National Philharmonic at Strathmore this weekend…

National Philharmonic:
Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2

Haochen Zhang, piano
Piotr Gajewski, conductor

Rachmaninoff
Dvořák  
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor
Symphony No. 8 in G Major

Few openings in the piano concerto repertoire can equal the mounting tension at the beginning of Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto, a piece that established the composer’s fame.

Since his gold medal win at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, 26-year-old Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang has captivated audiences in the U.S., Europe and Asia with a unique combination of deep musical sensitivity, fearless imagination and spectacular virtuosity.

“Such a combination of enchanting, sensitive lyricism and hypnotizing forcefulness is a phenomenon encountered very rarely.” — The Jerusalem Post

Get more information and tickets here!

 

11 Year Old Piano Prodigy Surprises Crowd

Via the telegraph

If you close your eyes you could be setting foot in a blues bar on New Orlean’s Bourbon Street.

But this is across the pond in Perth, Australia, and the pianist is 11-year-old Louis Rebeiro, wowing crowds with an impromptu performance.

The self-taught piano prodigy was strolling through the Fremantle Markets when he stumbled upon the music stall and put in a show-stealing jam session.
He was with his cousins and one of them dared him to play for everyone. He just jumped on with no reservations,’ his mother Lorena told Daily Mail Australia.

Footage shows the little legend capturing hearts with an improvised performance spanning nearly eight minutes.

Self taught is great, but so are lessons. Sign up today for Jordan Kitt’s Music School here

Piano helps you stay alert as you get older…

via the DailyMail.com

Pensioners should revive their youthful dreams of becoming a rockstar, new research suggests.

Learning to play an instrument could prevent their brain succumbing to the effects of old age, scientists claim.

A study found musicians have faster reaction times than those who are unable to play the piano, drums or a guitar.

Alertness is known to decrease in old age, but experts say picking up the skill could keep their brain healthy.

Learning to play an instrument could prevent their brain succumbing to the effects of old age, scientists claim

Learning to play an instrument could prevent their brain succumbing to the effects of old age, scientists claim

Researchers from the University de Montreal, Canada, decided to see if there was a way to prevent the negative effects of aging on the brain.

They compared the reaction times of 16 musicians and 19 non-musicians.

The musicians had started playing between the ages of three and 10, and had at least seven years of training.

There were eight pianists, three violinists, two percussionists, one double bassist, one harpist and one viola player.

All but one also mastered a second instrument, or more.

They were sat in a quiet, well-lit room with one hand on a computer mouse and their index finger of the other on a vibro-tactile device – a small box that vibrated intermittently.

A study found musicians have faster reaction times - which decline in old age because of a breakdown in natural brain processes

A study found musicians have faster reaction times – which decline in old age because of a breakdown in natural brain processes

They were told to click on the mouse when they heard a sound from the speakers in front of them – known as audio stimulation.

While they were also asked to click when the box vibrated – referred to as tactile stimulation.

What learning piano in my twenties taught me — and why you should try it

by Rob Price via the Business Insider.

When I was about seven or eight, I went for a taster violin lesson at school. The idea was to get an idea for the instrument, and see if I wanted to learn properly. I enjoyed it — but the expected lessons never materialised.

A few years later, I asked my mother why: Apparently the tutor had refused to teach me.

It’s fair to say that I am not a natural musician.

But at the start of 2016, I resolved to change that. I decided to learn the piano.

It was a year of immense frustrations, and deep satisfaction — and endless Philip Glass. It expanded my horizons, and forced me to confront my failings head on. And for that reason alone, I’d recommend it to anyone.

Why? I wanted to do something totally new

I’m 24 years old, I live in London, and I’ve gone through life without knowing the first thing about music. I love to listen to it — I’ve got a pretty big collection, and I go to gigs regularly. But how it’s made has always been one great big opaque mystery to me.

Both of my brothers play — saxophone and guitar, respectively — but the extent of my musical education was tapping out basic beats on a glockenspiel and learning the first few bars of “Neighbours” on the piano at school. So why did I take the plunge now? Well, there were a few reasons:

  • I wanted to challenge myself. 2016 was the start of my third year living in London. I’d settled into a routine, and wanted to add some variety to my life — and something that would push me in a new direction.
  • I wanted to do something totally new. Learning music for the first time isn’t like taking up a new team ball-sport, or an unusual arts-and-crafts activity. Music is an entirely new category of human endeavour I have never meaningfully engaged in before. That makes it pretty exciting — and intimidating.
  • I love music. Pretty self-explanatory. I hoped that learning an instrument for the first time would enrich my appreciation of the artform.

