Diary of a Concert Technician – Pre-Competition
















Day 1 Friday 5th June.

Very early start. Being picked up at 3:30am for a 6:00am flight. Had good sleep on the way to Dubai as there was no time to sleep the night before and very little sleep time the week before!


Connecting flight delayed by 90 minutes so sitting in the airport for about 4 hours. This turned out to be a good thing…. Finally on the way to Moscow… never a dull moment in international travel….


Landed in Moscow and the clock on the plane said midnight on the 5th.. turns out there was an error on my visa. To make sure I arrived and had a full days rest we had asked to have the Visa from the 5th with the other Steinway delegates from the 6th. This obviously had not translated too clearly, and for some reason did not click with me in the application. As there is no change to summer time in Moscow this year the time was actually only 11:00pm….on the 5th…..this was immediately picked up by the customs agent who then called her supervisor. Not the usual austere look on his face that I had been expecting but almost a wry smile. I was instructed to follow him downstairs.. an interesting feeling but for some reason I didn’t have too negative a thought. I was asked to sit down in the transit lounge and followed by a short discussion regarding the time and date in Moscow as opposed to that in Sydney… all the time there was a not too severe look on his face. Then I heard the familiar words, ‘vonts es’ followed by a few more words in the same vein. He then explained that there would normally be a stiff fine or even being sent back on the same plane, but I should just sit in the transit lounge for an hour and then re-enter the customs area. (for those unfamiliar with the above term it is the usual welcome given in Armenia literally translated to ‘how are you’ but has a greater meaning).


In the meantime I was receiving text messages from the pre-organised driver who had already been delayed by 1 ½ hors due to the flight delay so he had to wait another hour while I sat in the transit lounge. Finally through, picked up my bags and into the car with a rather terse long faced driver. Then a very ‘spirited’ 40 minute drive to the hotel finally arriving at 2am. 28 hours after leaving Sydney.













Day 2 Saturday 6th June.

Had a few hours sleep, breakfast at 7 am, organised my bags and out for a walk by 9 for about 2 hours. Hall being used all day so can’t access the piano until Sunday. After another hour rest back out in the sun for another walk around Moscow. This real helps with resetting the clock. This time I headed toward the Kremlin and Red Square. Quite iconic buildings and settings, the seat of power for the last century and more. Ended up walking around for about 5 hours just admiring and having a feel for the city. Very tired after 7 hours on my feet but very exhilarated with the experience of a new City for the first time.


The rest of the team, Gerrit and Thomas, arrive about 6:30pm. After checking in and unpacking we are off to dinner and a discussion on the next few days events. Gerrit notices that the rooms we have booked and confirmed on the 5th floor have not been allocated. This is important as these rooms are the quietest and you can see the Conservatorium and the top of the Kremlin from the window. Apologies from the front desk but can’t make any changes till Monday. Also, no free internet in the rooms. This is normally charged at 1,500 ru a day (about $40).










Day 3 Sunday 7th June

Eagerly waiting to see the piano, after breakfast a few meet-and-greets with the various managements, office staff and local technicians finally able to be introduced to the Steinway that will be used in the main competition. One of the management staff is named ‘Annie’ and this time I was able to use the ‘parev, vonse es’ greeting….

It has been on stage for about 8 weeks and used for various concerts however has only had basic tunings. The tuners were asked not to do any other work so that we can continue the setup that was done in the factory by George Aman.

I had a good 6 hours to work on the piano and started with a good clean and lubrication. After going through the regulation, I was able to reduce the DW from 51 to 48gms in the middle and the UW from 31.5 to 35gms. This gave an incredible resistance of only 6.5gms making it a very fast action.

First tuning done, I then started on the voicing. The hall is reasonably dry but not too bad.. Finally put the piano to bed and waited to see how it would sound in the morning.











Day 4 Monday 8th June.

Breakfast at 6:30 then onto the piano as the hall was only free until midday. Second tuning, check regulation and voicing. Piano still needs to come up a little. The rest of the day the hall and the piano was used for the various graduation ceremonies. This gave us an opportunity to listen to the piano on stage in performance. As suspected in full flight it became slightly strained so the sound would need to be opened up some more. For the next 2 days the hall would be used for other performance as the Conservatorium was still underway. The piano was therefore moved to an adjacent room that evening.








Day 5 Tuesday 9th June.

An apology from the management about the mix-up of our rooms. We are moved to the sixth floor and offered free wifi for the rest of our stay.


Went for an hour’s walk again after breakfast and pondered how to attack the piano in the morning. Although quite large, the room was far too resonant to mimic the conditions in the hall, so we needed to imagine what could be done for the hall. The challenge is to increase the power without sacrificing the beautiful tones. Various changes to the action settings and fine regulation seemed to improve the sonority and increase the power. I managed to achieve this without the use of doping which was a good result. This could be used later if needed.


In the ‘Male’ hall, Thomas had set up the other Steinway D ready for the preliminary rounds. As the competitors arrived they were each given 15 minutes to try out this piano ready for the preliminary round starting on Thursday. The Male hall is extremely resonant and totally opposite to the main hall. Thomas did a marvellous job taming the piano for the conditions. Backstage the volunteer ladies took a shine to him which made life easier as some of the other ushers could be quite ‘severe’.













