These Keyboard Musicians Are Thinking Beyond the Piano

Like Lubimov, Jacob Greenberg first dived into other keyboard instruments while at conservatory. He now plays modern piano, electric piano, celesta, harpsichord, harmonium, shrutibox, toy piano and pipe organ.

Last September, Greenberg traveled from his home in Berlin to Rostock, Germany, to build his own clavichord: a small rectangular keyboard instrument that was most popular from the late Middle Ages to the early Classical period. The clavichord’s sound is so soft, it is mainly used for private practice or as a composition aid.

For eight days, 11 hours a day, Greenberg, 48, worked on his clavichord in a woodshop belonging to the instrument builder Johann-Gottfried Schmidt. All the work with band saws, power sanders, drills, clamps, hammers and other tools was nerve-racking for Greenberg. “The risk of messing up the instrument was at least as great as the risk of injuring yourself,” he said.

Still, building the clavichord was enlightening. Greenberg took particular pleasure in tuning the instrument, and in the delicate process of evening out the weight of the keys so that they would feel consistent across the clavichord’s range. The workshop “gave me so many interesting insights into the instrument,” he said. The finished product has a complex, bittersweet sound, and fits neatly inside a wooden box.

Creating the instrument was a culmination in Greenberg’s decision to work with a broader range of keyboards. His 2021 album “Bright Codes,” made up entirely of new commissions, includes pieces for modern piano, but also for harmonium (a kind of reed organ) by Ione, Dai Fujikura and Nathan Davis. In their pieces for harmonium, long, nasal chords float slowly past — a timbre the piano doesn’t have, at a pace it couldn’t sustain.

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