I also set myself a few goals — some strict, and some more nebulous.

  • Pass my Grade 1 piano exam by the end of 2016. If you’re not familiar with the system, you can take exams as you learn instruments, from Grade 1 through to Grade 8. A clear target of reaching Grade 1 by the end of the year would give me something to work towards, a way to measure my success or failure.
  • Improve my knowledge of classical music. I had no strict timeframe for this, or a set point when it would be “completed.” But I’ve never known my Bach from my Beethoven, and I wanted to change that.
  • Learn “Metamorphosis II,” by Philip Glass. This was a longer-term goal, beyond 2016 — it’s a beautiful, flowing, and technically tricky bit of music that I wanted to work towards as I got better.

How did it all go? The short version is that it was fantastic — I’m extremely glad I did it, and I’d strongly urge to anyone thinking about taking up an instrument to do it, whatever your age.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, however.

Learning something new is a lesson in humility and patience

Note: The following sections go into some detail on what and how I learned. If you just want to know whether I passed the exam or not, skip down to the “arcane mystery” section below.

Let me make this clear: Piano is hard. Really hard. It requires you to think in a way you’ve never done before, juggling a thousand balls simultaneously. Interpret the music. Keep the tempo. Vary the volume. Move both hands independently of one-another. Make sure it all actually sounds good.

You know that brain-straining feeling when you try and multiply three three-digit numbers together? That’s what it felt like to be interpreting and playing music on the fly.

Read more here

Jeff Goldblum and the life-changing magic of playing his Yamaha piano

Play it again, Jeff!

Jeff Goldblum, professional smooth operator, started his onstage career as a piano player at seedy cocktail lounges in his hometown of Pittsburgh. He still practices an hour every day, sometimes commandeering the ivories in hotel lobbies to stay on top of his craft. On the heels of a three-month residency at Los Angeles club Rockwell, the 64-year-old actor discusses his lifelong musical passion.

LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 218 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jeff Goldblum plays the piano with Jimmy Fallon on March 29, 2010  (Photo by Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Jeff Goldblum plays the piano on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in 2010.

Photographer: Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Practice, practice, practice

“I’ve been blessed with some biggish hands, but early on, I trained my left hand a bit harder. I would take my thumb and my pinkie, place them right below the keyboard, and stretch my finger and thumb against the keyboard, and do a split with my hand. It’s like hand acrobatics. I enjoy the feel of the keys. I’m tactual.”

A Yamaha C6 grand piano, one of Goldblum's go-to instruments.

A Yamaha C6 grand piano, one of Goldblum’s go-to instruments.

Source: Yamaha

His favorite instrument

“I have this baby grand Yamaha, which is fantastic. I keep it tuned constantly. [My son] Charlie enjoys it as well—he’ll sit on my lap and bang away on the keys. And I have a Yamaha C6, with a microphone set up around it. It’s the one that they have at the Carlyle as well. Everyone seems to love it, because it’s nice and bright for jazz.”

A little help from his friends

“After I play some piano, I’m different for the rest of the day. It brings you into this community that you might not have anything in common with otherwise, and there is a way that you communicate with musicians that you can’t with anyone else. It’s changed my life. It’s a way to have a conversation that goes deep into the blood system.”

Read more here

The inaugural concert for the Middleburg Music Fest International

Last week, The inaugural event for the Middleburg Music Fest International (MMFI), was held at the luxurious and sophisticated Salamander Resort & Spa in the beautiful horse and wine country of Middleburg, Virginia.

MMFI is a nonprofit performing arts initiative that seeks the preservation, awareness and promotion of classical, jazz and contemporary music – specifically those works that highlight the role of the piano as a solo performance instrument or as part of any assembled group of musical instruments.

Nikita Fitenko

The event commenced with a concert by internationally acclaimed pianists Nikita Fitenko and Katerina Zaitseva, with a wonderful program of piano solo and piano duo works including compositions by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Medtner, Debussy, and more – all performed on the fabulous Bösendorfer 280 Concert Grand, normally housed at Strathmore Hall and supplied courtesy of Event Patron Jordan Kitt’s Music.