Day 6 Wednesday 10th June

Continued working on the piano on and off during the day refining and stabilizing the tuning and regulation. Also occasionally reliving Thomas in the Male hall as the sound can become quite overbearing. This also gave me an opportunity to meet and greet all the contestants.


At 11:00 we had our meeting with all the various piano brand teams. We were the smallest with Yamaha and Kawai with quite large contingents. After discussions about servicing times and drawing lots on the order we had a group photo in front of Tchaikovsky’s statue.


After the various concerts concluded in the great hall our piano was moved back in at 11:00pm and allowed to settle overnight.


Tchaikovsky Competition



Day 7, Thursday 11th June.

Start of the preliminary rounds with many very nervous competitors. Each one has 20 minutes to impress the judges. There are a few dropouts but the number is about 58. 30 competitors will be selected to continue in the 1st stage of the competition.


The great hall is being used all day so we can’t start working on the pianos until after 10:00pm. I have the first shift from 10 till 1am which also includes the moving of the other pianos onto the stage. The incredible situation is that even with the complete renovation of the conservatorium, there are no goods lifts up to the stage. This required the concerts grands to be taken up 2 grand flights of stairs… and we thought our piano carriers had it tough….


Luckily Konstantin Shamray was in town and we had asked him to come and play the piano for us so that we could hear the piano’s sound in the hall played professionally. It turned out that our work in the smaller room was almost spot on with just some adjustment to the voicing mainly in the usual mid treble section.

Finished up at 1am and off to bed.






Day 8, Friday 12th June.

As each manufacturer had 3 hour shifts mine came up again at 10:00 am.

Had an early breakfast at 6:30 followed by a short walk and off to the Con to meet and great various competitors.

Piano was very stable and only required minor adjustments and checking over. Finished in about an hour and went to listen to the preliminary rounds as my next shift was at 10:00pm.

All the competitors had finished by 6:30 and were nervously waiting for the results. After the judges handed in their selection it took a further 2 hours before these were all collated and handed back to them for approval. In the mean time I was invited into the judges room and had a great conversation with Barry Douglas who had been to Australia on many occasions in the 80’s and 90’s and had also performed at the opening concert for SIPCA in ’92.

As the tabulated results arrived I left the room and went into the hall with anticipation. We all waited, and waited and waited…. I had to leave at 10:00 pm as my shift was up. At about midnight Gerrit came in with the results. There was so much argument amongst the judges that instead of only 30 candidates going through they decided to have 36!


Audition Rounds



Day 9, Saturday 13th June.

After all the technicians completed their shifts by 10:00 am we each had 10 minutes for a touch up before the selections began. We had drawn lots for the stage positions which would then be changed every 9 competitors so that each piano had an equal amount of time in each spot.


From 11:00 am each competitor was given 20 minutes to make a selection. There were quite a few nervous moments as some of them were unsure and went back and forth between the instruments. Others were able to hone in earlier in the session then took the rest of the time to familiarise themselves with their choice.


After the 9th selection there was a 40 min break for us to move the pianos and for a quick touch up.


At the end of day one of the 18 selection 12 chose Steinway, 3 Fazioli, 2 Yamaha and 1 Kawai. We then had 3 hours each to service the pianos with Steinway on first. As the piano was sounding and performing well with almost no movement in the voicing or tuning even though it had been pounded by some rather large Russians in the later session, I proceeded to just check over the details and smoothed out some of the voicing.









Day 10, Sunday 14th June.

We each had a further 30 minutes to touch up the pianos before the selections commenced.

Each of the other manufacturers had done considerable work overnight to improve their instruments however on day 2, 16 of the 18 competitors chose the Steinway and 2 chose the Kawai.

So the final figure was 28 Steinway, 3 Fazioli, 3 Kawai and 2 Yamaha.

During the middle break I was interviewed by TV Tokyo RYU’s Talking Live programme who had a film crew following the Yamaha team in order to make a documentary. We were then given a further 2 hours each to service the pianos as the film crew began setting up.

I counted at least 15 professional cameras. This would be unheard of in Australia except at a sporting event. It is really a major production.












Day 11, Monday 15th June.

Can’t work on the pianos as the hall is being set up for the opening recitals with the orchestra. The concerto’s will be played on the Fazioli with prior arrangement with the pianists.

Proceedings start in front of the Conservatorium at 6pm with a procession and the concert at 7pm.

3 Responses to Diary of a Concert Technician – Pre-Competition

  1. Anita says:

    A great story so far, Ara. I love it. I hope you are taking plenty of photos so that we can make a great book out of it. Keep well.

  2. Ian Mackinnon says:

    Thank you Ara for a truly splendid ‘documentary’ on your wonderful experience with what must surely be a pinnacle of all piano-tuning assignments throughout the modern world. You must certainly possess an amazing control of making the most of all your skills – mastering the inevitable personal downside of severe jet-lag with walking-exercise and keeping your finely tuned professional objectives always right at your fingertips (pun intended!) Congratulations! Ian Mackinnon

  3. Colin Anderson says:

    I guess that the tuning was A = 443 Hz, not 440 Hz as in Australia. Did that give you or the piano any problems? (Presumably the piano had been tuned to 443 Hz before being shipped to Moscow anyway).

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