SOU Concert Features Historic Debut of First Dual Action Steinway Concert Piano
– by Lee Greene
A question for you: what performance space has the finest musical instrument piano in the world? One might suppose the answer ought to be Carnegie Hall, or Vienna’s Musikverein or Konzerthaus, perhaps Los Angeles’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall or Sydney’s Opera House. Well, you may be surprised to learn that a claim can be made that the finest musical instrument piano in the world, at least at this moment, can be found right here in the Rogue Valley, at Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall. The University’s Music Recital Hall recently took delivery of the first DUAL ACTION Model D “Concert Grand” piano to be shipped from the Steinway & Sons Queens, NYC factory.
“Steinway is a prominent piano company, known for making pianos of high quality and for its influential inventions within the area of piano development. The company’s share of the high-end grand piano market consistently exceeds 80 percent. Its status as the world’s elite piano manufacturer has been secured. . . . The majority of the world’s concert halls have at least one Steinway concert grand piano model D-274. . . . Each Steinway grand piano consists of more than 12,000 individual parts. A Steinway piano is handmade and takes a year to build. . . . Steinway’s 88 keys are made of Bavarian spruce. Each of the keys transmits its movement to a small, felt-covered wooden hammer that strikes one, two, or three strings when the note is played. The quarter-sawn maple action parts are mounted on a metallic frame, which consists of seamless brass tubes with rosette-shaped contours, force-fitted with maple dowels and brass hangers.” Wikipedia, Steinway & Sons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steinway_%26_Sons.
Steinway is renowned for manufacturing the most responsive and sensitive pianos in the world, which incorporate its patented “Accelerated Action”. “Laboratory tests have proven that the keys on a Steinway piano can repeat 13% more quickly than any other piano. The same features that allow for this faster repeat also provide a much more sensitive, responsive keyboard. . . .” The Steinway Action: A Record of its History and Lesson on Design, http://www.steinway.com/news/articles/the-steinway-action-a-record-of-its-history-and-lesson-on-design/
Recently, Steinway has begun to manufacture and sell Model D “Concert Grand” pianos with more than one action. Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall received the first of these magnificent and unique instruments to be shipped from the Queens, NY Steinway factory. Dr. Alexander Tutunov, professor of piano and artist in residence at the Oregon Center for the Arts at Southern Oregon University, traveled to the Steinway factory in Astoria, N.Y., accompanied by local Steinway expert Tom Lowell of Medford’s Piano Studios & Showcase on April 21, 2015 to hand select the piano. It was then shipped by truck across the country and delivered late last month to SOU’s Music Recital Hall. Dr. Tutunov describes the two alternative actions as a choice between a soft chamber music ensemble action and a more commanding concerto action, which his piano students at the University have already nicknamed “The Cannon”. The piano, which along with the second action, is valued at approximately $170,000, was donated to the University through a generous gift by local benefactor and patron of the arts Dr. James Havstad.
The Music Recital Hall at S.O.U. has already hosted an impressive array of the world’s greatest concert and recital pianists, including Joseph Banowetz, Francesco Nicolosi, Antonio Di Cristofano, Ivona Kaminska and Christopher Bowlby, as well as world class, famed piano impresario, Dr. Alexander Tutunov, largely due to Dr. Tutunov’s association with the University and his well established connections within the upper echelons of the world’s piano virtuosos. But Dr. Tutunov believes the Music Recital Hall will be an even more attractive concert and recital venue for the world’s great pianists, now that it can offer them not only one of the best pianos in the world, but also their choice of piano actions: the softer chamber music action or the more resounding concerto action.
Changing the Action on a new Dual Action Steinway Piano
Tom Lowell of Piano Studios & Showcase changing the action on the first new DUAL ACTION Steinway Model D Concert Grand Piano ($170,000) , delivered from the factory to SOU Music Recital Hall, from soft chamber music action to commanding concerto action, during intermission at its debut performance at Tutunov Piano Series Concert V on May 22, 2015 at SOU Music Recital Hall, Ashland, OR
The new piano made its concert debut on May 22, 2015 for the Tutunov Piano Series Concert 5 at the Music Recital Hall. Both actions were utilized for this unique concert. For the first half of the program, the piano was fitted with the softer chamber music action, as Dr. Tutunov was joined by accomplished and well traveled symphony and chamber music violinist, Terrie Baune in performances of first Brahm’s Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano in D Minor, followed by Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in G Major. During the intermission, Steinway expert Tom Lowell came onto the stage and replaced the piano’s softer chamber music action with “The Cannon” concerto action. After the intermission, virtuoso Tutunov returned to the piano to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, joined by accomplished piano accompanist, Jodi French, on a second Steinway Grand Piano providing an orchestra reduction to accompany Dr. Tutunov’s concerto tour de force.
