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The Concert Technician – Backbone of a Piano Competition

“The Elves of Cologne”, a German tale, reports about little house gnomes who would do all the work of the citizens during the night, so that the inhabitants of Cologne would just rely on them and have an easy day. The elves were unseen, highly efficient – and never given any gratitude. Many piano technicians know only too well how that feels, especially at piano competitions …

In the concert business, the piano technicians are key persons. At competitions in particular. If a jury member becomes sick, the competition can easily go on. Only the algorithm for voting has to be adjusted. However, if the piano technician is ill, the whole competition is in danger! “Appassionata” on an untuned instrument? “La Campanella” with a sluggish repetition? Unimaginable! No doubt, the instrument on stage must be in perfect condition. For the pianists it is essential, for the jury and organizers self-evident, for the audience business as usual. But who is really aware how the perfection on stage is achieved?


When pianists, jury and audience go practicing, dining or resting, the concert technician’s work begins. It is then that the piano must be prepared for the next performances. This work is mostly done in solitude – unseen.

At numerous piano competitions several brands are involved. So, the time for piano service has to be divided between the teams. In the night shifts, for example, time slots at the beginning or at the end are preferable. During the other hours one can either relax or sleep. The shifts in the middle are just awful: it means sleeping for just 2 hours, getting to the hall at midnight and intensely working on the piano for 2 or 3 hours, going back to the hotel and sleeping for another 3 hours – until the new day starts. Because fairness is important, the teams change shifts night by night. Thus everyone is treated equally well or equally badly depending on your perspective. By the time the first participant rests his fingers on the keys, the technicians’ biorhythms have already been disrupted …

More than anyone else, the concert technicians are the backbones of piano competitions, rolling the red carpets out for the participants. They have to be healthy, attentive, fast, patient, efficient, friendly, empathetic, always in a good mood and never tired, being excellent crafts(wo)men and sensitive psychologists. Every day – and every night! They are certainly the hardest working people at competitions.

How much they deserve to be acknowledged, cherished and lauded! In his book “Show me your hands” pianist Alexandre Tharaud dedicated a whole (and excellent) chapter to them. However, out of sight, out of mind – in most final speeches the technicians are not even mentioned. Just forgotten and taken for granted. Invisible workers, like the Elves of Cologne …

Yet thankfully this is not everywhere, for there are good examples as well. To name a few: in the brochures of the Concours Géza Anda or the Tchaikovsky Competition, the technicians are mentioned. Better than printed names are the faces, of course! The Chopin Competition 2021 creates a whole film about the concert technicians’ work. At the prize awarding ceremony of The Leeds 2021, concert technician Ulrich Gerhartz was asked onto the stage, side by side with the jury and the prizewinners, and put in the limelight and applauded there. It is well deserved and so right what happened in Leeds. Similarly, at the beginning of 2023, at the Horowitz Competition Kyiv-Geneva, the concert technician François-Jérôme Vincent was explicitly paid tribute. Wouldn’t it be right for each and every piano technician anywhere?


Fotos: © Yoel Levy

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