A special wine reception immediately followed the performance, presented by Event Patrons Greenhill Winery & Vineyards and Boxwood Winery.

For more information about the Middleburg Music Fest, contact the Jordan Kitt’s Music near you.

Jordan Kitt’s goes to Strathmore for Europe’s Finest Pianos Concert & Show

Two weeks ago, Jordan Kitt’s Music was proud to be a part of the largest European factory piano event in area history at Strathmore Mansion, featuring a unique collection of extremely rarte pianos from Bösendorfer or Steingraeber & Söhne.

A special performance by world renowned concert pianist Eric Himy played to a capacity crowd, followed by a show and sale event on Sunday. The event also included the the extraordinary Oscar Peterson Signature Edition Bösendorfer, a remarkable instrument capable of recreating “live” performances originally recorded by one of history’s greatest jazz pianists.

Boesendorfer piano

A unique sampling of pianos from this event are being hosted at area Jordan Kitt’s Music locations throughout the season. For specific model information, call (301) 770-9081 in Maryland, or (703) 573-6070 in Virginia.

Music therapy reduces depression in young people, study finds

Music therapy reduces depression in young people, study finds -BelfastTelegraph.co.uk

Researchers from Queen's University Belfast, pictured, and Bournemouth University found young people, aged eight to 16, also enjoyed improved self-esteem compared with those who received treatment without music
Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, pictured, and Bournemouth University found young people, aged eight to 16, also enjoyed improved self-esteem compared with those who received treatment without music

The largest ever study of music therapy’s effect on children with depression has found significant benefits.

Recipients, aged eight to 16, also enjoyed improved self-esteem compared with those who received treatment without music, researchers from Queen’s University Belfast and Bournemouth University found.

More than 250 took part and experts said it suggested the care should now be made available as a mainstream option.

Professor Sam Porter, from Bournemouth University, said: “This study is hugely significant in terms of determining effective treatments for children and young people with behavioural problems and mental health needs.”

The research found:

:: Young people aged 13 and over who received music therapy had improved communicative and interactive skills, compared to those given the usual care options alone.

:: Self-esteem was significantly boosted and depression lowered.

:: Even after music therapy had finished, social functioning improved long-term in all age groups.

:: However, most improvements tended to be modest and short lasting and there was a higher drop out rate of 38%.

T he findings were part of a Music in Mind study carried out in partnership with the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust.

It concluded the results of the trial strongly indicated the need for further research to ascertain what type and dosage of music therapy was most effective, for whom and in what circumstances.

Mental ill health affects up to a fifth of children and adolescents worldwide, including social, emotional and behavioural problems. Adolescent depression and anxiety frequently co-occur and extend into adulthood, the report added.

The therapy used musical experiences within a patient/therapist relationship to achieve better health.

Dr Valerie Holmes, from the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University and a co-researcher, said: “This is the largest study ever to be carried out looking at music therapy’s ability to help this very vulnerable group, and is further evidence of how Queen’s University is advancing knowledge and changing lives.”

A total of 251 children and young people were involved in the study, supported by the Big Lottery Fund, which took place between March 2011 and May 2014.

They were divided into two groups – 128 underwent the usual care options, while 123 were assigned to music therapy in addition to usual care. All were being treated for emotional, developmental or behavioural problems.

The Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust said: ” The findings are dramatic and underscore the need for music therapy to be made available as a mainstream treatment option.

“For a long time we have relied on anecdotal evidence and small-scale research findings about how well music therapy works. Now we have robust clinical evidence to show its beneficial effects.”

Read the full article at the Belfast Telegraph here

Towson University Celebrates a new Bösendorfer with a concert this Thursday!

Join our friends at Towson University as they celebrate the arrival of their new Bösendorfer piano with a special concert event:

The New Music Ensemble at Towson University presents a concert of contemporary music celebrating the new Bösendorfer piano in the Department of Music:
Thursday, October 27th at 8:15pm
at the
Harold J. Kaplan Concert Hall,
Towson, MD

Yamaha Clavinova CVP-700 Series Digital Piano Review

Review: Yamaha Clavinova Ensemble CVP-700 Series
by Stephen Fortner via pianobuyer.com

AS THE NEWEST and most advanced of Yamaha’s Clavinova Ensemble family of digital pianos, the CVP-700 series combines two design goals. The first is to provide an utterly realistic experience for piano purists who tolerate no compromises in sound and keyboard action, but require such digital conveniences as freedom from tuning and the ability to turn down the volume. The second goal, that of creating a “keyboard as musical entertainment center,” involves providing a huge variety of sounds beyond those a piano can make, sophisticated automatic accompaniment that makes you a one-person band, a roster of easy-play and educational features, and more. Bottom line: These new Clavinova Ensembles hit both of these goals with such high marks that I might as well have just told you that the Tesla Model S is both a “green” car and a sports car. So let’s buckle up and drive.

