Interview by Esther Basha
Browsing the Internet for interesting piano photos, I stumbled upon Schimmel Pegasus, which left me speechless and star-struck. Its futuristic design as well as its sound made me want to find one and play it. I got in touch with Robert Slayman (may G-d bless him), the VP of Schimmel Pianos in North America who told me the Schimmel story and the company behind it.
PP: Dear Robert, can you, please, tell our readers a little bit about yourself? How did you get into piano distribution? Do you have a background in piano performance?
RS: I was a late bloomer as a pianist, buying my first piano and taking my first lessons at age 19. I entered college a couple years later as a piano student but had a lot of catching up to do. While I was a student, I stopped by a piano store one day to inquire about part time work to help pay my ay through school. I ended up taking a full-time position in piano sales and a few years later opened my own piano store with two partners. When our lease expired we didn’t renew but went on to other careers. I became involved as a manufacturer’s representative and have been with Schimmel for 16 years, now as their North American vice president and director of marketing and sales. (By the way, I did finish my piano degree!)
PP: Please, tell us about the Schimmel Piano makers and what makes the company different from others.
RS: Schimmel was founded by Wilhelm Schimmel (OBM) in 1885. They have always been a family-managed piano builder whose motto from the very beginning was, “Quality will prevail.” Wilhelm’s son, Wilhelm Arno Schimmel eventually took over the company and he unexpectedly passed away in 1961 leaving his son Nikolaus Schimmel (MGBT) to take over. Nikolaus oversaw much growth in the company and began exporting pianos around the world. He is also responsible for many of the innovations including the art pianos Pegasus, Plexiglas, and the Otmar Alt. He is retired now but still very active. The company is now managed by the fourth generation family members Hannes Schimmel-Vogel and Viola Schimmel (MGBT). So, the name on the piano isn’t just a name, it is a direct reflection on the Schimmel family. For this reason, they strive to build the best instruments possible in each of the three market segments they cover. Such care is taken that Schimmel allows certain periods of “rest” as their pianos are being built so they become very stable over time. It takes a full year for Schimmel to build a grand piano. A recent exciting innovation that makes Schimmel pianos unique is that the Konzert Series grands all have the same key length and action as the 9’2 concert grand. So there are six models all the way down to 5’9″ with the same “engine” inside. This means that a student can now practice on a piano with the same feel and response that he/she will have on the concert piano on stage.
PP: Please, tell us a little bit about the Schimmel Pegasus model. It looks amazing: the ultimate futuristic model of pianos. What inspired the owners of the company to create such an unusual design? Who was the designer?
RS: At first it was just a daring idea on the part of the eccentric German designer Prof. Luigi Colani (MGBH) and the German piano manufacturer Nikolaus W. Schimmel (MGBH). It was their vision to free the grand piano, the most expressive of traditional acoustic musical instruments, from its form, which had hardly changed in the past 150 years, as well as to impart a future-oriented design. It takes a full year for Schimmel to build a grand piano.
PP: Who are some of the famous piano performers that played Schimmel Pegasus and/or own one? What about institutions?
RS: Lenny Kravits (MGBH) purchased both a Pegasus and a Plexiglas Schimmel. Prince (OBM) purchased a Pegasus. A jazz pianist Joey Calderazzo (MGBH) has owned two Schimmel grands. Some of the institutions that have purchased or performed with Schimmel are NPR Studio in D.C., Royal Academy of Music, London, Boston Ballet, Toronto Symphony, Bolshoi Theater, Moscow, L’Opera de Marseille, English national Ballet, ASU in Tempe Arizona, and Conservatoire National Superieur de Paris.
PP: How is the Pegasus model made? Is the keyboard different from a regular one? What materials are used in the manufacturing process?
RS: The Pegasus is made as one continuous fiberglass piece without seams except for the clear plexiglass stand that supports the tail. Even the pianist’s bench is part of the one-piece design.
The inside of the instrument is otherwise the same as the Schimmel top line Konzert Series with spruce keys and solid spruce soundboard.
PP: How much does a piano like this cost?
RS: The Pegasus is priced at $300,000 and is made by special order. Schimmel is able to make two per year and it typically takes 6 months to a year to get one.
PP: What is the price range for other (traditional) models and where can piano lovers can find these pieces?
RS: Schimmel MSRP prices start at $15,000 for a Wilhelm Schimmel vertical piano and go up from there. Schimmel pianos are displayed by a network of about 25 dealers in the U.S. and Canada, mostly in the larger cities. Especially good selections of many Schimmel models can be seen in Toronto, Seattle, Portland OR, Houston, Dallas, Raleigh, San Diego, San Jose, Phoenix, and Paramus NJ.
The keyboard of the Pegasus model is uniquely ergonomic in that it has a slight curvature rather than being in a straight line.
PP: Have Schimmel pianos been in any movies?
RS: Yes. The clear Schimmel Plexiglas was in the new Annie movie in 2014 with Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, and Quvenzhané Wallis (MGBT).
PP: Can an organization rent a Schimmel piano for an event? If so, how and where?
RS: Yes, depending on the market and availability. You would contact the local dealer in the market, or myself.
PP: I saw a photo of a red Schimmel Ferrari piano. Who does it belong to? Was there only one made?
RS: This instrument was sold to an individual who owned a car-racing track in Texas. I think it was sold several years later to someone in L.A. There were a couple other red Pegasus models sold in the world to private individuals.
PP: Can we talk a little bit about a Schimmel Silent Piano? Was there only one made? Or is it available for sale?
RS: The silent system for Schimmel is called Twin Tone and is made by Yamaha. “Silent” is a trademark of Yamaha Corporation. It can be added to most any instrument at the factory while the instrument is being built, as a special order.
PP: What is for Schimmel in the nearest future?
RS: Schimmel has sponsored a couple of piano competition in the U.S. and does much more of this in Germany. Schimmel just entered into a strategic alliance with the largest piano make in the world, Pearl River. With the added resources, Schimmel should soon be in a position to do more in this area.