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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2008

Gleeful symphony musicians, board welcome a new Steinway

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Symphony introduced its newest and biggest instrument to a gathering of directors, staff, and musicians at its annual meeting Wednesday on the stage of the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle.

Say hello to the Orser Steinway.

Sitting next to the symphony s older, slightly duller Steinway, this newcomer is a 990-pound baby with 88 sparkling keys, a gleaming ebony case, brass pedals, and a brilliant sound to match its looks. Known worldwide, the Steinway D concert grand is considered the gold standard for pianos by top performers.

It s wonderful! exulted Valrie Kantorski, the symphony pianist who had shown off the instrument s musical chops in a specially tailored performance of Saint-Saens Carnival of the Animals.

Beaming like a proud parent during the performance by Kantorski and 11 other players was Jonathan Orser, board member who sits on the executive committee and an important benefactor who donated the money needed to bring this piano to this symphony.

It sounds mellow, noted Orser, a Perrysburg resident active in the Democratic party and historical preservation.

A dedicated symphony supporter, he also endowed the piano position Kantorski holds one of 15 such chairs held by principal players from violins to low brass and percussion in the Toledo orchestra. (Endowed chairs are considered a prize for professional musicians; they are a powerful bargaining chip for the symphony during any international search for a new principal player.)

A new concert grand piano has been on the Toledo Symphony wish list for years. The older Steinway has many years and musical miles on it. If to most listeners it was good enough, the piano stars who visit Toledo for guest spots with the orchestra gave it mixed reviews.

Some pianists especially Stephen Hough who performed on it last spring loved it. Others, most notably Andre Watts, a longtime favorite guest on the Peristyle stage, viewed it as a barrier to fine performance.

The symphony has operated at a small but troubling deficit over the last few years, a situation aggravated by the loss of local government funding. So diverting $100,000 the going rate for a Steinway D to a new piano from its $6.2 million annual operating budget seemed impossible.

Still, artists must dream and TSO president and CEO Robert Bell and his deputy, executive vice president of development, Kathy Carroll, actively pursued opportunities and resources to bring a fine new piano to town.

Jon was the first person we asked, said Carroll. Turned out, he was the only one.

With Orser s assurance of financial backing, Carroll last spring traveled to New York City, meeting with TSO principal conductor Stefan Sanderling and frequent guest soloist Ignat Solzhenitzyn at Steinway Hall, the headquarters for the 153-year old institution.

There, the two musical experts sampled the best instruments that Steinway New York had to offer (Steinway also manufactures pianos in Hamburg, Germany) and Carroll listened avidly.

It was amazing, Carroll said, of the piano trials. Ignat played Brahms the same way on each piano. You could really hear the differences among them. Still, she was aware that two strong artistic temperaments might create discord in the intricate and personal process of piano selection.

Instead, Carroll said, It was like a good marriage. Both musicians contributed and then came to agreement on this piano.

Built of ebonized birch, maple, and poplar with walnut veneers, the just-under 9-foot piano has a Sitka spruce sounding board, strings of Swedish steel, solid brass pedals, and spruce keys with a chip-proof, stain-resistant cover ivory is a thing of the past.

The new Orser Steinway will be available to soloists although, with the diversity of taste among artists, some may prefer the symphony s vintage instrument and Kantorski and other local pianists also will have the opportunity to use it.

Although pianos often require a break-in period to reach their full potential, Kantorski said she found the Orser instrument to be responsive at first touch.

Even better, she said, It will give back to you as much as you give to it.

Its local debut will be Oct. 11 when Frances Renzi plays Mozart s Concerto No. 17 in the opening concert of the Mozart and More series at the Franciscan Center. Then, it will be available for Kirill Gerstein to use for the daunting

Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3 during Classics series concerts Nov. 21-22 in the Peristyle.

Contact Sally Vallongo at svallongo@theblade.com.


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