The key to success

Pianist/ composer Richard Bielicki
Pianist/ composer Richard Bielicki

A RECITAL by pianist/ composer Richard Bielicki at Upper Chapel on Norfolk Street next Saturday had its origins eight years ago when James Bacon opened a piano recording studio in Broomhill.

As the latter recalls: “I had gone through a series of pianos: Bechstein, Yamaha, and then got a Bösendorfer 214, a sort of dream piano that I actually had to re-mortgage my house for.”

It was the ‘dream piano’ that prompted him to open the studio as a specialist facility.

“I’ve always been fascinated with pianos having been weaned on Maurizio Pollini, Glenn Gould and other great figures. It was when I was in various music acts and groups as a composer from the early 1990s that I became absorbed with recording piano,” he explains.

The studio continues to evolve with pianists from all over the UK and abroad using it for a wide variety of remits: a father wanting a keepsake recording of his daughter at the point in her career when she just won a national competition; pianists recording material for auditions and so on.

“Let’s say, half the recordings are for commercial use and half for personal use,” reckons Bacon.

A whole new world opened for the studio in October 2011 when he took delivery of “a majestic, and unique Bösendorfer Imperial 290,” the famous Viennese piano manufacturer’s flagship instrument with 97 keys covering eight octaves.

It was unique, and seems to remain so, as the first Bösendorfer in the world with Phoenix agraffes fitted onto the bridge, via which the strings travel on their way to the piano soundboard.

(Rather technical, but broadly an agraffe is a metal unit bolted to the bridge and keeps the string running straight to the soundboard, whereas it runs zigzag fashion through the usually encountered bridge pin).

“I think the Phoenix system is probably the most important innovation in piano design for 100 years,” argues Bacon who wrote an article on the system for the International Piano Magazine last year.

Not least among its virtues he feels is that it balances the Bösendorfer’s famed sonorous lower registers with what some contend is its ‘weak’ upper registers giving them brighter, sustaining power.

The system was the brainchild of piano enthusiast Richard Dain who, among other things, managed the development of the Inter-City 225 locomotive and worked with jet engine designer Sir Frank Whittle.

“I got to know him and we became good friends when he was Bösendorfer’s main dealer in the UK,” says the equally enthusiastic Bacon.

“I was talking to him in 2011 and he offered to sell me the first Phoenix piano in existence, this Bösendorfer Imperial which had been the touring piano for András Schiff who particularly liked it.”

Hot on the back of acquiring the Imperial (the only Bösendorfer with an epithet), he started a commercial recording enterprise round it, Usonix Records, in 2012 to promote the best pianists using his studio.

Stressing the recording studio remains very much an ‘open door’ concern, he explains: “I set the label up because people don’t know what to do with their talent and recordings. It’s very hard to get signed up to a major recording company so I wanted to give very talented and imaginative musicians an outlet.”

Two recordings were issued last year featuring Beth Pei-Fen Chen, Through Time and Space: 24 Preludes, an effective work by all accounts by Bacon himself; and The Singing Piano, a collection of pieces by among others Chopin, Brahms, Scriabin, Poulenc and Mendelssohn.

A third, The Sacred and the Profane, works performed by their composer Richard Bielicki, was issued recently and a three more are scheduled for release this year, including a Chopin Masterworks album from Bielicki.

Bringing us back to next Saturday’s Upper Chapel concert by the London-based British/ Polish pianist which launches a national tour promoting his Sacred and Profane disc and the Usonix record label.

It takes in four of Bielicki’s works, three indicated as world premieres, and seven by Chopin of whom he is very much a specialist, including Fantasie Op 49, Berceuse Op 57, Scherzo No’s 2 and 3 and Ballade No 1.

“I’ve had some terrific people through the studio but Richard is an absolute standout,” enthuses James Bacon. “He’s a very rare find these days, a virtuoso pianist (his Chopin choice of items suggest that) and composer in one taking us back to Rachmaninov and Chopin.” The concert begins at 7.30pm and tickets, £12, £8 students, £5 children, available on the door, can be purchased in advance, via