Yamaha Clavinova CVP-701
Design and User Interface:

I spent several days with the new Clavinovas at Piedmont Piano Company, in Oakland, California, and at PianoForte, in Chicago. Four models ascend in price and number of features: the CVP-701, CVP-705, CVP-709, and CVP-709GP. The cabinets of the 701 and 705 are more like a traditional upright piano, while the 709 sports a contemporary “floating” design. The 709GP has a compact baby grand–style cabinet but is otherwise identical to the 709. If you don’t like long reads, here’s the review: These things rock. Buy the nicest model you can afford and start getting happy.

Still with me? Then let’s deal with the most important aspect of the user interface first: the black ‘n’ whites. All models feature fully weighted, graded actions — the keys’ resistance subtly decreases from heavier to lighter as you ascend the keyboard — with mechanical escapement simulation and textured, faux-ivory key surfaces. The GH3X action of the entry-level CVP-701 uses synthetic keys; all other models feature Yamaha’s Natural Wood X (NWX) action, which, as its name implies, has white keys made of real wood. Coming from a synth-and-organ background, I gravitated toward the feel of the 701, which I found to be a bit quicker for performance techniques such as glissandi and single-note “machine gun” trills à la Billy Joel. For pianistic realism, however, the upline models are indeed a bit better, with a finger-to-music connection that, when paired with the main piano sounds, provides an uncanny sense of real hammers striking real strings.

One quibble is that none of the CVP key actions sense aftertouch: pressure applied to a key after it’s been struck and held. (Their underlying sound engines, however, can receive it as a MIDI control message.) You could argue that anything this high-end should have aftertouch — as does Yamaha’s pro-oriented Tyros 5 arranger workstation, which has a lot in common with these Clavinovas. On the other hand, I can see the case that something altering the sound after you’ve struck a key might confuse many customers seeking a realistic acoustic-piano experience. There are other ways to add synthesizer-like effects such as pitch-bend or wah-wah, including the assignable buttons as well as the left and center pedals when they’re not doing una corda and sostenuto; and a ¼” input lets you plug in an extra switch or continuous pedal. Still, experienced players might like to add, say, vibrato to a string or horn sound by just digging into the key a bit harder.

The CVP-701 is the only model that lacks a touchscreen. This means that it actually has a busier front panel, with more physical buttons for things like sound and accompaniment selection, as well as “soft” buttons flanking the color display on three sides. On all other models, categories and subcategories of sounds and styles (acoustic vs. electric pianos, pipe vs. electric organs, different musical genres and subgenres, etc.) are neatly presented on the touchscreen. So are educational features, such as the score display and guide lights (more on these later), with physical buttons geared more toward things you’re likely always to need to reach for quickly: real-time control over your style variations, song recording and playback, and the like.

The CVP-709’s home screen shows the active accompaniment style, left-hand and two right-hand keyboard layers, keyboard split point, and active song. Across the bottom are icons accessing most-wanted functions, including chord modes, score and lyric display, and system menus. There’s always a learning curve to anything that offers the depth of features of the CVP-700 line, so it helps that the displays employ consistent graphical logic and hierarchy about which functions are a level “up” vs. “down,” where you are now vs. where you were a moment ago, and so forth. A hardware button always gets you back to the home screen, which displays an overview of the sounds, accompaniment styles, and, if applicable, the Song you’re currently using.

Before even touching the accompaniment styles or any other bells and whistles, the CVP-700 series lets you play three sounds live from the keyboard: one in the left-hand part and up to two in the right. Professional synth workstations may offer more key zones and flexibility in this regard, but this seems like the Goldilocks amount for a home console instrument of this sort. The left/right split point is adjustable, and you can set a separate split point for where the leftmost key zone begins to trigger chord changes for the auto-accompaniment.

