News / Arts & Entertainment

Finest Musicians Turn to Steinway Pianos

Most concert halls and conservatories in America own Steinways pianos. (Photo courtesy of Steinway & Sons)
Most concert halls and conservatories in America own Steinways pianos. (Photo courtesy of Steinway & Sons)
Great pianists need great pianos. Vladimir Horowitz, the famous Russian pianist, used to travel with his own personal Steinway when he played concerts around the world.

For 160 years, the pianos of Steinway & Sons have been considered the finest in the world thanks to superior craftmanship and performance.  

Most concert halls and conservatories in America own Steinways, and pianists from Lang Lang to Billy Joel are Steinway artists. This fall, Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein used a Steinway when he appeared with the New York Philharmonic.

“I think generations of pianists’ muscular/nervous systems have been shaped by how the action feels and how the action and the sound merge into this playing experience," Gerstein said. "And for the listeners, it is this experience of listening to the Steinway sound that has really cultivated what we think piano sound is.”

Finest Musicians Turn to Steinway Pianos
Finest Musicians Turn to Steinway Pianos i
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

Steinway pianos have been built, since 1871, in a factory complex in the city. The company was founded by German immigrant Henry Englehard Steinway in 1853, when New York had dozens of piano manufacturers.  

“In very early days, they sought very much to create the standard piano of the world," said Robert Berger, Steinway director of Customer Satisfaction. "Not the 'average' piano of the world,  the standard, the one by which all others would be judged.”

And those pianos were built to last. Today, a workforce of 300 craftsmen and women turns out about 1,500 pianos a year in the Astoria factory.

A craftsman works on a Steinway piano in the company's Astoria, New York, factory. (Photo courtesy of Steinway & Sons)A craftsman works on a Steinway piano in the company's Astoria, New York, factory. (Photo courtesy of Steinway & Sons)
It takes 11 months to build a Steinway grand, which features 12,000 separate parts. 

The factory is a beehive of activity. In one area, thin laminates of wood are glued together and put in a press, to create the distinctive form of a grand piano. In another area, so-called belly men put the sound boards into the case. A cast iron plate is added, strings are added, the action - the hammers which hit the strings - is added.  

Pianos are tuned five times, in all.  Twice, during this process, pianos are taken to a pounding room, where a machine bangs on all eighty-eight keys at once, to help “play in” the instruments.   

A whole other area of the factory is devoted to restoring vintage Steinways.  

“July 2nd of this year was my 40th year with the company," said Bill Youse, who runs the department. "I am also a third-generation Steinway employee. And I am third of four generations, my son actually works here, as well.”

Youse says the pianos are excellent because generations of workers have all been dedicated to the same goal.

“Aside from some of the materials, like the glues and things which have improved throughout the years, the piano is very, very much the same piano that you would have gotten back in the late 1800s,” he said.

And one of his co-workers has been with Steinway for more than half a century.
    
“I am the last one to touch the piano before it leaves the factory," said Wally Boot. "I am the final tone inspector. I have been here 51 years and my job is to listen to the piano and makes sure that it sounds even and that everything works.”

And few things work like a Steinway. Boot, who grew up two blocks from the factory, says every piano has its own personality.

“If it were a bright piano, it would be like a jazz piano," he said. "If it is a mellow piano, it is more for the house, or for chamber music...a model B, this would be a concert piano,” he said.  

This level of care and craftsmanship helps explain why a new Steinway piano can cost anywhere from $55,000 to $145,000, depending on the model. Steinway's Berger says these pianos often become a treasured family heirloom, passed from generation to generation.  

“A new owner will say something to the effect of, ‘It has been a lifelong dream of mine to own a Steinway piano,’ or ‘I have saved for years, in order to buy this piano and I have finally realized my dream.’”

Hedge fund billionaire John Paulson recently bought the company, striking fear in the hearts of musicians. Would the famously hand-crafted pianos be changed, for the sake of efficiency?

Paulson, who owns several Steinways himself, says nothing will change, so that this hand-crafted dream will continue for years to come.

You May Like

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

Pianist Myra Melford’s new CD “Life Carries Me This Way” features solo piano interpretations of drawings by modern artist Don Reich. She performs songs from the album, talks about turning art into music, and joins host Eric Felten in some Chicago boogie-woogie on "Beyond Category."