“There are no celebrity notes in a Blüthner piano,” says Kyril Kasimoff. “it’s all about collaboration. Whether you whisper or play loudly, the sound will be even and flawless.”
Kyrill is showing me Kasimoff-Blüthner’s prized centerpiece, a 40-year-old concert grand which the family refers to as the “Mancini piano.” Henry Mancini is not the only the artist who has used this particular instrument to record their music. A long list of music and entertainment industry’s who’s who includes John Denver, Barbra Streisand and Stevie Wonder. Oh, and there is also the Beatles. The pianos are credited in some of the albums, including Beatles’ iconic (and last) “Let It Be,” recorded in 1970 in London on a Blüthner piano.
“Of course, I always think of it as my husband’s favorite,” says Kyril’s 84-year-old mother Helga. She smiles and her eyes twinkle. “Fine pianos are really best between 30 and 60; the sound develops over time and age enhances resonance and playability.”
Helga and her husband Vasilly started the business in 1963. Helga grew up in Hanover, Germany and made her way to the US in 1953, when she was 22. Vasilly (who became known as Bill) was born in Los Angeles in 1921 into a family of Russian immigrants. During World War II, Bill played clarinet in a San Gabriel Valley Symphony but it was only when he became apprenticed to a piano tuner that he found his calling. “He was a natural at it,” says Helga. “He could spot a wrong tone right away and had a very good defining ear.”
“When we were starting out, I wrote to my mother to ask which were the great German pianos,” she explains. Helga’s mother, a music lover, recommended Blüthners; the Blüthner factory, founded in the German city of Leipzig in 1853, was known for its craftsmanship and quality of sound. Until 1995, the Kasimoffs were the only Blüthner dealers in the US. “We re-introduced the Blüthners in this country,” Helga says proudly. The pianos are still made in Leipzig by the Blüthner family.
The store opened in Pasadena and moved to Larchmont Boulevard in 1976. Helga and Bill (and their three sons who all have connections to music or the family business) restored and rented out pianos and sold harpsichords and celestas. Finding buyers for the pianos wasn’t easy initially. Bill focused on putting Blüthners on stages so that they could be seen and heard. “We sold a Blüthner to UC San Diego in 1972. That piano is still performing on their stage!” says Helga.
The Kasimoffs say theirs is Los Angeles’ oldest family-owned piano store and walking into their showroom on Larchmont Blvd. is like stepping into an alternative musical universe; the musical ghosts of the artists who have played on their pianos over the years visibly inhabit the space. The business has changed over the years. The studio business, for example, is down 80% down because of digitization and outsourcing of music. But the family is still going strong. “The best part of the business is providing pianos to people who love music,” says Kyril.
Anya Grottel-Brown is a recent transplant to LA from the East Coast. Her series, The Newcomer Journals, is about all things local that are new, different and same.Kasimoff Piano Company 337 N Larchmont Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90004 (323) 466-7707