Steinway agrees takeover by Kohlberg & Co
2 July 2013
Lang Lang: one of Steinway's most famous supporters
US piano maker Steinway
Musical Instruments has agreed to be bought by private equity group Kohlberg
& Co in a $438m deal.
The 160-year-old company, famous around the world for its handmade grand pianos, had previously stated that it was not for sale, following a 17-month exploration of strategic alternatives (as reported in issue 18). The Financial Times (FT) commented that: ‘The deal is the latest indication of the bets private equity groups are making in the luxury goods sector as they seek to profit from the recovering finances of the wealthy.’ Steinway’s board unanimously recommended the offer and expects to close the transaction later this year. Kohlberg plans to expand Steinway’s global reach by exploiting emerging markets in Asia.
The Massachusetts-based company – whose pianos have been used by pianists such as Sergei Rachmaninov and Lang Lang – said in March it would sell its 88-year-old Steinway Hall building, which is across the street from Carnegie Hall in New York, for $46.3m. The company makes most of its earnings from high-end grand piano sales. From 2005 to 2008, grand piano sales fell an average of 20 per cent annually in the US, reported the FT, and the financial downturn further constrained demand.
The Steinway family sold the
company, which was founded in 1853 in a loft on Manhattan’s lower west side, to
entertainment group CBS in 1972. Since 1996 Steinway has been traded on the New
York Stock Exchange under the ticker LVB, for Ludwig van Beethoven.
Rare Conover piano once owned by Liberace is restored
28 June 2013
The piano in Forsyth’s workshop with technician Stuart Grant
The Conover in Liberace’s house
Independent music shop Forsyth’s in Manchester has restored a rare Conover piano that was once owned by Liberace. The ‘Pompadour’ model is named after the 18th century French design it emulates. It is thought that there are only three pianos of this type in existence.
The newly restored upright grand was purchased by a Liberace enthusiast from Manchester who bid against buyers from America, France and China in a London auction room. One of Forsyth’s specialists, Paul Cowperthwaite, was on hand during the auction to offer advice on its condition.
Liberace’s philosophy was ‘too much of a good thing is wonderful’ and his extravagant tastes extended to his pianos; many of which were opulently decorated and embellished, as illustrated in the recent HBO biopic Behind the Candelabra. The ‘Pompadour’ was a particularly challenging project to work on due to the piano’s age and the complexity of its structure and design. Unusually, the centre of the soundboard is directly in front of the pianist’s head and so the sound is very immediate and direct.
‘We set to work to make it behave and sound like a musical instrument, not a piece of furniture’, says Cowperthwaite. ‘Conover pianos are rare and Liberace only owned this one upright grand. This piano has a unique history. The restoration was not easy and took about a month and a half. We had not worked on an action of this type before and the design is not like anything we’ve seen before. On an upright piano the hammers strike away from the pianist; but on this instrument the hammers move towards the pianist.’
The new owner, a professional musician who would like
to remain anonymous, has the instrument in his home. On Liberace’s birthday
on 16 May the owner held a gathering in honour of the pianist, and performed on
the restored piano.
This article was amended on 12 July. The original piece stated an incorrect cost of the piano. The restoration cost has not been disclosed
Controversy over 'wrong' note in Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto
27 June 2013
Hans von Bülow: was he responsible for the mysterious correction?© Tully Potter Collection
Pianist Stephen Hough has uncovered evidence to support his theory that there is a ‘wrong’ note in Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto.
Amid discussion with the Tchaikovsky Research website about three different versions of the opening of the concerto – which originally featured spread arpeggios in the piano part, rather than the heroic chords known today – Hough discovered a correction in blue pencil within the manuscript of the first version of the concerto.
The Telegraph blogger referred to the find as ‘the most
exciting musical discovery of my life’. Hough suggests that the ‘F’ in the
flute part at the start of the second movement should be a ‘B flat’. The ‘F’ is
in all scores (except Gerald Abrahams’s Eulenberg edition with no footnote or
explanation) and on virtually all recordings (except Yevgeny Sudbin’s). Hough
wrote: ‘I played it a few times in concerts with the “F” corrected to a “B
flat” but only my instinct was my guide, and when I came to record it I felt I
had to abide by the evidence rather than change a note according to my taste
Hough’s musical defence of the ‘B flat’ includes the following: the theme only ever appears once with the F, the shape of the four-bar theme is a fifth up and a fifth down – spoilt by the appearance of the ‘F’, and when, in the coda, there is a change to two ‘A flats’ there is a change from the pattern – which has more impact if all the other times it has reached up to the ‘B flat’.
The correction in the manuscript was originally thought to have been made by Tchaikovsky, but Brett Langston, the historian and Tchaikovsky expert, revealed that the document was actually a copyist’s manuscript prepared for Hans von Bülow when he travelled round the world giving the very first performances of the concerto.
