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The English Apple Man


8th Dec 2023 - Music to my ears

After last week's Journal featuring Richard Dain's Cobnut adventure, this week The English Apple Man expands upon Richard's amazing world of Pianos.


In addition to being a working nut farm, Hurstwood Farm is also renowned as a supplier of exclusive hand-made pianos and is at the forefront of new technology in piano design.



Hurstwood Farm has been in family ownership for 75 years. The main product is cobnuts (hazelnuts). The Farm was in it's 'prime' amongst the largest and most technically advanced nut production units in Europe.


Sainsbury Supermarkets who took much of the produce partnered Hurstwood Farm for many years in developing the UK nut market. It is their high standards of hygiene, quality and building standards that as a by product, enabled the Farm to adapt the packhouse as a 200 seat concert hall when it was not in seasonal farm use.


The recital hall was one of the first in the Country to install closed circuit television to enable the whole audience to see a close up of the piano keyboard. One of the two house pianos was fitted with an upgraded version of the Stahnke computer reproducing/recording equipment. The Farm possesses a unique archive of around a hundred top artists who have allowed us to retain their performance for private use.


Further developments enabled 'Hurstwood Pianos' to extend the capability of these pianos to reproduce "live" performances recreated from archive audio recordings, including piano concertos with the computer piano accompanied by an orchestral recording or a live orchestra.


Richard studied engineering at Cambridge university. He subsequently worked with many different companies, in various parts of the world.


Hurstwood Farm Pianos


Hurstwood Farm Piano Studios near Sevenoaks in Kent is the place where pianists and piano music lovers could find the ultimate in piano quality and excellence. Recitals were given in the recital hall by some of the Worlds leading artists on a selection of concert grand's from the finest available of their make.


The English Apple Man is very grateful to Richard Dain's assistant Catherine Robinson who helped me 'hone' my story about this incredible man and his world of Cobnuts, Walnuts and Pianos



Richard Dain - Retirement


Richard studied engineering at Cambridge university. He subsequently worked with many different companies, in various parts of the world.


"Why is engineering so important to the development of pianos? Because the marvel of the piano is that it is the combination of generations of engineer musicians. The piano is perhaps the perfect combination of the arts and sciences.


Richard Dain, as well as being an enthusiastic pianist, has research experience and background in many branches of engineering, several of which impact directly on piano research in Upright and Grand Pianos"


Richard is a man of impressive engineering pedigree, and has a distinguished family history. His grandfather engineered the public water supply to Derby; the eldest of his uncles was a Deputy Viceroy of India; the younger uncle was responsible for the building of the Calcutta tramways.


After graduating from Cambridge, Richard's first post was at Ruston & Hornsby in Lincolnshire, as part of a team who had worked with Sir Frank Whittle to develop the UK jet engine. He went on to form an engineering consultancy with Sir Hugh Ford, simultaneously establishing Powdrex, a global powdered steel supplier.


Later he oversaw the development of the IC 225 locomotive.



One of his personal engineering projects was to develop solvent extraction of copper from lean ores and wastes, for commercial application. This process now produces over a third of the world's copper supply.


Richard retired from formal engineering at the age of 65 but had always also, managed the cobnut and walnut farm. He previously grew apples and pears.


For Richard, retirement has simply been a case of having more time to work on what matters to him most: the development of the acoustic piano.


To celebrate his retirement Richard bought first a Bosendorfer Imperial grand piano and then a Steinway concert grand. Both were a disappointment . After months of frustration Richard decided to attempt to rectify some of the perceived faults. In particular, these centred around the feel of the action and the efficiency of transfer of sound energy from the string to the soundboard


By the late 19th century, what is still called "the modern piano" already existed. The twentieth century saw surprisingly little real innovation within the industry, resulting in a gradual trend towards uniformity of design and cost-cutting production techniques.


Richard knew this had to be challenged: Phoenix sees piano innovation rising from the ashes.


Richard set up the Piano business In 2002


Interested in improving the piano. When Bosendorfer were taken over by Yamaha (2007) Richard developed an association with Steingraeber & Sohne, a family business with seven generations of manufacturing hand-crafted pianos, based in Bayreuth, Bavaria. Steingraeber are an enormously respected family, who built pianos for Liszt and who continue to produce a limited number of very high quality, hand crafted instruments each year.


In a piano the conversion of input finger energy to sound energy is about 4% which is comparable with the efficiency of steam locomotives-and we all know what happened to them.


With the help of his engineering experience Richard managed to double the efficiency of the energy conversion which made performing at least for his amateur standards a whole heap easier.


With the advent of 3D printing Richard went on to design a new piano action made by 3D printing.


This technology facilitated new concepts including, adjustment for wear in the action bearings which not only prolonged the life of the piano but also offered the pianist adjustable key loading to match his taste. The new action known as D3D (Dain 3D) has had remarkable enthusiasm and approval from professionals in what is otherwise a highly conservative industry.


Richard has also pioneered the design and application of carbon fibre in piano building including development of soundboards that offer almost equal tonal performance to wood soundboards but without the susceptibility to cracking by adverse climate.


