Don’t Shoot the Piano… Tuner!
German-born Walter Haass has been bringing world-class piano sounds to Singapore audiences in the last 25 years.
No, he’s not a concert pianist.
Walter is a piano tuner and concert technician.
With over 40 years of experience and a highly respected Steinway & Sons piano technical specialist for Australia and South East Asia, Walter often needs to resolve problems with pianos. Walter regularly travels around Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cambodia and New Zealand for his work. For instance, he worked at Dewan Filharmonhik Petronas in Kuala Lumpur when the country opened its first concert hall in 1998, where he also helped train a local piano tuner. He’s collaborated with countless pianists including the likes of Stephen Hough, Shai Wosner, Lang Lang, Katia and Marielle Labèque, and many more.
Notably, Walter tunes every single piano that has gone on stage in the Singapore International Piano Festival (SIPF), after its inauguration in 1994.
Currently based in Perth, Australia, he makes an annual pilgrimage to Southeast Asia’s premier piano festival – to resolve any technical issues and deliver a tip-top instrument for its line-up of pianists from across the globe.
As the 2019 SIPF concludes, we speak to Walter to find out the little-known aspects of him and his trade.
You were born in Germany and moved to Paris. How did you come to settle in Asia-Pacific?
I was born in Stuttgart where I did an apprenticeship as piano maker. My move to Asia-Pacific was motivated by curiosity and wanderlust. My young family and I fell in love with the new continent and settled in Australia.
What do you never leave home without (when travelling for work)?
A very expensive tuning hammer, voicing tools, sharp needles, sand paper and soap. How I use some of them is a trade secret!
Do you play the piano too?
Yes, with great pleasure and it most probably helped me to get the best possible sound out the instruments. My knowledge of music has influenced how I prepare the instruments to suit classical works, Romantic pieces or contemporary performances.
“Walter has played a critical role in the success of our piano festival. He is a perfectionist craftsman. Pianists like Nikolai Demidenko and Pascal Rogé have said to me that he is among the very best in the world – and I guess they should know!
“His tender loving care in preparing the instruments has been conspicuously praised by pianists in each Festival and I hope he will continue to help us in the years ahead.”
Goh Yew Lin, Founding Artistic Director of the Singapore International Piano Festival and Chairman of the Singapore Symphony Group
What was the most challenging job you ever did?
The most challenging pianist was Arcadi Volodos. He had a choice of two Steinway concert grands and he didn’t like either of them. I had to voice one piano to his liking, while he was playing next to me, on the other piano. Voicing is the highest art of piano preparation. It sets the brightness, the roundness and evenness of tone. It demanded high concentration. This was a very difficult task.
Who would you say was the most memorable pianist in the last 25 years of the Singapore International Piano Festival?
There have been so many memorable performances in my 25 festival years, and I have very fond memories of Nicholai Demidenko who was included numerous times in the SIPF programme. When I first met him, he asked if I realised that I am the second best piano technician in the world. I found his remark quite amusing! He is an extraordinary musician and we became friends.
What do you think distinguishes some of today’s rising stars from the piano virtuosi of the past?
The young performers play loud and fast!