In the din of the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s bustling Lobby Lounge, Paolo Fazioli weaves through a crowd of excited onlookers, accepting words of excitement and congratulations for his latest masterpiece. He is bespectacled, smartly dressed and gives off an air of excitement that overshadows the jet lag he must be feeling, having arrived from Italy only a couple of hours before, to present the 2020 version of the Fairmont’s Fazioli piano.
As the founder and namesake of Fazioli Pianoforti, his work not only includes designing what is well known to be the world’s finest concert pianos but testing each one before it is permitted to leave the factory. A trip to Vancouver for this occasion is a special treat, a chance to showcase his collaboration with local master origami artist Joseph Wu. It is also a chance to see an old friend.
Manuel Bernaschek was the first to bring Fazioli pianos to Vancouver thirteen years ago. After a visit to the Fazioli factory in Italy, and a promise that he would make the name known on the west coast, Bernaschek was granted permission to carry the brand. Today, Showcase Pianos’ two locations are recognized as being the highest-selling Fazioli dealer worldwide and have been instrumental in building a partnership with the Westbank Corporation.
As the piano is unveiled, onlookers gaze upon a beautifully crafted work of brilliant white with delicately placed pentagons that appear to float across its body. Underneath the exposed top, a three-dimensional walnut inlay adds even more depth.
The piano was designed to echo Wu’s spectacular Origami Light Sculpture, which is suspended over the hotel’s new TASCHEN library. It has been there since the hotel opened in 2010. The entire design process was completed without meeting in person. However, this was not an issue for Wu. “Having seen examples of their work in the past, I didn’t have any doubts that they would be able to do it,” he said of the Fazioli team.
Wu cites Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink for giving him clarity into how his process of learning how to fold a bold new origami design, works. Thanks to his countless hours of practice, his intuition guided him to execute it without overthinking. “If I have an idea of what I want to do, the design just sort of materializes,” he says. “I know how to start, and I know I can finish, but I have no idea consciously how to process will exist.” This concept holds whether designing a piano case, a 180-foot installation like the Fairmont’s, or a playful mouse to usher in the Lunar New Year for his dedicated Instagram fan base.
After the unveiling, acclaimed virtuoso Carl Petersson steps to the piano and launches into a passionate number that exhibits the Fazioli’s famously wide range of colour and tone. The Swedish-born pianist balances a role as Showcase Piano’s Artistic Director with a busy schedule of touring and recording, which is done exclusively on Fazioli.
Petersson mentions this is the first opportunity he has had to meet Paolo Fazioli—never mind play for him. When asked why he prefers to play these iconic pianos, it is clear that it is an issue of no contest.
“I really find the Fazioli pianos to be the best, well-crafted instruments in the world,” he shares immediately after the performance. “For me, it is a joy to perform on it.”
Fazioli’s eponymous company started from a desire to be greater than the world-class. In most industries, this is a lofty goal. In the world of high-end pianos where existing piano makers had a hundred-year head start, it must have seemed near impossible.
As a young man in Rome, Fazioli studied engineering first, before completing a master’s degree in piano composition. Then, using the skills gained from his family’s experience in furniture production, he began designing piano prototypes before founding Fazioli Pianoforti in 1981 and claiming an underused family factory space in Sacile, a town 60-kilometres northwest of Venice in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.
Today the 50-employee factory (which has its own concert hall for testing newly completed units) produces approximately 140 pianos a year. According to Fazioli, there is little desire to expand production beyond this number.
“Maybe more is not better,” he explains. “If you want to maintain quality, you must maintain limited production. You must have control over every piece you are producing.”
Fazioli’s key differentiation is his anti-industrialist view of piano production. Each piano is treated as an individual, not part of a line, and is subject to continuous experimentation and research by experts in the fields of wood material science, engineering, and design. The average timeline for a piano to be completed is about two years.
The most lavish of his creations call Vancouver home, with more in development thanks to Fazioli’s strong relationship with Manuel Bernaschek (Showcase Pianos) and Ian Gillespie (Westbank Corp).
With ambitious projects on the horizon, Fazioli tempers his excitement with thoughts of where he is meant to be, at his factory in Sacile. “In the future, my plan is to spend more time at home,” he says. He cites a new collaboration with a university in Milan as a source of excitement and growth for the company. “We are always improving the sound of our piano and the quality of the instrument.”
It seems that as much as it is adored worldwide and played by legends like Herbie Hancock and Angela Hewitt, there will never really be the perfect Fazioli piano. But this notion of ‘perfection’ is one that Fazioli himself does not care for, or believe, as every piano comes off the line more magnificent than the last.
- Coleman Pete is a contributor for EcoLuxLuv Communications. Coleman writes about menswear, design, and culture, and can be found combing through vintage clothing racks or reading in one of his favourite cafés in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. Read more by Coleman at OverdressedNW.com.
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