantin is solely responsible for this instrument: “Many concerts of different types of music take place in the Chamber Music Hall and not only aspiring musicians, but also well-known pianists like to play there. Because of their quality, the concerts are popular and well-attended.”

The new Bösendorfer grand at the Moscow Philharmony

The new Bösendorfer grand at the Moscow Philharmony

Time of acclimatisation

“Not every piano is able to stand its ground in the Chamber Music Hall of the Moscow Philharmony, but with a Bösendorfer piano you can play anything. It excels on every occasion. The old Bösendorfer was only seldom used. Therefore, many people in the audience had to get used to the new sound which can be heard from the Bösendorfer more often now. To a certain extent it was kind of “education for the audience” and I am proud of the piano that it became so popular in such a short time. Meanwhile, the model No. 185 has developed its full potential and sometimes I even have to “tame” its volume. It is a great piano”, Konstantin Feklistov tells us enthusiastically.

The pianists experienced a similar acclimatisation, Konstantin thinks: “The Bösendorfer piano on the stage was a surprise for many artists. It was an instrument that they had not played yet, but they knew that it reacted sensitively and immediately to every touch. That was why the musicians were worried whether the piano had been prepared and tuned well when they saw it on the stage. It was only when I asserted that I had tuned it myself that their hesitation gave way to curiosity. But after they played the first notes all doubt disappeared and the “débutants” practised, practised and practised until I had to kick one or two of them out, because there was other work waiting for me.

“A very noble, soft sound”

This is the right moment in our conservation to ask Konstantin how he would describe the sound characteristics of the Bösendorfer piano. “I hear a very noble and very soft sound. I can sense that the experts who made this instrument wanted to produce something outstanding.”

During his long stay in Vienna Konstantin had the chance to watch the piano manufacturers at work and to share experience and knowledge with them. “The weeks here at the Bösendorfer manufactory were great, and they have passed much too fast. I was allowed to see everything in the factory and the concert technicians shared their know-how, their tricks and their experience with me. Everyone here works with full power. Every detail, however small, is respected. The technicians are real experts and, besides, they are friendly and helpful people. I felt very comfortable here.

The weeks at the Bösendorfer manufactory had passed much too fast for Konstantin.

The weeks at the Bösendorfer manufactory had passed much too fast for Konstantin.

I return to Moscow confirmed that Bösendorfer pianos are produced with great love and immense quality. The choice of models and designs is unique, just like their sound, which can now be heard in Moscow more often. I thank the employees of Bösendorfer for their hospitality and wish them good luck for their business in Russia and all over the world!"

Olga Huber and Rupert Löschnauer talked with Konstantin Feklistov.

(Photocredits: Tschaikowski Museum Klin, Bösendorfer)