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Arts & Culture

Live From New York—and College Park

Guests at UMD See High-Tech Piano Play Music Students’ Performance 200+ Miles Away

By Sala Levin ’10

A robot piano plays in a concert hall, while a screen depicts a pianist playing on a piano elsewhere

Sunday's performance by School of Music students using a high-tech piano at Steinway Hall in New York City was simulcast through an identical piano at The Clarice's Gildenhorn Recital Hall and synced with video, allowing audience members in both locations to share the experience in real time.

Photo by Lisa Helfert

The rhythmic, driving melody of composer Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4” filled a Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center hall with its expansive sound. But the piano at the center of the stage—the source of the Amazonian-inspired music—was empty.

On Sunday, a group of School of Music students made University of Maryland history as the first Terps to play the high-tech Steinway Spirio, the ultimate player piano. As the nine students performed at Steinway Hall in New York City, a Spirio piano in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall faithfully reproduced every keystroke and pedal depression for an audience in College Park.

“It’s closer to a 3D experience than we’ve ever been able to have,” said Mayron Tsong, associate professor and piano division coordinator.

When a pianist presses a key on any piano’s keyboard, a hammer in the instrument’s soundboard strikes a string, which vibrates to produce sound. “Pianists express themselves by how hard and fast the hammer hits the string,” said Matt Bachman ’05, D.M.A. ’14, manager of Steinway Piano Gallery of Washington, D.C.

Introduced in 2019, the Spirio|r model captures the location of the hammer 888 times per second and can reproduce 1,020 different gradients of touch. This can track each nuance of a pianist’s touch, which is then communicated via proprietary technology to a second piano that uses 88 electromagnetic solenoids—wire coils that carry a current—to push the key up from the back, creating in effect a mirror image of the pianist’s movements.

“This is the closest thing to ‘lossless’ recording you can have,” said Bachman—meaning it’s exponentially more accurate than a typical livestream. “This is an acoustic instrument reproducing on an acoustic instrument.”

The Spirio concert grand, the model in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall, is on loan from Steinway and retails for $271,900. (The School of Music exclusively uses Steinway pianos and hopes to eventually acquire a Spirio permanently, said Tsong.)

The technology in the Spirio opens a range of possibilities for live performance, said Tsong. Students could audition for conservatories or symphony orchestras across the world without spending the time or money on traveling, and concerts could reach audiences who aren’t able to travel to New York City or international music hubs.

Marcello Silva ’26 played “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 4, a piece he chose to celebrate his Brazilian heritage. “I’m a neuroscience double major, so I’ve been thinking about how live performances can affect the brain and be beneficial for people with different disabilities,” he said. “It’s nice to see new technology that could be good for the world.”

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