Where great pianists meet the world's finest pianosNew York: In Midtown Manhattan just a few yards from Carnegie Hall is a basement where the world's finest pianos, those created by the house of Steinway & Sons, wait for the world's most famous
New York: In Midtown Manhattan just a few yards from Carnegie Hall is a basement where the world's finest pianos, those created by the house of Steinway & Sons, wait for the world's most famous pianists to choose from among them for their concerts and personal collections.
Downstairs from the lush baroque of Steinway Hall is a sober space, almost a bunker, where some 20 pianos await visits from the likes of Lang Lang, Diana Krall and "piano man" Billy Joel, who need them for their concerts at Madison Square Garden.
Only these recognised "Steinway artists" have access to the place, where they can practice with the best acoustics and without bothering the neighbours.
"Since 1925 this has been the place where all of the world's famous pianists have chosen the instruments for their performances, recordings and personal use," Ron Losby, president of Steinway & Sons-Americas, told Efe news agency.
The company, which in the fall of 2015 will move to what is currently the International Center for Photography in New York City near Bryant Park, has been for the last 90 years the place where virtuosos have tried out these keyboards of ivory and ebony until they find the one they recognise as their soulmate.
"Each one is unique and handmade. Some are very talkative, very sociable, very loud and extroverted... while others are more intimate, almost whispering their sounds," Steinway's top executive in the Americas said.
Also to be seen in the basement are photos of customers over the years, from Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Venezuela's Teresa Carreño to more recent artists like country music star Harry Connick Jr., Japan's Mitsuko Uchida and Rosa Antonelli of Argentina.
These gems worth $137,000 each are created in the company's factory in the New York borough of Queens, where "each Steinway piano goes through the hands of 325 people before it's ready to play", Losby said.
Other Steinway Halls exist around the world, notably in London, Hamburg and Berlin, but the original and most important is in New York.
In this city, German immigrant Henry Engelhard Steinway founded the company in 1853 on Varick Street in the current Tribeca neighbourhood, where he sold his first piano for $500.
Losby ran his practised fingers over the keyboard. "It's not obligatory to know how to play the piano to run this company," he said, "but it's inevitable."