‘The Piano is Too Loud!’ Acoustical Considerations and Practical Solutions for Performance of String Instruments with Piano

Table of Contents


“Close the piano!” is the conventional remedy for balance issues in a live performance of a string instrument with a piano. Are there better solutions to address this challenge? This common pairing of two acoustically and physically disparate instruments presents a challenge that, with careful consideration, communication, and control, can result in a well-balanced performance. Is the piano objectively too loud, or is the issue more nuanced? Where should the cellist sit or the violinist stand? Should the piano be fully opened, semi-opened, or fully closed? Is there a certain position of the two instruments that is not commonly used but could contribute to a better balance between them? What is the string player’s role in contributing to good acoustical balance? These questions will be answered in this lecture. Our recent acoustical study makes a significant contribution to these considerations. The study used controlled audio recordings (80) of excerpts from standard duo-sonata literature in different stage arrangements. Quantitative results include a summary of the survey taken by audience members during listening sessions of selected excerpts. The study included spectral analysis of the recorded samples and a blind audience survey. The results of the study question the age-old solution to lower or close the piano lid. Selected graphic images from spectral analysis will illustrate the benefits of certain stage setup options. Attendees will experience a demonstration of the stage setup options and other acoustical considerations using selected excerpts from sonatas by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Prokofiev. The lecture will include practical advice for performers and pedagogical approaches for teachers based on these findings. While the performance examples will be performed by a cello-piano duo, the acoustical considerations, implications, and presented guidelines are applicable to all bowed string instruments.

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About the speaker

Gal Faganel, Cello

Gal Faganel is a versatile, award-winning cello performer, an acclaimed teacher, and a recording artist. He has performed extensively as a soloist and chamber musician throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. His performances and recordings have been praised in the press for his “exceptionally sensitive interpretation,” “powerful and beautiful tone,” and “brilliant virtuosity and youthful vigor.” He is a winner of numerous national and international competitions, including the International Cello Competition “Antonio Janigro” in Croatia, the American String Teacher’s Association Competition, and the Yamaha Young Performing Artists Competition in the United States.

Faganel has conducted research, cataloged, performed, and recorded music for cello by Slovenian composers. He has recorded for various labels and radio stations internationally. With a doctorate from the University of Southern California under the mentorship of Eleonore Schoenfeld, he previously served as the principal cellist of the Phoenix Symphony. Since 2010, he has taught at the University of Northern Colorado, where he has greatly enjoyed mentoring cellists, coaching chamber music, and collaborating with colleagues in the Colorado Piano Trio. He has also taught at the University of Southern California, Scottsdale Community College, and the University of North Texas. Faganel appears as a guest at institutions worldwide and recently began teaching at the University of Ljubljana Academy of Music.

In addition to being a devoted cello pedagogue, Faganel loves coaching chamber music, frequently trains musicians for orchestral auditions, mentors developing musicians, and leads career development courses and workshops.