Versatility and Malleability
Although there are many brands of piano with beautiful tone, some are quite limited in their appeal and application, both as to pianist and to repertoire. Steinways, on the other hand, are well known for their versatility as to repertoire, and their ability to be voiced to the preferences of individual artists. According to Artymiw, the ability to use the same instrument for a solo piano concert, or a concerto, or for a vocal recital without overpowering the singer, is one of the Steinway's great virtues.
Furthermore, in the university setting, intimate relationships develop between pianist and piano, and between piano and technician: learning what each pianist prefers, the technician eventually customizes the piano to the pianist's taste. The technicians I spoke with pointed to this tonal malleability as the key to why so many pianists fall in love with Steinways. Some of the piano faculty with whom I spoke had played the same piano in their studio for years — ample time to become accustomed to each nuance of sound, and sensitive to incredibly small changes in tonal quality. One faculty member said that the worst thing about his impending retirement would be saying goodbye to "his" Steinway, his "best friend for over a third of a century."
Teachers are not the only ones to fall in love with their Steinways; students do too. The Curtis Institute shows an enormous consideration for the needs of pianists by traditionally providing Steinways for the use of its students in their homes while they study at Curtis. Piano technician Ellis is philosophical about taking care of not only the pianos in the school, but also the 30 or so Curtis-owned instruments placed in the homes of the student pianists, conductors, composers, and organists. He states that the students are extremely grateful for the use of the Steinways in their homes, and returning graduates often mention it on visits to the school, thanking him for taking such good care of the loaned instruments.
Ellis also tells the story of Mieczyslaw Horszowski, who performed until he was 100 years old. When asked how he got such a beautiful tone from every piano he played, he said, "You have to make friends with the piano." Ellis feels that what makes the Steinway so valuable for the students is that they have the opportunity to practice and perform on pianos that are worthy of that bond.
Although the principal advantages of using Steinways in institutions stem from the characteristics of the instruments themselves, administrators and development staff at All-Steinway Schools describe the program as having a domino effect on the entire music program that positively affects the recruitment of students and faculty. At the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, Professor Eugene Pridonoff says that the decision to purchase Steinways was "the final link in the completion of our new facility at CCM. We now hear from prospective students that their decision to attend CCM was due in great part to the quality of our pianos."
Shortly after a gift of 68 Steinways to Columbus State University made becoming an All-Steinway School possible, Alexander Kobrin, the 2005 Van Cliburn winner, joined the faculty as the result of another gift endowing the position. Talented international student pianists followed. Rex Whiddon, Director of Principal Gifts and University Stewardship at CSU, himself a pianist and former President of the Music Teachers National Association, states unequivocally, "The Steinway pianos have been a significant part of the transformation that has made all of this possible."
Over the past 35 years, piano technician Sally Phillips has worked in virtually every aspect of the piano industry — service, retail, wholesale, and manufacturing. In her role as a concert-piano technician, she has tuned and prepared pianos for concert and recording work in such venues as Town Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and the Kennedy Center, and for such orchestras as the Cincinnati Symphony, the BBC Concert Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic. At present, Phillips lives in Kentucky and works throughout the southeastern U.S., including servicing the pianos at Columbus State University, in Columbus, Georgia, an All-Steinway School. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.