The Piano Room button takes you to this screen, which puts a piano sound in a virtual acoustic space. The Piano Room button overrides any splits and layers and puts a concert grand Voice (you can opt for other keyboard instruments) across the whole key range. Visually, you can place this piano in an acoustic space such as a stage or cathedral, adjust the effect of lid position on the tone, and more. You can also choose from a curated list of accompaniment styles from inside the Piano Room.

The CVP-701 has a rolltop-desk keyboard cover; other models embed the display and controls in a hinged fallboard that has a soft-close mechanism to prevent slamming.
SPEAKING CLAVINOVESE

Here’s a brief glossary to help you understand the features and organization of the Clavinova CVP-700 series.

Voices: Yamaha’s term for a single sound; e.g., piano, violin, guitar, synth, etc.

Styles: Fully arranged automatic accompaniment setups spanning virtually every musical genre imaginable. They play multiple Voices (drums, bass, guitar, etc.) and follow your chord changes.

Variations: Four versions of the active Style, which you can switch in real time and which progress from minimal to busy.

One-Touch Settings: These quickly assign voices to the left- and right-hand keyboard parts, designed to sound good with the active Style.

Music Finder: A “one-stop shop” that sets up your Voices, Styles, and other settings based on names that are similar (but not identical) to actual songs. Such a name is called a Record, but you still need to play the chords and melody. Which brings us to . . .

Songs: Recording of real tunes from the real world, with chord changes, melody, arrangement, and orchestration. Most song files downloaded from yamaha
musicsoft.com can display the score and lyrics onscreen, as well as support Clavinova features such as . . .

Guide Mode: When working with a song, LEDs above the Clavinova’s keys show you which note to play next. What’s more, the instrument can wait for you to find the correct note before resuming playback.

Registrations: The highest level of organization, these save almost the entire state of the instrument, including your Voice, Style, active Song choices, and any tweaks you’ve made to default settings.
Sounds

The CVP-700 series’ own demo mode proclaims that it’s a piano first and foremost, so let’s start there. Two main concert grand sample sets are the prima donnas: Yamaha CFX and Bösendorfer Imperial. Both of these are the basis of several Voices (Yamaha’s term for sounds), each of which has Natural and VRM versions. Natural refers to careful multi-mic sampling, to capture the sampled pianos’ nuances; VRM stands for Virtual Resonance Modeling, which adds a user-adjustable simulation of the sympathetic vibrations that occur inside an acoustic piano between undamped strings. You’ll likely hear a difference only when playing exposed solo passages without active accompaniment, but the attention to detail here is remarkable.

Suffice it to say that both sampled instruments sound incredibly true to their genuine acoustic counterparts, and beyond that, are the most detailed, realistic, and playable piano sounds I’ve heard in any digital instrument of this kind. The Yamaha CFX sounds clear and sweet; the Bösendorfer Imperial is more dense and woody. Any unwanted digital artifacts, such as audible sample looping and breaks between velocity layers, are either nonexistent or may as well be, note decays are sustained and natural, and key-release samples are present and adjustable.

Non-piano sounds in the CVP-700 series cover everything imaginable; I have room here to discuss only the highlights. In the electric piano section you’ll find various Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Clavinet (think Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”), DX7-era digital EPs (think “Law & Order”), and even the Yamaha CP electric grand of Peter Gabriel fame. All are excellent, with bark and attitude increasing as you play harder, and many include such added effects as chorus and phaser to cop an authentically vintage vibe.

The premium EP specimens are labeled as Cool, which is one of a handful of Voice Characteristic prefixes that flag something special. In this case, Cool means only that they’re the machine’s featured electric keyboard sounds, but marketing speak aside, these tags do have some meaning. Examples: Sweet is the prefix for acoustic instruments with sampled-in vibrato, while Live is for sounds sampled in stereo. One to look out for is S. Art, for Super Articulation. These add performance gestures on appropriate sounds, such as guitar slides, fall-offs or “shake” trills for a funky horn section, and the like. You can trigger these with key velocity, the left and center pedals, or, in some cases, by playing the keys legato instead of staccato. It takes a bit of practice to master, but can add a ton of realism to a performance.

