By Marton Dunai
SZIGETHALOM, Hungary (Reuters) - In the 19th century, piano makers competed to make special instruments for Hungarian virtuoso Franz Liszt, the world's first piano superstar.
Now Hungary is returning the favor with a space-age piano named for its creator, pianist Gergely Boganyi.
"The Boganyi", unveiled on Tuesday, has two legs, uses carbon composite as well as wood and employs wild curves to get a more powerful and balanced sound than that of similar-sized conventional models.
"What we created will enrich piano history," Boganyi, 41, told Reuters in his team's workshop loft at a crumbling communist-era factory.
"It is said that old pianos sound friendly, velvety, while new ones are stronger and more powerful. I was hoping for both."
Nearly all 18,000 components were rethought. The two wide, curved legs double as sound deflectors. Thanks to an intricate mechanism, the strings apply minimal pressure on the sound board, made of over 20 carbon composite layers. The cast-iron frame boasts an all-new design.
Although Boganyi does not yet know the price, he said that, given the materials, "it cannot be cheap".
Three experts told Reuters the piano could well be worth it.
Karoly Reisinger, CEO of the New York piano repair shop Klavierhaus, was "mesmerized" at a sound he said brought lyrical qualities back to the piano after a century of power-focused development.
"In this design you will be able to hear the 1850-1860 era qualities, lyrical, bell-like, precise – and also the modern instrument that our time is used to, which is clarity," he said.
Four-time Grammy-nominated jazz pianist Gerald Clayton felt he had played a slick new type of instrument.
"The sound almost feels as if you're in a bubble, it's so clear," he said. "It's a new sensation."
Without the traditional rear leg, Peter Uveges's design seems poised to start a race. He has had to draw alternatives for clients with more conservative taste.
"It excited me to create a visible unity between the upper body and the legs that departs from the traditional table look," he said.
Boganyi was so committed to his dream that he had his cherished old piano, a gift from the Hungarian master Dezso Ranki, refitted with carbon fiber sounding board to test it out.
"When it first came back into my small apartment and I began to play ... the first moment was shocking," he said. "I felt a whole new spectrum of sound."
($1 = 0.8618 euros)
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Michael Roddy and Tom Heneghan)