Meet the Lamborghini of pianos

Ian Burgess-Simpson with a handmade Fazioli F278 concert grand piano.

A Fazioli F278 concert grand piano was recently delivered to Ian Burgess-Simpson’s piano showroom and workshop in Westlake. It is one of eight on the African continent. If new, it would be worth R3.2m.

The piano was handmade in Italy by craftsmen at the Fazioli Pianoforti factory.

The piano is being prepared for its new home in one of the original farmhouses in Lakeside owned by Tertius Dednam.

In its four-year life, the piano has been selected from an assortment of concert grands to be played by some of the world’s most well-known pianists, including Daniil Trifonov, Angela Hewitt, Louis Lortie and Vadym Kholodenko.

Since the Fazioli’s arrival, word has spread, and a steady stream of pianists have visited the showroom to play it, from UCT’s associate professor of piano, Francois Du Toit, to piano students.

Mr Burgess-Simpson said the schools are bursting at the seams with talented piano students and there was a need for music teachers.

When we visited the showroom, amateur pianist Gregory Mollentz, of Constantia, played a number of pieces to illustrate the piano’s versatility. He was impressed by the Fazioli’s combined range and majesty.

Mr Burgess-Simpson explained that the Fazioli was inspired by the human voice, as represented by the Italian bel canto tradition. Bel canto is Italian for “beautiful singing”, a style that was developed from the late 16th century.

Each piano takes two years to complete under the direct supervision of Paolo Fazioli, the inventor, designer and owner of the Italian company founded in 1978.

Fazioli craftsmen produce 140 grand and concert pianos by hand each year from their factory in Sacile, north-eastern Italy. They are fully booked until 2022, according to Mr Burgess-Simpson.

He said the soundboards were built with red spruce from the Italian Alps, the same forest from which Antonio Stradivari selected the wood for his famous violins.

“A practical building technique is that the hinges and fittings are gold-plated to solve the natural tendency for brass to tarnish – not just for looks but a purely practical solution to a problem. And the ’feet’ have special ball bearings that allow it to glide gracefully across a platform.”

Mr Dednam was at the Westlake showroom when the piano was delivered. “We were surprised and didn’t expect it so early,” he said. “Normally, it would have arrived in Johannesburg and then been transported to Cape Town. We were anxious that it could be caught in a road blockade and delayed, but with Covid-19 it was flown directly to Cape Town.”

Cocooned in blankets and lots of cling wrap, it was packed into a specially crafted wooden crate before being transported from Sacile to Florence and then flown directly by cargo plane to Cape Town airport.

It took eight men to deliver the piano in its specially made wooden crate. “I nervously checked the tilt switches,” said Mr Burgess-Simpson. “If they had been red, it would mean there had been an impact on the journey. But they were not red, which meant the crate could be unpacked in sequence according to directions from Mr Fazioli.”

Mr Dednam plans to make the piano accessible to pianists to try and for small concerts. He said he had always been passionate about music, especially older pieces from composers such as Bach and he liked musical instruments.

“I used to play the piano a lot, but now I feel like I bought a soccer field and now need the players,” he laughed.

He is not sure when he will take possession of the Fazioli, but it is already insured as a special item.

“I feel good about this acquisition,” he said. “It’s better than some of my past extravagances, such as a Bentley, which was a devil to park.”

Amateur pianist Gregory Mollentz, of Constantia, is impressed by the Fazioli’s combined range and majesty.
The “feet” have special ball bearings that allow it to glide gracefully across a platform
Lucy Big Ears listens to music played on the Fazioli concert grand piano next to one of the tilt switches on the specially crafted wooden crate.