Sep 5th 2018

Princeton invests in monster Steinway purchase

by Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. 

Johnson worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his journalism career. He covered European technology for Business Week for five years, and served nine years as chief editor of International Management magazine and was chief editor of the French technology weekly 01 Informatique. He also spent four years as Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press. He is the author of five books.

Michael Johnson is based in Bordeaux. Besides English and French he is also fluent in Russian.

You can order Michael Johnson's most recent book, a bilingual book, French and English, with drawings by Johnson:

“Portraitures and caricatures:  Conductors, Pianist, Composers”

 here.

 


Princeton University in the United States is best known for its big thinkers, top
scientists and heavyweight historians but now is embarking on a determined
effort to make a splash in the arts. Princeton’s new Lewis Center of the Arts is
going about it in the most American manner, with millions of dollars upfront
investment and a business plan to attract young talent into its music program.
Nothing is left to chance.


This fall, a new crop of music students have full access to 48 freshly minted
Steinway pianos, a large enough stock to attract global attention among
pianophiles.


Steinway is accustomed to large orders, of course, particularly from burgeoning
markets such as China. In fact, to meet the demand triggered by its current
domestic piano craze (an estimated 20 million youngsters are studying
intensively) , China has recently become to world’s largest builder of pianos –
both for the home market and for export. Yet the Steinways, which are
purchased from the German side of the company, make a special impact in the
prestige-conscious Chinese environment.


Large Steinway orders have been placed recently by China’s Central
Conservatory, the China Conservatory in Beijing, the Harbin Conservatory and
the Tianjin Conservatory. Steinway is not revealing numbers.
The buildup of equipment at Princeton brings to a close a two-year process to
test some 200 new Steinways in the New York and New Jersey areas. The
pianos are installed in university practice rooms, dance studios, teaching studios,
rehearsal halls and theaters.


Music lecturer Jennifer Tao, who helped make the selection at the Steinway
factory in Queens, New York, and other sites said she and her colleagues were
listening for pianos “with a wide range of expression”. Faculty and hand-picked
students played each piano in two acoustically different rooms at the factories.
Princeton did not disclose the negotiated value of the purchase, which includes
one Model D (concert grand), ten Model Bs, one Model O, 16 Model M, 15
Boston UP118S and 5 Boston GP193. Estimates of the value range in the millions of dollars. The Model D alone can cost up to $224,100, depending on
finish.

Anthony Gilroy, senior director of marketing at Steinway, rates this sale as
important but not the largest in the company’s history. “Any sale of double digit
pianos is a big deal for us – as we make our pianos by hand, one at a time, and
we’re only producing in the range of 1,100 to 1,300 Steinway pianos per year at
our New York factory.” Only about five finished pianos can be built per day.
The record for orders from the U.S. factories is still held by the university of
Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory, which purchased 165 Steinways about ten
years ago. This makes the “All-Steinway School” one of the largest inventories
of Steinways outside the main factory.

The expansion of Princeton facilities adds 17 individual practice rooms and five
teaching studios, complementing the department’s facilities in the Woolworth
Center of Musical Studies. The building provides office space and direct access
to colleagues from the other disciplines, such as dance and theater, who are also
in the three-building complex.

“We are here all in the same complex,” says Michael Pratt, conductor of the
Princeton University Orchestra “We belong together and we can communicate
with each other.”

Evidence of commitment to the arts? Pratt is confident the point has been made.
“We bought a whole building full of Steinways,” he says. Princeton is the fifth
richest U.S. university, with an endowment of about $22 billion.

Pratt recalls the origin of the new drive for the arts when a few years ago the
university president emerita Shirley M. Tilghman called in her staff -- “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.” It all seems
to be happening now.

 

A shorter version of this story appears in the September-October edition of
International Piano magazine, London.

 

 


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