In the organ banks, Voices tagged Organ Flutes provide authentic simulation of a classic tonewheel organ (e.g., a Hammond B-3) and rotating speaker (i.e., a Leslie). A dedicated screen offers full control over drawbars, rotary speed, and the signature ping of harmonic percussion. As a veteran Hammond enthusiast, I was surprised by how good this sounded, given that the CVP is not an organ-specialist keyboard. A plethora of gorgeous church and theater pipe organs are on hand as well, as are classic transistor organs of the 1960s.

Since the first Motif synthesizer debuted in 2001, I’ve felt that Yamaha keyboards slay any competition when it comes to guitar and bass sounds — acoustic or electric. They’ve reached a new pinnacle in the CVP-700 line, whether you’re after nylon or steel strings, punk or funk, understated upright or Seinfeld slap. Many of these sounds are enhanced by the aforementioned Super Articulation. With a little attention to how guitarists voice chords, utterly realistic performances are well within reach.

Bowed strings, brass, and woodwinds are likewise impeccable, with many variations encompassing both solo instruments and sections, not to mention plenty of Sweet and Super Articulation support — more of both from the CVP-705 up. Whether you want to play a melancholy cello solo, a dramatic Hollywood string swell, the horn hits from “Uptown Funk,” or anything in between, something will hit the target.

A selection of chorus and scat vocal presets offers a good deal of interest, with some of the latter actually going round-robin through different syllables with each successive note you play. For my tastes, these stray into “because you can” keyboard-demo territory, but there’s no questioning the care of the execution.

Synthesizer Voices are seemingly bottomless in their variety: retro analog leads and basses, 1980s-like evolving digital soundscapes with lots of internal animation, Prince-style stabs and comping sounds, lush pads, and far too much more to list. I come from a multi-keyboard and cover-band background, and I’d proudly use most of these sounds on any gig where I’d normally bring a high-end professional synth like a Yamaha Montage or Kurzweil Forte — they’re simply that good. More important for the potential Clavinova buyer is that when learning popular songs at home, it’s a lot more engaging if you can not only play the correct notes but also actually sound like the record. For that, the CVPs offer an incredible sonic toolbox.

User editing of Voices is pretty basic, covering things like vibrato, brightness, harmonic content (aka filter cutoff and resonance), and application of effects. To be fair, that’s a synth player’s complaint; this will be a non-issue for 99.9% of home digital piano seekers.

Acoustic and electronic drum kits, as well as Latin and World percussion, deserve high praise, but as it’s chiefly the accompaniment section that will be playing these sounds, let’s go there.
Accompaniment Styles

Auto-accompaniment has its roots in the home organs of the 1970s and early ’80s, including Yamaha’s own Electone line, and the Lowrey Cotillion, which Australian pop star Gotye serenaded in “State of the Art.” Today it shows up in all kinds of keyboards, beginning with simple rhythms in sub-$100 portables. An “arranger” is a keyboard that offers multi-instrument orchestration, chord recognition, and real-time control of accompaniment behavior, essentially turning your left hand into a bandleader. The CVP-700 series builds in the most advanced, realistic, and musically diverse arranger features on the planet, bar none. This is in part because the accompaniment is using the same excellent sounds you play on the keys, with the CVP-709 and 709GP adding a handful of Audio Styles that incorporate real audio recordings of ace session players serving up things like rhythm guitar parts.

The Style Control section is your command center. Within a single style, you can switch among four main variations, which get progressively more “busy” as you go. This is musically useful — for example, you might like the third chorus of a tune to deliver more emotion than the first and second. You get three similarly progressive variations for intros, another three for endings, optional drum fills if you switch variations, a manual “break” (usually one bar long), and the ability to have the accompaniment start or stop in sync with your touching the keys. Of course, you can set whether a variation change happens the instant you hit the button or waits for the next bar to come around.

This is all pretty standard arranger fare. What makes the Clavinova CVP-700 series stand out is the sheer quality and musicality of the styles themselves. The most recently crafted and therefore most sophisticated factory styles are flagged by the prefixes Pro and Session, and you get more of each kind as you climb the CVP models. Even the legacy material is solid, but the newer stuff sounds more than ever as if there’s a real band in the room with you.

While playing the CVP-709, my favorite was “70s Scat Legend,” which all but convinced me that Yamaha had trapped Tower of Power inside the machine. Jazz styles range from understated grooves evocative of organ trios to classic bebop to raucous hard bop. Big-band styles passed muster with some swing dancer friends I tried them on (believe me, they’re picky), many making good use of those buttery “String of Pearls”–style sax sections.