It is, however, the ‘cleanest’ version of the original score. Tchaikovsky’s autograph is riddled with later additions and corrections made by many different people over a long period of time, and unfortunately it is not yet available in digital form for detailed scrutiny.
Langston wrote to Hough: ‘It seems reasonable to assume that the correction in the Berlin manuscript would have been made by Bülow himself. As to whether Tchaikovsky knew and approved this – we don’t have evidence either way. It’s remarkable that there are so many questions concerning the text of the concerto that we still can’t answer after more than 120 years, but that’s why the editors of the new critical edition are seeking as many early editions as possible, in an attempt to peel back the various layers to (hopefully) establish which of them were authorised by the composer.’
Winners of the 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition announced
11 June 2013
Silver Medalist Beatrice Rana© Julien Faugere
The Texas-based Van Cliburn International Piano Competition has concluded its 14th instalment and named Vadym Kholodenko, 26, as recipient of the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Gold Medal and Van Cliburn Winner's Cup.
The silver medalist is Beatrice Rana, 20, Italy (IP’s One to Watch in issue 19, May/June edition). The crystal award winner is Sean Chen, 24, from the US.
Kholodenko, who hails from Ukraine, will receive a cash award of $50,000; career management and international and US concert tours for the three concert seasons following the Competition; studio and live recordings produced by harmonia mundi usa; and performance attire provided by Neiman Marcus.
Rana and Chen will each receive a cash award of $20,000; career management and US concert tours for the three concert seasons following the Competition; and a live recording produced by harmonia mundi usa of Competition performances.
The remaining three finalists will receive cash awards of $10,000 each, and concert tours and management for three concert seasons. They are Fei-Fei Dong, 22, China; Nikita Mndoyants, 24, Russia; and Tomoki Sakata, 19, Japan.
The Steven de Groote Memorial Award for the Best Performance of Chamber Music, with a cash prize of $6,000, was awarded to Vadym Kholodenko, 26, Ukraine.
The Beverley Taylor Smith Award for the Best Performance of a New Work, with a cash prize of $5,000, was awarded to Vadym Kholodenko, 26, Ukraine.
The winner of the John Giordano Jury Discretionary Award, with a cash prize of $4,000, is Steven Lin, 24, United States.
The winner of the Raymond E. Buck Jury Discretionary Award, with a cash prize of $4,000, is Alessandro Deljavan, 26, Italy.
The winner of the Jury Discretionary Award, with a cash prize of $4,000, is Claire Huangci, 23, United States.
The Audience Award was voted on by almost 24,000 visitors to
www.cliburn.org. The Audience Award winner, Beatrice Rana, will receive a cash
award of $2,500.
The semifinalists will receive cash awards of $5,000 each. Preliminary Round competitors will receive cash awards of $1,000 each.
Legal struggle over Wagner table piano
5 June 2013
One wouldn’t expect a battle over the piano on which Richard
Wagner composed parts of the Ring to be anything but epic. The Bechstein table
piano, a gift to the composer from King Ludwig II in 1864, is the subject of a
prolonged lawsuit in which Iris Wagner, one of several great-granddaughters,
has opposed both the city of Leipzig and the Richard Wagner Foundation over
The instrument sat peacefully in the Villa Wahnfried until the end of the Second World War when it was shipped to Leipzig, the composer’s city of birth. A decade after German reunification, Sven Friedrich, director of the Richard Wagner Museum in Bayreuth, discovered the piano at Leipzig’s Stadtgeschichtliches Museum (State History Museum). It returned to Bayreuth in 1998 under a rental contract, but Leipzig terminated the agreement upon its expiration a decade later.
The city emerged victorious as owner by acquisition from the first round of dispute in district court. The piano was granted long-term loans to the Wagner abode. However, Iris made a legal intervention in 2011. The battle came to a near close in March of this year when both the Wagner Foundation and Iris recognised Leipzig as the official owner. But the following month, when the piano was scheduled to return to Bayreuth on loan, Iris again revoked the ruling. With ownership still up in the air, the instrument was on view at the exhibit Wagner Lust & Last (Wagner Desire and Burden) dedicated to the composer’s bicentenary in Leipzig, which ran from March through late May.
The Wagner dynasty has Ludwig II to thank not just for the
table piano but a significant portion of its estate. The 18-year-old Ludwig,
enamoured of operas such as Tannhäuser and Lohengrin paid off the composer’s
debt and granted him a lakeside abode following their first meeting. Wagner
received the table piano for his 51st birthday, composing works such as Die
Meistersinger, Parsifal, Götterdämmerung, and the third act of Siegfried.