More recently boards combining carbon fibre and Kevlar- the bullet resistant material, have been built which show great acoustic promise.


In 1995 Richard started Concerts in a very small way, these were initially in Richard's home for invited guests.


They were so successful they expanded into the Hurricane Barn, and refreshments were provided.


Below: The Patron of the Music Club was Sir Andras Schiff.


The large farm machinery storage shed was converted to a small concert hall seating 200 people, around 2004.


In each event we enjoyed two recitals, with a catered meal (or self-catered picnic) in between. Many renowned international pianists performed at Hurstwood Farm during this period.


The concerts continued until five years ago when Richard was hospitalised and bureaucratic requirements became increasingly prohibitive.


Sir Andras Schiff is world-renowned as a pianist, conductor, pedagogue and lecturer. Called "one of the most penetratingly serious masters of the keyboard before the public today" (Boston Globe), Sir Andras continues to awe audiences and critics alike. Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1953, Sir Andras studied piano at the Liszt Ferenc Academy with Pal Kadosa, Gyorgy Kurtag, and Ferenc Rados; and in London with George Malcom


The concerts continued until five years ago when Richard was hospitalised and bureaucratic requirements became increasingly prohibitive.


The Hurricane Barn


The hurricane in 1987 destroyed most of the apple trees on the farm as well as dozens of oak trees in the associated forest land.


Richard bought a planking saw and used the timber to build the piano showroom, now known as Hurricane Barn.


This was previously only a three compartment small brick building, which is now the kitchen.


This was a 5 year task Richard shared with his friend a talented woodman Roger Welsh.


Some of the beams weigh over a half a tonne and took six men to lift into position.


The staircase started as two uprooted trees in the forest and two days later were in use.





Hurricane barn has unique styling based on a Dutch type roof with granite block masonry recovered from Spanish cobbled streets.


Below: left. Steinway Piano and right. Bluthner Piano



Below: left. John Broadway Piano and right. Richard Dain with Phoenix Piano Poster



The Phoenix Piano System was developed at Hurstwood Farm.


This system incorporates the use of an innovative bridge agraffe, which is built into the piano. Uniquely, it transfers string energy into the soundboard more efficiently than has ever previously been achieved, resulting in a greater dynamic range and a longer-sounding note. This gives a small grand piano the tone and power of a concert grand and has been awarded a prize for 'Innovation in the Arts' in Germany.


The Phoenix system is now incorporated into the manufacturing process of Steingraeber & Sohne, who create craftsman-built pianos in Bayreuth.


At the same time, Richard became a dealer for the renowned piano manufacturer, Stuart and sons, based in Australia.


Around this time, Richard was inspired to focus his engineering skills and expertise piano design. His aim was to to incorporate new ideas and state of the art technology in terms of computer analysis and modern materials. Basic piano design has not changed for 100 years. As a result, Richard developed and commercially manufactured the Phoenix bridge agraffe system This allows improved resonance of the piano string. This was adopted by Steingraeber & Sohne and won an award for 'Innovation in the Arts' in Germany in 2009.




Richard & Catherine, said: The piano business is still active. We have active sales enquiries from California and Switzerland at the moment, as well as the UK. Sales in the piano industry have been difficult since covid - but Hurstwood Farm - with the specialist options that Richard has created - still have their bespoke market.


There is a display of some thirty new and used pianos by the acknowledged top manufacturers. All these instruments are honed to perfection by our appointed Senior Technician, Barry Clinton.


"We pride ourselves that"


We offer some of the lowest prices in Europe for some of the finest quality pianos available. We do this by combining a large turnover with highly efficient management methods and top quality technical skills.


We can give the highest possible standard of piano presentation and after sales service. Informed, open, reliable and experienced advice and assistance is always available for visitors whether they be top professional, serious amateur or learner pianists.


We offer superb and modestly priced recital and recording facilities where some of the best technology in the world for piano recording on several makes of concert instrument is available at below market rates. For young pianists, recording may be offered at no cost under sponsorship arrangements.


We can accommodate our clients at their convenience by appointment. Please telephone 01732 885050.


We aim to provide a centre where piano enthusiasts can visit to share the joy of hearing Grand Masters from around the World play some of the World's finest pianos: where young maestros can take the stage alongside top artists and play to informed audiences: where amateur or professional artists can sample and compare the finest makes of pianos currently available and maintained to ultimate standards.


Visitors will not be pressed to buy. We invite them to share the atmosphere of enthusiasm for seeking perfection of pianos and piano music, and, at recitals, to meet and be as close to great artists as was the case in the days of the founders of present classical music who played in the great palaces of Central Europe.


Our mission is to strive for perfection in everything we do irrespective of cost and effort, and to demonstrate that the best need not be the most costly.


Click on Hurstwood Farm Piano Playing


Below: Richard with music students and a Phoenix Piano



Catherine sums up: This remarkable man, now '95 years young' continues to be fully involved in the Farm and Piano Studios, and personally, I cannot see him ever retiring!



That is all for this week


Take care


The English Apple Man