Though I don’t expect to see a CVP take center stage at Burning Man, I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and credibility of the electronic dance music styles. EDM culture is fickle, and subgenres go in and out of vogue quickly, but there’s something here for everyone, and all of it is serviceable.

Lest I let you think that everything is more or less rock-band instrumentation, still more styles are devoted to classical music and piano-centric accompaniment. Likewise, World styles range from familiar Latin montunos to Jobim-esque bossas to recognizably Asian or Middle Eastern to things so esoteric you’d need to be an ethnomusicologist (or from the actual region) to fully understand them. Yamaha’s programmers have really done their homework.

The point of auto-accompaniment is not to merely follow your chord changes, but to do it well. Musicians who’ve used budget or older arranger keyboards know it can be easy to throw your virtual players a curve that makes them clam for a beat or so. The CVP-700 line all but eliminates this problem. There’s still a technique to “calling” smooth changes, involving the left hand moving ever so slightly ahead of the beat, but my confidence on the CVPs was at an all-time high, even though I’m not a regular arranger player.

A huge part of what helps here are the various chord-recognition modes: fully fingered, as well as easy options that let you trigger a major chord with one finger, add a key to make it a minor or seventh, and so on. Another mode always treats the lowest note held as the bass. Even slicker, a couple of AI modes work contextually, factoring in the chords you’ve played to judge where you’re going. I mostly stuck to the regular full-fingered mode, and the Clavinovas were generally spot-on at interpreting my intentions. Neither triad inversions nor chords thick with jazz extensions gave them any trouble, even at fast tempos.

Rounding out the accompaniment features are the four One-Touch Settings, which grab pre-selected left- and right-hand Voices for playing over the active style. A link button locks these to the four main style variations, letting you go from an organ solo over your first verse to a guitar solo over your chorus, and so on. You can change the default Voices and save your edited style in user memory.

If you can’t find the perfect style among the Clavinova’s phonebook-thick options, the Style Creator offers extensive facilities for rolling your own. Here, you can assign Voices to parts, set the time signature and groove/swing amount, and more. Styles can be assembled by mixing and matching chunks of other styles (intros, variations, etc.), or you can play-in every detail of your custom style to a metronome. For fine-grained tweaking, there’s even a full-featured MIDI event list editor. Importing of MIDI and SFF (Style File Format) files is also supported. Perhaps only a fraction of Clavinova buyers will ever dig this deep, but this kind of customizability is on a par with studio-class synth workstations, and it’s nice to know it’s there.
Song and Education Features

For starters, the CVP-700 models can capture everything to an inserted USB stick — what your fingers play, what the accompaniment styles play, even audio from a connected mic or line-level source — as a stereo audio file (WAV on the CVP-701, WAV or MP3 on the other models). They can also capture all keyboard parts as multi-track MIDI data, which you can then edit onboard or in your computer. If you use Style playback in your song, the Style’s parts are automatically recorded to MIDI channels 9 through 16. If so inclined, you can also play-in every track manually, choosing your Voices as you go. An event-based editor works like the one in the Style Creator.

For singing along, you can apply (and record) effects such as reverb to your vocal, including harmonies the Clavinova will generate. Different harmony presets (number of background singers, musical style, etc.) track your chord changes just like the accompaniment Styles. The quality of these harmonies is on a par with dedicated vocal processors from companies like TC-Helicon.

Those aren’t uncommon features in higher-end arrangers. What distinguishes the CVP-700s is how they can teach you to play. The CVP-701 comes preloaded with 65 songs, the other models with 124, and thanks to Yamaha’s partnership with publisher Hal Leonard, you can download more titles from a huge library at yamahamusicsoft.com. Those optimized for the Clavinova (the website makes this obvious with a “Choose Your Instrument” menu) support its learning features. No other keyboard maker has this vast an ecosystem of content.

Learn any song by following the bouncing ball on the score display. The Clavinova will even wait for you to find the right note. These features include a strip of LEDs above the keys that show you the next notes to play, and a nifty sheet-music display on which you literally follow the bouncing ball. You can set this up to show just the right-hand melody, the grand staff, chord symbols, and/or lyrics for songs that have them. Most important, in what’s called Guide Mode, the Clavinova will stop the song/accompaniment playback if you make a mistake, and resume when you find the right notes. This can be made even more forgiving with the Any Key mode, which tracks rhythm but not melody, and the Your Tempo mode, which tracks you in rubato fashion if you need to slow down and think. Karao-key mode advances the song based on mic input and any key press, and is meant for singing along.

