As seen in the Fall 2012 edition of the Steinway Chronicle.
SAN JUAN — Seeking only the finest tools to build a multi-cultural musical bridge between the Caribbean and mainland United States, the Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music chose pianos by Steinway & Sons.
The historic institution now stands as the first All-Steinway school in Latin America, bringing with it precious cultural heritage rooted in the vision of celebrated Spanish cellist Don Pablo Casals. By importing orchestral musicians — most of them from America — Casals launched his world renowned namesake festival as a way to promote tourism on his adopted island. The immense success of his annual event prompted the government to create the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra in 1957, and two years later, Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico.
“With 108 beautiful new pianos by Steinway & Sons, we are truly proud to be the new tropical piano paradise of Latin America,” proclaims Chancellor Maria del Carmen Gil, herself an accomplished pianist and former student of Leon Fleisher. “The Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music now becomes a pianist’s wonderland! What an honor it is to be in such good company with more than 140 prestigious conservatories and music schools, who like us, are sharing in this distinguished All-Steinway seal.”
Students and faculty are thrilled with the factory fresh pianos. “They comment in total delight that this is like a dream come true,” she says. “For a music student, pianist or any other musician, the piano is the foundation of solid musicianship. Wonderful Steinway instruments now enrich the learning and teaching experience in all our programs of study.”
She goes on to stress the importance of having high quality equipment for practice and performance. “The piano is the pianist’s voice. Despite talent and skill, sometimes that voice may be distorted or muted somehow by unresponsive and poor sounding instruments,” Chancellor Gil says. “Like a chameleon, a pianist has to constantly adapt and transform his or her playing to suit the piano. A great instrument can make you shine; a poor instrument can make for difficult performances. Great instruments like the Steinway truly make the pianist’s voice sing.”
The Conservatory initiated an $80 million, two phase construction project for two buildings that make up the campus on Avenida Ponce De Leon in the Santurce section of Miramar. The first phase called for restoring an existing historic building, while the second phase culminated earlier this year with delivery of 52 pianos to a new academic/performance complex. The work was done in concert with a $2 million capital campaign to complete the All-Steinway program.
The Steinways were purchased through a combination of private foundations, local businesses and a prominent group of individual donors including the incomparable Spanish tenor, Plácido Domingo.
An illustrious performer at the Casals festival, Domingo funded one of two Model Ds for the Jesus Maria Sanroma Concert Hall, the main performance venue of the new Teatro Bertita y Guillermo L. Martinez. In total, the Conservatory owns six Model Ds, the largest number anywhere in Latin America.
“We are truly grateful for the wonderful support of our donors,” says Chancellor Gil. “Without them, we would not have achieved this important institutional goal of becoming an All-Steinway School.”
While continuing to educate orchestral musicians and public school teachers, the island landmark’s mission has evolved over the years to touch virtually every aspect of musical and cultural life in Puerto Rico. Today, the Conservatory serves approximately 3,000 students through post-secondary degrees in Classical and Jazz/Caribbean music performance, composition and music education, as well as formative programs for the community at large. It is a highly innovative approach within a Conservatory environment that incorporates elements of social transformation alongside more traditional course offerings.
Música 100x35, an island-wide initiative based on a model of Venezuela’s successful El Sistema program, makes music education available to socially and economically disadvantaged children from high poverty communities. Through daily group sessions in instrumental, ensemble and choral music, students delve into a variety of genres, often led by teachers who have used the positive power of music to transcend their own economically-challenged backgrounds.
The Conservatory also offers centers of learning for aspiring entrepreneurs in the music industry and those interested in preserving and disseminating the rich musical heritage of Puerto Rico.
“Latin American countries, like all other countries in the world, feature almost exclusively Steinway & Sons pianos on their great concert stages,” says Ron Losby, President, Steinway & Sons — Americas. “This key designation of an All-Steinway School bestowed upon Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico will now raise the bar for other great music education institutions throughout the Caribbean, Central America and South America with respect to the pianos they provide for their students, faculty and visiting performers.”
And what would Maestro Casals think?
Chancellor Gil responds swiftly with a smile: “From where the Conservatory stands today — not only on a local but international basis — we are positive he would be very pleased with our progress.”