NEW YORK TIMES reports: School Buys 42 Pianos, Steinways, That Is

By CYNTHIA WERTHAMER

In its bid to become an all-Steinway school, the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College has bought a staggering number of grand pianos made by the esteemed 155-year-old manufacturer. The purchase of 42 pianos — 20 of them seven-foot-long Model B grand pianos — was “one of the largest acquisitions of Model Bs in Steinway’s history for student practice rooms,” said Sally Coveleskie, national director of institutional sales for Steinway & Sons.

An all-Steinway school, in which 90 percent of the pianos used in concerts, recitals, teaching and practice are Steinways, is rare. Only 89 institutions of higher education worldwide have gained this distinction, Ms. Coveleskie said, from Juilliard and Oberlin to Kangnam University in Seoul, South Korea.

The pianos not only have to be Steinways, they also have to be in good to excellent shape. The conservatory’s pianos were new some 40 years ago, but today, after decades of continual use, about 85 percent of its 109 instruments “were deemed, in Steinway’s assessment, to be essentially unplayable,” said Laura Kaminsky, dean of the Conservatory of Music.

“How could we be a top-notch school without top-notch equipment?” she asked. “Steinway makes 99 percent of the pianos in the great concert halls of the world. If we’re going to train our students properly, we want them to have access to the instruments they’ll be playing professionally.

“You don’t want a racecar driver to drive a jalopy. And the piano is the foundational tool for other forms of musical study. Whether you’re a bassoonist, a jazz ensemble, or a vocal student, you need a piano to learn your repertoire.”

What is remarkable about this set of pianos is that they are primarily for student use, rather than for faculty members. “That’s unusual,” Ms. Coveleskie said. “Model Bs are usually found in teaching studios. For students to have this experience is truly wonderful.”

Summerpiano 2008 — a concert series by students, faculty members and recent alumni featuring the new instruments — continues on June 24 and July 8 (information: 914-251-5925 or http://www.purchase.edu).

“Every student practice room has a new piano,” said Hannah Khromov, 20, a piano performance major from Suffern. “It’s incredible. Every composer sounds good on a new Steinway, the Romantics especially. You get full use of the sound.”

Ms. Khromov recalled entering, for the first time, a two-piano practice studio that now has two brand-new Steinway B grand pianos. “I can’t even describe how astounding that was,” she said.

A large portion of the financing for the new pianos came from an anonymous donor who initially matched a $20,000 challenge grant from another donor toward a nine-foot-long Steinway concert grand for the conservatory’s recital hall. Then another anonymous donor offered another challenge grant, which Purchase matched at a more than 1-to-1 ratio.

This grant, for $600,000, along with the college’s match, trade-ins and institutional discounts, paid for the 42 instruments, which are worth nearly $1.6 million, said Bethany Rose, institutional sales manager at Steinway. With the new purchases added to the 12 to 15 refurbished pianos, the conservatory is now a little more than halfway toward being an all-Steinway school, Ms. Rose said.

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