Carnegie Hall Heroes: Joel Bernache
Photo by Chris Lee
Joel Bernache, Concert Technician/Piano Tuner
I’ve been tuning pianos since 2001. I sort of fell into it.” Joel Bernache is a concert technician, the man who tunes those great black engines that resound through Carnegie Hall whether in solo recitals, the intimate exchanges of chamber music, or in the give-and-take of the piano concerto.
“I apprenticed with a technician for about a year,” he says. “He sent me off to school in Boston, and I landed a job at Steinway. I’ve been tuning the pianos in Carnegie Hall ever since.
“My job is very anonymous. For the most part, people don’t care who I am or what I do to fix a problem. But when there is a problem, everyone notices.
“When we get a frantic pianist or a stressed-out pianist who has some problem with the voicing or the keyboard, I’m the one who is there and who can help.” Among the tricks Joel uses: “strategic needling of the hammer felt,” which can alter the tone of the piano drastically. “I get specific requests regarding pianos – it needs to be bright and on the edge for a solo recital and more muted for chamber music when you’re looking for something more subtle. And for a concerto, you have to pay particular attention to the pitch.
“The biggest challenge is scheduling, of course, and the humidity (or lack thereof) in Carnegie Hall, especially in the wintertime. Forced hot air from the heating system is a big problem when it comes to piano tuning.” His favorite backstage moment: “Keith Jarrett. He gave a solo recital some years ago, and he can be very particular. But as he exited the stage, he took one look at me and just said, ‘Thank you very much.’”
This article first appeared in Carnegie Hall: 125 Years of an Iconic Music Venue’s Most Remarkable People and Memorable Events, available at carnegiehall.org/125th_Anniversary_Magazine.