Princeton University’s new Music Building, designed by Steven Holl Architects of New York. Photos by Denise Applewhite

PRINCETON, NJ – Artists often talk about entering an ethereal realm when they play a Steinway, and designers of the new Lewis Arts complex have successfully elevated the experience. Inside the three-story New Music Building are wood-chambered practice rooms, heavenly suspended on steel rods floating above a vast rehearsal space for Princeton University’s world-class orchestras.The architectural marvel is home to 46 pianos by Steinway & Sons, which Music Department Production Manager Henry Valoris said is the “largest piano purchase at Princeton in recent history.”

Music, theater, dance and visual arts come together at the three-building complex made possible in part by a $101 million gift from the late Peter B. Lewis, Princeton Class of 1955.

One of a dozen acoustically-isolated practice rooms.
The new musical addition features a tranquil reflecting pool.

“One of many pieces of evidence of commitment the university has made to the performing arts is that we bought a whole building full of Steinways,” said Michael Pratt, director of program performance who conducts the Princeton University Orchestra. The 90-piece group shares the new rehearsal area with the chamber orchestra Sinfonia and various jazz ensembles. “We have for the first time a building that was, from the get-go, a platform for musical performance that we’ve never had before,” he said.

The project began generating momentum 10 years ago with President Emerita Shirley M. Tilghman, a scholar and leader in the field of molecular biology. “She called us into her office to talk about the arts and she just blew us all away by saying it was her intention to make sure Princeton was as well-known and respected for the arts as it was for anything else,” said Pratt.

School personnel met with representatives of Jacobs Music Company in Philadelphia and Lawrenceville, New Jersey. They toured the Steinway factory to select a Model D, 10 Model B’s and a mix of smaller grands and uprights. “If you line up 10 Model B’s, they all look pretty much the same, but they all speak in different ways,” explained Margaret Kampmeier, a piano faculty member. “The (selection) process is physical, intellectual and emotional. It’s all tied together and the way those things interact is endlessly fascinating,” she said.

“The selection process is physical, intellectual and emotional. It’s all tied together and the way those things interact is endlessly fascinating.”

“Princeton University and Steinway & Sons are rooted in strong historic traditions,” said Sally Coveleskie, National Director of Higher Education Sales. “What is significant is how interesting it is to watch each generation of pianist come to the same conclusion. Artists today are not choosing the Steinway simply because of the legendary pianists who have played it in the past, but because they have experienced the artistic merit of today’s Steinway on their own.”

“We have been working with some remarkable people at Princeton for more than two years and are absolutely thrilled to see this exciting new development come to fruition,” added Robert Rinaldi, senior vice president of Jacobs Music. “It is personally gratifying to us that this world-renowned university is equipping the next generation of students and faculty with new Steinway & Sons pianos.”

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