Piano Retailers as Resources

By: Edna Landau

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In a column I wrote in February (Using Google to Find Concert Opportunities), I addressed the challenge that pianists confront in identifying new venues in which to perform or run through repertoire in advance of major recitals. I have always been sympathetic to the limitations they face in not being able to bring their instrument with them. I recently began to investigate the opportunities for piano stores and dealers to be a resource – both in terms of providing performance spaces and advising regarding specific locations with suitable pianos.  I was helped greatly in my research by Bonnie Barrett, Director, Yamaha Artist Services in New York, who led me to some very dedicated individuals whom I otherwise might never have met.

Let me say at the outset that this is not a column about the advantages of becoming an official artist of a particular piano company. There is no standardized information that I can offer about that as it is a personal decision for each artist. However, it does seem to me that the tide has turned and whereas piano companies’ rosters of artists were once populated primarily by “household names”, they have made an effort to reach out to younger performers in ways that can be extraordinarily meaningful. Substantial information about this can be found on the Yamaha Artist Services and Steinway & Sons websites. Yamaha’s range of services even extends to career advice and Steinway now has a special Young Steinway Artists roster for classical, jazz and pop artists.

Can piano dealers offer helpful information to pianists hoping to secure performing opportunities on their own? The answer is both yes and no. Vivian Chiu, Operations Manager, Concert Services at Steinway & Sons in New York, confirmed that dealers obviously have information about pianos they have sold or rented to institutions in their area. In all likelihood, they are in fine condition but she does find herself on the phone with artists who call to request  information about a particular piano. The dealers are usually not a resource for general locations of venues with pianos and they do not keep such a master list. However, a call (for example) to a church to whom the dealer has sold a piano may yield information about other churches with pianos. Most dealers have websites which list the institutions with whom they have had an affiliation.

How common is it for piano dealers to have a performance space and host concerts in their showrooms? Such an arrangement is not uncommon, especially in the larger cities. The New York City headquarters of Steinway and Yamaha have hosted concerts and press events for years.  The Yamaha Artist Services Piano Salon is equipped to offer its artists use of their unique Disklavier TV recording technology that allows them to connect to remote concert stages throughout the world. On a more fundamental level, students who need to prepare DVD’s for professional auditions are welcomed into the facility, provided with an excellent concert grand and assisted in the preparation of their recording.  Klavierhaus in New York City, which is in the business of piano restoration and sales,  built a state of the art concert space and recording studio several years ago which was used on a rental basis and attracted a very cultivated audience. The company has since relocated and is constructing a new showroom and recital space at Le Parker Meridien Hotel near Carnegie Hall, where it will also begin curating a recital series in the penthouse. Both Michael Harrison, Managing Director, and Nicholas Russotto, Director of Events, are excited about the possibilities that these venues will afford and note that it will allow Klavierhaus to continue to be a haven for pianists at all stages of their careers. Gavin English, General Manager of Steinway’s West Coast retail stores, told me that if you go on Steinway’s website, click on Dealer Finder and enter the zip code in which you are located, it will list the contact information of the closest Steinway & Sons showroom in that area. Another way to find your local Steinway & Sons showroom is to call 1-800-STEINWAY and it will reach the local showroom in the area code you’re calling from. He mentioned that there is no charge for Steinway artists, and often local artists, to use concert spaces in their dealers’ showrooms but advised that some showrooms are larger than others and availability may be limited to the daytime hours.

The motivations for hosting concerts vary from city to city. Many showrooms cultivate a relationship with local teachers and open their facility for student recitals. The typical showroom concert space has a seating capacity of 69-95, although some can seat as many as 150. Faust Harrison Pianos hosts concerts in all three of its New York area showrooms – New York City, White Plains and Huntington. Sara Faust, owner of Faust Harrison and a prizewinning pianist herself, told me that hosting concerts is a good way for the company to give back to the community and support artists. Understandably, she also explained that it provides opportunities to bring potential customers to the store. In White Plains, concert audiences attend for free and are also offered a factory tour. A dealer might host a showcase for an artist if local presenters (who can be good customers) are interested in hearing them. If an artist can bring a local audience of at least 50 to their performance, Faust Harrison won’t charge for the space. Sam Varon in Faust Harrison’s Huntington showroom adheres to the same general guidelines, with strong deference given to teachers for student recitals.

If my travels take me to Maryland any time soon, I will be sure to visit Downtown Piano Works in Frederick. The owners, Dan and Theresa Shykind, do very little traditional advertising, preferring to draw customers into their store via a free concert series which they present using the finest pianos from their exclusively Yamaha inventory. They have presented 100 concerts over the past six years, featuring some of the finest established and emerging pianists of our time. (They’ve even been known to sneak in a violinist or cellist.) Young artists receive a small honorarium. The space holds 65 and they generally have a wait list of over 150. The concerts are free and a percentage of seats are set aside for students of the Downtown Piano Works Music School, led by Theresa, herself a musician. On occasion, artists performing in the store offer master classes to the students. The Shykinds have no expectation of the artist bringing in an audience. They see the series as an opportunity to give back to the community in which they raised their children. Dan told me that he receives materials and CD’s every week from artists interested in performing there. He books the concerts over a year in advance and suggests that artists send YouTube links for his review to DowntownPianoWorks@yahoo.com. The company’s website  has an extensive list of institutions to whom they have provided pianos (albeit not always grands), which artists might find helpful. It is not uncommon for concerts at DPW to be reviewed and/or broadcast if the artist is willing, and for senators and congressmen to be present in the audience.

Despite the many visits I have made to Chicago over the course of my career, I only had occasion this week to connect with Thomas Zoells, owner of PianoForte Chicago, Inc. (a piano store) and founder and Executive Director of the PianoForte Foundation. After a time working in artist management, and a longer time spent in banking, he decided ten years ago to respond to his passion for pianos and enter the piano business. He told me that what drives him and gives him fulfillment is “to get people excited about the piano and to promote piano culture”.  Although the recital hall in the store is available for rent and the recording studio for a fee, they are also used for the classical and jazz concerts, and the radio series, curated by Thomas Zoells himself through the foundation. Moderately priced tickets are sold to the performances and artists receive a fee. Many of the concerts are broadcast live and students are particularly encouraged to attend those concerts. The application process for participating in the Foundation’s series is detailed on their website.

A Google adventure of mine led me to Coral Gables, Florida (perhaps in a subliminal search for better weather than we are currently experiencing in New York) where I discovered the Steinway Piano Gallery. I had a delightful conversation with the General Manager, Doug Thiel, a 40-year veteran of the piano business. The Gallery has a 90 seat hall which is used almost every day. They host hundreds of student recitals every year, as well as master classes and educational activities. There is no charge for the space. Doug Thiel sees his role very clearly as sustaining the evolution of classical music and jazz. He told me: “We’ve got to support the young people’s efforts in order to continue to cultivate an interested and appreciative audience.” I was impressed with Doug’s wonderful spirit and hope to have the opportunity to meet him in person someday.

By necessity, this column has focused on retail establishments in the U.S. Fortunately, there are many piano stores and showrooms around the world which also host concerts and educational activities and which are staffed with dedicated individuals who are often musicians themselves.  I encourage all young pianists to seek them out during their travels. They will undoubtedly prove to be great sources of information and may also become lifelong friends.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2014

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