A New Steinway Piano Creates Grand Opportunities

By Stacey Mickelbart

This year, Convocations will debut a new star with multiple appearances throughout the season. Dressed in shiny black, with a voice that ranges from clear as a bell to a visceral growl, and exhibiting a range that covers classical, opera, jazz, and experimental music, a brand new Steinway D Concert Grand piano will be welcomed to Purdue University.

A gift from Janet and John Nine, who donated the instrument, will also help Convocations host performances of the American Pianists Association (APA) Classical and Jazz Fellowship Award winners every other year for the next 10 years. In addition, student artists and ensembles will also benefit from the opportunity to learn and play on an instrument with the Steinway D’s capability.

How does one select a concert grand when its impact at Purdue looms so large—both literally and figuratively? A team comprised of the Nines; Convocations director Todd Wetzel; Meridian Music (Carmel, IN) owner Craig Gigax; President/CEO and Artistic Director of the APA, Joel Harrison; and pianist and APA Classical Fellowship laureate Eric Zuber traveled to the Steinway factory in Astoria, Queens, NY, to see how Steinways are built and to choose the right instrument.

The nine-foot Model D is the standard for concert grands worldwide, and the one on which many students of North American conservatories learn to play. It takes a year to build, and beyond a few wooden parts in the piano’s action that are initially shaped by a computer-controlled milling machine, the entire instrument is built and adjusted by hand. Wetzel and the team were able to see several steps in a concert grand’s production, including how the rims are glued, bent to the proper form, inserted in a press, and then cured to retain their shape.

Eric Zuber tests the new Steinway D

With five Concert Ds in the selection room, Zuber played a cross-section of composers, including Bach, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff, to test the character, tone, and dynamics of the pianos. Each instrument has its own personality, and the way the hammers are voiced, among many other variables, can make a huge difference in its sound. The action (the mechanism by which pressing a key causes a hammer to strike the strings) must allow for both repetition and expressiveness when playing pianissimo (very soft) as well as fortissimo (very loud) without sounding too harsh or too dark. It should allow for the bright, clear bell tones of higher notes as well as the rich, warm resonance of lower notes.

Audiences will have several opportunities to hear the range of the new concert grand, including the season-opening performance by Zuber and APA Classical Fellow Sean Chen. The piano will play an orchestral role for the Rising Stars of the Metropolitan Opera, feature in chamber concerts, and show its jazz chops alongside vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, and the SFJAZZ Collective. Philip Glass and four other pianists will play all 20 of his études, and to round out the season, pianist Alexandre Tharaud will accompany Les Violons du Roy.

Of course, a grand piano creates grand opportunities. Thus, the Steinway D is a gift that will keep on giving for many exciting seasons to come.

“Now that we have a world-class instrument, we will be able to transform the range of artists and performances we can host at Purdue,” Wetzel says. “Great artists require great instruments. Thanks to Janet and John, we’ll be able to raise the bar musically in countless ways over the next several years.”

Steinway D Concert Grand in Loeb Playhouse

Selection and Construction

Interview with donor Janet Nine and pianist Eric Zuber


SEPT 11 / Piano Dedication Recital with Sean Chen and Eric Zuber
SEPT 18 / Rising Stars of Metropolitan Opera
OCT 22 / Cécile McLorin Salvant
NOV 13 / In Mo Yang, violin
JAN 22 / DIVA Jazz Orchestra (Purdue Jazz Festival)
FEB 20 / Philip Glass: The Complete Piano Etudes
APR 7 / SFJAZZ Collective: The Michael Jackson Project
APR 16 / Les Violons du Roy with Alexandre Tharaud, piano