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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' at 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Beyond Category

At Washington’s Blues Alley jazz singer Jane Monheit and her quartet perform songs made famous by Judy Garland. Monheit sits down with "Beyond Category" host Eric Felten to talk about her music, the singers who influence her, and her life traveling with family on tour.