Having prattled on at length about the new piano, I want to be clear, and not miss the forest through the trees here. The audience who attended this event, heard a superb concert, of magnificent music, performed impeccably by consummate musicians – the piano, but for the continuous stream of comments about it from the stage, was NOT the focus for the audience – rather, the brilliant music was. Of course, the instrument helped facilitate that. Tutunov’s performance on Brahm’s Sonata No. 3 thrilled the audience with a purity of tone and an expressiveness that was a happy symbiosis of the pianist and his instrument – in Tutunov’s hands this new piano became but an extension of the great pianist’s being. Baune, a consummate chamber violinist, was no slouch either, and together they delighted the audience with their performance. To both provide readers with a taste of what the audience heard, and also give you a bit of the performance which incorporated the softer chamber music action in the piano, to compare with the later concerto action, here is a brief excerpt recording taken from the 3rd movement of the Brahm’s Sonata:
Brahms Violin Sonata No. 3 (Brief excerpt Mov. 3)
Brief excerpt from 3rd Movement of Brahms Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano in D Minor performed by violinist, Terrie Baune, and pianist Alexander Tutunov on the new Steinway Grand Piano with soft chamber music ensemble action installed, during Tutunov Piano Series Concert 5, on May 22, 2015 at SOU Music Recital Hall in Ashland, OR
Ravel’s Violin Sonata No. 2 is an American jazz and blues inspired work by the French composer which mimics the works of Satie and Stravinsky from that period and is made interesting by the composer’s feeling ”that the violin and piano are essentially incompatible instruments” [Maurice Ravel, Sonata for violin & piano No. 2 in G major by Brian Wise, http://www.allmusic.com/composition/sonata-for-violin-piano-no-2-in-g-major-mc0002365746 ], leading the composer to exaggerate the differences between the instruments in the piece. Once again, Baune and Tutunov delivered an exceptional performance, leaving the stage to a standing ovation at intermission.
Then, after Steinway expert Mr. Lowell worked his magic at intermission, changing the Steinway to the concerto action, Mr. Tutunov returned to the reloaded piano and took command. Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 has frequently been described as the greatest piano concerto ever written. It has also been described as “over the top with virtuosity” [Sergei Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/55579/Sergei-Rachmaninoff-Piano-Concerto-No.-2-in-C-minor-Op.-18/ ] – in early performances, Rachmaninoff, “a man with piano skills beyond anything normal” was the piano soloist and his virtuosity and high intensity insured the success of the composition. This is NOT a piece for the faint of heart pianist, nor for any run of the mill concert pianist. The piece demands that “over the top virtuosity” and Tutunov delivered it, and then some. Though it’s a shame an orchestra was not present on stage to accompany Mr. Tutunov for this masterpiece, one has to doff their hat and acknowledge Ms. French for doing a fine job of supporting Tutunov’s performance with an orchestra reduction for piano. She did a remarkable job of handling all the orchestra parts and keeping up with a gloriously over the top Tutunov performance. Once again, the new piano, with its “The Cannon” concerto action in place, surely did help Tutunov take command of the amazing incredible, but undeniably difficult masterpiece. Here’s an excerpt of the Rachmaninoff Concerto so you can get a sense of Tutunov’s performance, and also compare the piano with the concerto action to the earlier excerpt featuring the softer ensemble action.
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 (1:30 min excerpt Mov. 2)
1:30 min excerpt from 2d Movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 performed by pianist Alexander Tutunov on the new Steinway Grand Piano with concerto action installed, accompanied by Jody French on a 2nd Steinway piano playing an orchestra reduction, during Tutunov Piano Series Concert 5, on May 22, 2015 at SOU Music Recital Hall in Ashland, OR
When the Rachmaninoff piece ended, the audience erupted, jumping up en masse, riotously applauding, cheering, whistling and generally going wild – an “over the top audience” driven by an “over the top” performance. Tutunov obviously couldn’t leave them in such a state of agitated excitement. To quiet the audience down, he brought violinist Terrie Baune back on stage and announced that they would play a single encore, a piece by a personal favorite, but little known and played Belorussian composer, Lev Abeliovich: Aria for Viola and Piano. Tutunov has previously recorded this piece on the Altarus label. It is, and the encore performance was, quite lovely. But far more sedate than the rousing “over the top” Rachmaninoff, so it succeeded in simultaneously placating and settling down the audience, which departed afterward happy, but peaceful.
The Tutunov Piano Series will resume in the fall with the 2015-2016 season and take full advantage of the new best in the world Steinway Grand Piano, including concerts on Oct. 30, 2015 showcasing Andreas Klein; Nov. 6, 2015 featuring Camden Shaw and Joseph Yungen; Feb. 12, 2016 pairing Martin Majkut and Alexander Tutunov; Mar. 11, 2016 presenting Hugues Leclere; Apr. 15 , 2016 spotlighting Joanna Trzeciak; and May 6, 2015 offering Eugene Skovorodnikov. All concerts are held in the SOU Music Recital Hall. The Performing Arts Box Office is located in the Music Recital Hall lobby. Box office hours are noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and two hours prior to each performance. Tickets can be purchased with a credit card over the phone by calling 541-552-6348 or online at http://oca.sou.edu/box-office.
This review was originally published by the Jacksonville Review on May 26, 2015 at http://jacksonvillereview.com/sou-concert-features-historic-debut-of-first-dual-action-steinway-concert-piano/