Cavanaugh, Higgins, and others also credit Steinway for the company's technical support, and laud it for its ongoing technical refinements to the pianos. Higgins, who has also serviced all the Steinways for the Spoleto Festival since 1987, mentions especially the recent action refinements, noting that the new parts fit all the older pianos. He finds it amazing that he can order parts for a 1920s-era Steinway and, in days, get exactly what he needs from the factory. Christopher Purdy, the technician at Middle Tennessee State University, another All-Steinway School, who services more than 60 Steinways, says that the technical support offered by the Steinway technical training academy "has complemented my 30 years of experience nicely, and helped provide me with everything I need to keep a large music school playing."
Musical Qualities for Performance and Teaching
Of course, the finest pianos use materials and construction techniques chosen not only for their durability, but also for optimal acoustical and performance properties. Judging by the comments I received, Steinway's choices in these regards have amply fulfilled all of those objectives.
Some, like renowned pianist and Naxos recording artist Steven Mayer, who teaches at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver, wax rhapsodic about the Steinway. Mayer cites its "steak-rich tone, different in each of the piano's registers, as well as its mechanical ability to convey tonal nuance with subtlety and huge and lasting sonority. As long as humans retain the innate potential to differentiate complex emotion and beauty from adrenal rush and dry intellect, Steinway will be king." Oberlin pianist Peter Takacs says, "A beautiful instrument is like a great automobile: responsive, nuanced, powerful, and, ultimately, exhilarating. Anyone who has played a Stradivarius or a Steinway, or has heard Maria Callas sing, will instantly know that unequaled pleasure."
Others are less poetic in their descriptions, but no less ardent. Lydia Artymiw, of the University of Minnesota, uses the word strong to describe the projection and orchestra-cutting power available to the pianist with a Steinway concert grand. She describes the singing tone in all registers, especially the treble, and the depth of the bass sound, as elements that allow the pianist to re-create the orchestral quality needed for the major piano repertoire. She also relishes the crisp articulations and wonderful repetition that a pianist can achieve on a well-regulated Steinway. Artymiw emphasizes that the listener's experience is enhanced by the pianist's increased control over the sound. She cherishes her memories of the best Steinways she has enjoyed over the years, noting that half the pressure to provide the audience with a top-quality musical experience is eliminated by the presence of a great piano. John Ellis, of the Curtis Institute, raves about the new, improved hammers just installed in one of their concert grands. He says that, for the first time, the disparate opinions of the faculty have merged into an agreement: Everyone likes the sound.
But while the presence of great concert pianos is important to a university or conservatory, perhaps the greatest contribution that Steinways make in an institutional setting is in the teaching and practice studios. Pianist Sandra Rivers, Professor of Collaborative Piano at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, is enthusiastic about the improvement in the piano department because of the purchase of Steinways in 2008. Rivers states that, in her opinion, the level of the students' work and their ability to re-create what their teachers ask of them have been considerably elevated by the new instruments, and that it's a huge advantage to be able to demonstrate on a performance instrument exactly what you want the student to accomplish. Now, she says, the quality of the pianos matches the expertise of the faculty. Rivers, who has shared the stage with such artists as Itzhak Perlman, Kathleen Battle, Joshua Bell, and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, purchased a new Steinway Model B for her personal use because she was so impressed with the quality of the new pianos at the school.
Oberlin faculty member Haewon Song concurs: "My work as an artist-teacher at Oberlin is made immeasurably easier by having a wealth of Steinways for faculty and students. We are also blessed with fabulous technicians, and that really makes everything work." At Columbus State University, in Columbus, Georgia, piano major Hsin-I Huang summed up the impact of the pianos on the students. He says he didn't realize how inadequate his piano at home was until he had the opportunity to practice daily on the Steinways at the school. "If you can imagine the sound, you can effortlessly achieve it."
Sandra Rivers also emphasized that most of the high-level pianos the students will one day play as professionals, especially in performance, are likely to be Steinways — virtually every concert hall of any importance has a Steinway, and you don't have to be a Steinway Artist to play one. Therefore, according to Rivers, learning to work with Steinways in a school setting is very important. Steven Mayer shares Rivers's sentiment, adding, "It's not an accident that the majority of the world's greatest pianists through the ages have played the Steinway. . . . Given exposure to the piano's golden age through recordings and proper teaching, I have found that talented young pianists will recognize the value of the Steinway's properties." Mayer says that he is grateful that one of the most beautiful Model B Steinways he's ever played sits in his studio at the Lamont School.