I can’t over-emphasize how well all of this works. Sure, it’ll keep your seven-year-old focused on “Für Elise,” but I’ve used Guide Mode to woodshed cover tunes for gigs I took in spite of having too little prep time, and it’s been a lifesaver.

Related to but distinct from songs is the Music Finder, long a Yamaha staple. In the Music Finder, Records are presets that call up a Voice-and-accompaniment package for playing “in the style of” popular songs — complete with names that suggest the originals without infringing on their copyrights.

The USA Edition content package for CVP-700 series keyboards sold in the U.S. adds licensed Music Finder Records for an accompanying Best Songs Ever songbook, a Style Guide that uses those tunes to teach you how to work the Style Control section like a pro, interactive tutorials narrated by a human voice, and more.

Every model but the CVP-701 has an old-school VGA output for mirroring the display (or a lyrics-only karaoke scroll) to an external monitor. I’d like to see a more up-to-date connector used here, but there are always adapters.

Yamaha Clavinova CVP-709GP
More Features

Even on the entry-level CVP-701, the onboard stereo speakers are loud and clean enough to be heard over a roomful of guests, and don’t get crispy at high volumes. This gets only better as you ascend the line, the 705 adding a more powerful two-way system and the 709 and 709GP going three-way plus subwoofers. All models offer ¼” stereo output jacks for connection to an external sound system.

Just a couple of menu levels deep is an extensive mixing console providing volume, effects send, and stereo panning control over every part, with separate pages for your live keyboard Voices, all the Style tracks, all the song tracks, and so on. Audio effects are generous and high-quality, with graphical interfaces that bring up a suite of plug-ins for professional recording software.

All CVP-700 models can stream audio files from a USB drive and, for karaoke or practice, pitch-shift the audio into your vocal range and “cancel” the pre-recorded vocal. Sometimes the effect isn’t total, and unlike MIDI, the more you transpose real-time audio, the weirder it may sound. Still, this is heavy-hitting processing, especially for a home instrument.

With the exception of a few global system settings, anything that can be edited or changed can be saved in user memory without affecting the factory defaults. There are section-specific user areas for things like Voices, Styles, and Songs, but the most comprehensive memory slots are the Registrations. These essentially save everything about the current state of the machine, including any setting tweaks you’ve made about the mix, what the pedals do, and so on. If you’re entertaining an audience all night and have done a lot of custom prep work, one Registration per tune on your set list is the way to go.

The control panel on the CVP-709 allows most settings to be edited and saved to memory.

Conclusions:

As long as this review is, I’ve only scratched the surface of the Clavinova CVP-700 series. Overall, they are, hands down, the best-sounding, most feature-rich, most technologically advanced instruments of their kind. While this is truest of the top-of-range CVP-709, the 701 gets a special nod as the sleeper value of the bunch. It offers most of what matters about its siblings — the smallish non-touch screen is the most visible compromise — for a lot less money than any of them.

As for the competition, your needs will determine whether there is or isn’t any. If all of the CVP-700s are beyond your budget, Yamaha’s Clavinova CLP line offers various options for a more traditional but still excellent “console” digital piano; the Casio Celviano family does a great job here at even lower prices. More upmarket, I love Blüthner digitals for their pure piano sound and daring design, but they can’t touch the Clavinovas for non-piano sounds, accompaniment, or educational features. If you want the same Yamaha CFX concert grand sound as in the new CVP line, but in a “straight” digital piano that visitors will swear is an acoustic upright, the Yamaha NU1 punches way above its price. All that said, if you need one instrument that provides both the pianistic excellence that will please traditionally inclined performers, students, educators, and parents, as well as enough electronic coaching and downright fun factor to keep beginners and casual players interested, the Clavinova Ensemble CVP-700 family simply has no peer.

Stephen Fortner has been a keyboardist since early childhood, and has played professionally since age 14. He was technical editor of Keyboard magazine from 2006 to 2009, its editor in chief from 2009 through 2015, and remains a regular contributor. He has since founded Fortner Media, a content and strategy firm serving the musical-instrument and consumer-technology industries. He can be reached at stephen@fortnermedia.com or see the original article here.

 
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