ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Now the piano didn't always look like what we think of today. It evolved over the course of centuries. For the most part there haven't been major design changes since the late 1800's.
Now, one rather odd looking modification to the lid of the concert grand piano has been championed by a pianist performing at Carnegie Hall this weekend.
NPR's Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr reports.
JEFFREY FREYMANN-WEYR: The traditional lid of a piano is a massive single piece of wood. It's hinged along the left hand side of the instrument. For concerts the lid is raised held up by a stick so the sound bounces off the wood and is directed out into the hall. If you're a concert pianist playing a concerto with an orchestra, you really only have to conductor, it's the conductor's job to keep the other musicians in and the soloist together.
But what happens if you're both pianist and conductor. With the lid up on a concert grand, from the bench you're unable to see half of the orchestra. You can remove the lid entirely for a clear line of sight but then the sound is no longer directed toward the audience.
Mr. PIERRE-LAURENT AIMARD (Pianist; Conductor): You have then to over articulate, over sync, over play and swell that's not idle neither for your colleagues nor for you and especially for the audience.
FREYMANN-WEYR: Pianist and conductor Pierre-Laurent Aimard was on tour in Vienna in 2005 when he had a conversation with Stefan Knupfer, a Steinway piano technician.
Mr. AIMARD: And we were speaking about frustration if you play and conduct classical concerto - Mozart concertos, for instance.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. AIMARD: And then he said, pointing his cranium with his finger, well, I got an idea.
FREYMANN-WEYR: A few months later Knupfer showed Aimard a prototype of a new kind of piano lid that would address both the sight and sound problems of a conventional lid. It's called sound mirrors or (unintelligible) and it replaces the single piece of wood with six transparent louvered slats - think of a Venetian blind. They angled the sound back at the soloist who can still see through and over them. This means the piano has to be turned 90 degrees from it's usual position with the keyboard facing out.
Mr. AIMARD: Your sound could be projected behind yourself. In this case you play back to the audience and all the instrument was covered by this small piano reflectors.
FREYMANN-WEYR: And with the performers back facing the audience, some theatrical flare and facial expressions may be lost but Aimard says the music itself is more important.
Mr. AIMARD: If your goal is a certain truth - a certain simplicity, you can also do it showing your back or face or your sights to the audience.
FREYMANN-WEYR: Aimard says using sound mirrors; he can more accurately hear the balance between the piano and the ensemble. He says the new see-through lid system also gives the piano itself a more spacious and transparent sound because each of the flats projects a different register of the piano rather than the concentrated compact sound of a single lid.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard has already recorded as disc of Mozart piano concertos with the chamber orchestra of Europe using the sound mirrors lid.
Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr, NPR News.
BROOKS: You got to see a picture of the see-through piano lid. Go to our Web site npr.org.