Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Virgin America Flight 404 – LAX to JFK. Why… WHY did I make plans that would get me up at 4 in the morning??? Easy. When I travel alone, I prefer to arrive at my destination while it’s still light. Still, I had enough time to get a couple of mugs of coffee into my veins before Super Shuttle picked me up… at 5:30… did I mention “in the morning”?

The driver to the airport was great. A fellow from Armenia who had previously been a performer of traditional Armenian dances. So there was lively chatter. His sister had just arrived from Armenia and apparently is a wonderful piano teacher. She didn’t quite know how to get started, so I gave him a few names to pass along to her. Ever networking.

At the airport, even though I was actually wide awake, I managed to find myself standing about 47th in line at the nearest Starbucks.

Seat 23D. Aisle seat for this girl. (I need to be able to put my legs somewhere.) And so, with nothing else to do, I began to concentrate on my mission for this trip.

The Pasadena Conservatory of Music is in the final stages of construction of a new recital hall…Barrett Hall. Man, a long time in coming! But here we are! And of course, how can we have a new hall and not have two new pianos to go with it? Add to the recipe an “angel donor”! Someone ready to lay down the money for two Steinway Bs! Things are going our way! A Steinway Model B is a 7-foot piano. We had originally thought about one 9-footer, but that is just not the proper size for our hall. With two, artists can have a choice or can play two-piano repertoire.

We looked at some Steinways in town. And while they were truly lovely, they were just not quite right for our new venue. Let me just say that Steinways are amazing! You can sing, roar, whisper, or push the walls out with one of those instruments. They help us to play our best! Having a good instrument is most important… not only to the professional pianist, but to the youngsters who are learning. It is the tool of our trade. With a fine piano, we can learn what is really possible!

Choosing one is another story. This one has a beautiful tone, but the action is not quite right. This one feels really good, but there is a break in the tone color in such-and-such register. Not enough clarity in the very highest register, but everything else is fabulous. I mean, all we want is to have it all! Is that so hard? Yes.

I kept thinking to myself, “What if I don’t find one?” I can’t say how nerve-racking that is! Here I am, flying to New York, ready to choose a piano (ideally, two!) that I hope most of the folks at home will like, even love! Egad! So, I’ll do my best!

Nice room at the hotel. Just across the street from Carnegie Hall and a couple of doors down from Steinway Hall. Good vibes!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

After breakfast at the hotel, I met Timothy Stephenson, Steinway’s Western Institutional Sales Manager. Steinway sent a car for us and took us to the Steinway Factory in the Bronx. Steinway Street. Steinway Food Market. Steinway Plumbing (which, by the way, has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with pianos!). But yes, the name Steinway has made the area famous!

We were met by Logan Thomson, who is the Institutional Business Manager at the Steinway Factory. The morning was spent getting a tour of the factory. Incredible! I met a lot of people and saw wondrous things! The camera was out and doing its job for all of the tour, except for the room where the workers build the pianos’ actions, or their inner moving parts. No photos there…not allowed, which is understandable. The action is where the heart of the piano resides. What I saw on the tour was how a Steinway B is made, from beginning to end. Our pianos went through the exact same process. We will enjoy the end results!

The tour being over, lunch was brought in. After we ate, Tim and Logan just left me alone in the room where there were five brand new Model Bs from which to choose.

Okay…here we go. My plan was to play exactly the same thing on each piano, Chopin and Ives. Something poetic and something that would “move a mountain.” I had learned that there should be no question. If I have to think about it too hard or too long, it’s not right. And a piano that is not right I wouldn’t play for very long. It would be either right or not from the very first note.

I went to the end of the room and began to play the first one. And I played. And played. And played. My heart raced. I knew right then and there that I would be texting back at least one serial number to Stephen McCurry, Executive Director of PCM. (Thanks for trusting me!)

Feeling a whole lot more at ease, I went to the next piano and played only a little. And then to the next piano… played a little more. On to the fourth piano. Played less. One more to go. I played the fifth piano, and I played it quite a bit. After a few questions and after meeting with a wonderful young piano technician, who then tweaked the instrument a little here and there, voilà! How did it all happen so fast?

After many thanks in both directions, I was off again in a private car, being taken to my hotel. I stopped at Steinway Hall, where the Steinway pianos have been showcased since 1925. They are moving to a new location, and this was the last day anyone could get a tour. Angels were with me!

Anyway, this was such an amazing place! To see the room where Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky practiced…ARE YOU KIDDING ME? There was also a time capsule that had been unearthed. It was important to get that opened and on display because otherwise, it would remain unnoticed or destroyed. A new time capsule will be laid in the new venue. The original Steinway Hall will remain an historical landmark, but will be turned into living quarters. Hmmm…makes one think about the possibility of ghosts!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

In the morning, I went to see the new offices of Chamber Music America and met dear friend Aryo Wicaksono, Membership Chair of CMA. Their new digs are great. Coffee and sweet rolls with Aryo at a delightful place across the street. Had a great time telling him of my successful adventure! He’ll come to visit PCM in February.

Virgin America Flight 411 – JFK to LAX. Mission accomplished.


UPDATE: The Steinways procured on Susan’s odyssey will arrive at their new home in Barrett Hall on Wednesday, November 26th. We hope you come to see and hear them at a PCM event soon!