College acquires new Steinway piano

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College on Saturday will celebrate its new Steinway concert piano with a performance by students, faculty and alumni.
The free event will feature a lecture by Joseph Polisi, president of the Juilliard School, as well as performances of many different styles of music.
The event will commemorate the debut of the college’s new Steinway concert piano. The instrument is nine feet long, weighs 990 pounds and contains more than 12,000 parts. It was donated to the college by the Ray, Meredith and Nathaniel Rothrock family as a tribute to outgoing president Ron Liebowitz and his wife, Jessica.
Pieter Broucke, director of the Mahaney Center for the Arts, said the process of finding a new piano began a year and a half ago. The former concert piano, which had served the college since being donated in 1992, needed to be replaced.
Broucke consulted with a dozen groups on campus, who reached consensus on a Steinway model, which Broucke described as the “workhorse of the industry.”
In October, a cohort of college staff went to the Steinway factory in Queens, N.Y., to test five pianos. The group included Middlebury professor Diana Fanning and college alumna Gwendolyn Toth. They were assisted by two concert soloists, Richard Good and Paul Lewis.
Each musician had their own method for vetting the instruments, Broucke said. The goal was to pick a piano that would best suit the acoustics of the Mahaney Center concert hall.
“One person came in with a score and played the same passage on all five pianos,” Broucke. “Other people played scales.”
The group settled on two pianos. Broucke said ultimately, the winner was chosen based not on quality, but temperament.
“It was a unanimous decision,” Broucke said. “It is a wonderful, beautiful sounding piano.”
The new piano will reside on the stage of the concert hall.
Broucke did not offer the cost of this particular instrument, but the Steinway Model D concert pianos can retail over $100,000. Broucke said the college will benefit from the generosity of the Rothrock family.
“As a family they recognize the importance of the arts,” Broucke said. “In that spirit they made their gift.”
The college’s concert piano has traditionally been used by not just visiting performers, but by students and members of the community — from the college’s jazz band, to individual student lessons, to choral rehearsals, to recitals for children in the community.
“It’s really meant to benefit the entire academic community,” Broucke said.
The former concert piano, which is also a Steinway, has been moved to Mead Chapel. Broucke credited the Mahaney Center staff for keeping the piano in pristine condition for 22 years.
The events on Saturday will begin in the afternoon.
Polisi, head of the prestigious performing arts conservatory based at New York’s Lincoln Center, will begin his lecture at 4:30 p.m. at the Mahaney Center. The concert will begin at 8 p.m., and will open with a short film telling the story of how the piano was chosen. A mix of faculty and students will take turns behind the keys, playing works from a diverse range of composers, from Barber, Debussy, Satie and Beethoven.
The concert will be immediately followed by a reception in the lobby. While the event is free, attendees must pick up tickets from the Middlebury Box Office.

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