Wanted: home for a Steinway

Steinway grand piano from 1909 New York model A 188 cm is up for sale, rent, or loan. Resident piano in Keulsekade, Utrecht, Netherlands, Monument House Concert Series performances and chamber music rehearsals. A fine instrument.

My relocation to the Netherlands in 2003/2004 coincided with a refund of monies from Singapore. It was a milestone for change.

Frustrated by the daily challenge of finding a good piano to practise at the conservatory in Utrecht and the inadequate upright piano at home in Bussum, I decided to find a grand piano of my own.

First I visited the local piano shop whose owner led me to a room full of Yamahas. I could not find a piano that was special enough to be different. I abandoned the idea of a Yamaha and went for a Steinway instead. The story of how I found that piano and the piano technician who helped me negotiate the price is an interesting one, perhaps for another blog post. He did request that I visit his atelier after I got back from Taiwan. A month later, the French polished, restrung Steinway grand arrived in Bussum.

It was a glorious moment — to finally have a Steinway Grand Piano in my home. The Steinway was not from Hamburg but from New York. Made in 1909. All 188 CM of it. Model A. Ivory keys. One celebrated concert pianist, Dutch winner of the Liszt Piano Competition who commuted between Vienna and Utrecht, remarked that it was a Rachmaninoff piano for it had that romantic sound.

Here’s how the Steinway sounds: Intermezzo by Allan Segall, performed by Anne Ku, recorded by Robert Bekkers.

I held a Steinway Warming party for my piano friends. With the upright piano, four pianists could play on both pianos. We tried all sorts of duets.

Once I got accustomed to being the proud owner of a Steinway, it was time to let go of my Gerhard Adam, a German mahogany grand piano from the 1920’s which I left behind in London. I wrote a decision making guide to buying a second-hand piano to help sell that piano online. Once again I walked down my memory lane of buying a piano. I wrote an Adieu which used all 88 keys on the piano, a way for me to say goodbye thru the new owner I did not meet.

Here is a recording of my playing on my Steinway. Adieu to a Piano by Anne Ku

Steinway Grand Model A 188cm, 1909 New York, before recording session
Steinway Grand Model A 188cm, 1909 New York, before recording session

In summer 2006, the Steinway moved with me to Utrecht. We launched the Monument House Concert Series with a violin and guitar concert by Duo 46. That December we chose the theme Piano as Orchestra, featuring several concertos (harp, euphonium, guitar). The following year we combined food with music in Chamber Music Tapas Style. Every year we committed to organizing two house concerts. Often we had several mini concerts, including a kitchen concert, garden concert, impromptu concert. Each time we became more adventurous and more professional. We outsourced food and wine to professional chefs and wine sommeliers. We included art exhibitions.

On my last trip back to the Netherlands, I felt compelled to host two concerts back to back. Despite being time-challenged with only 2.5 months to sort out my things, I felt it was important to organize these concerts for two American pianists on their way to the Italian alps. Why? Maybe instinctively I knew it was the last time my grand piano would be heard in a concert setting. Sure enough, 2nd July 2011 became the last house concert.

And the last recordings were that of piano duets I had collected from a Call for Scores from Hawaii to Holland. Here’s Brendan Kinsella and I playing my late composition teacher Henk Alkema’s piece.

APPEAL:

This Steinway Grand, made in New York in 1909, model A – 188 cm – needs a home. SALE. RENT. or LOAN.

Steinway for Sale with new photos and sound clips.

Interested parties please use the LEAVE A REPLY field below.

Steinway Grand at the Monument House, Utrecht
Steinway Grand at the Monument House, Utrecht

Somewhere in time, 14th century Utrecht

Giving concerts in ancient buildings in Europe is one perk of being a musician. Anne Ku plays Somewhere in Time in a renovated 14th century building in Utrecht, Netherlands.

One joy of  giving concerts in Europe is discovering ancient buildings in ancient cities. Such medieval buildings line the cobbled streets of central Utrecht, also known as the 4th largest city in the Netherlands and first founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago.

14th century Bartholomeusgashuis (Bartholowmews Guesthouse) was the first nursing home in Utrecht. Located near the Geertekerk and within walking distance from the central train station, this building has a fascinating history.

Nowadays it’s a residence for the elderly, or I should say, the lucky elderly, after its recent renovation to 5-star hotel standards. A concert is held on the first Thursday of each month in the Smeezaal. The rounded oval ceilings make the acoustics conducive to live music making, but the loud air conditioning is not ideal for classical guitar which requires dead silence.

Playing music in such old surroundings take us back in time. After a programme of Mozart on Thursday 8th July 2011, I sat at the Yamaha grand piano and tried to go back in time with the theme from the movie “Somewhere in Time.”

Live piano music for new art exhibition

The experience of a pianist playing background music at an artist reception of new works shows that people do listen. Live music does make a difference.

How do you attract people to come to a new exhibit of artworks?

  1. Announce it in the papers. Send out personal invitations. E-mail those on the mailing list. Tweet.
  2. Serious buyers would come if invited to the private viewing or artist reception.
  3. Others would come out of curiosity.
  4. Add champagne and hors d’oeuvres to entice people to stay, view the works, and chat with the artists.
  5. Add live music to encourage the flow of conversation and set the ambiance.

When we visited the NaPua Gallery in the Grand Wailea in mid-March 2011, I imagined live music at the next artist reception. When I accepted the invitation to play there, I imagined myself sitting at the Yamaha baby grand outside the main entrance, luring people to visit the gallery. I collected a variety of sheet music for that event, to play as background music.

  • Le Onde and other new age, modal music by the Italian composer Ludivico Einaudi
  • Piano arrangements by Dan Coates
  • Songs sung by Elton John (as he gave a concert on Maui not too long ago)
  • Classical pieces by Robert Schumann, Claude Debussy, and others

On the day before the event, I learned that the baby grand piano was not available. I had two choices: give up the gig or bring my own instrument.

It would have been easy to give up the gig, but I had already imagined myself playing the music I had selected for this event. Not only that, I also wanted to be an integral part of that event — to meet the artists, to see their works, and to participate in something so beautiful. Having had some of the most interesting conversations at private viewings of contemporary art in London and Amsterdam, I did not want to give up the opportunity to attend my first such event on Maui.

With little time to spare, I decided to ask two music lovers I had befriended recently. “May I borrow your clavinova?”

Help a friend in need, and you become a friend indeed.

Moving the 25-year old Yamaha Clavinova (pictured below) required first dismantling the keyboard from its stand, three people to lift the weighted keyboard, fitting the items into the car, unloading the items onto a trolley, wheeling it to an elevator, and reassembling the items on site. My friends had endless patience and no complaint about the interruption to their Saturday.

Live piano music at artist reception at the NaPua Gallery in the Grand Wailea
Live piano music at artist reception at the NaPua Gallery in the Grand Wailea, photo. W. Herrerra

On a tropical island where the salt in the air and humidity cause pianos to wear out sooner than usual, piano owners incur high maintenance costs. A local piano tuner told me that he spends most of his time repairing pianos. A good instrument is rare to come by. How then does a newcomer find a piano to practise on, let alone to perform?

As it turned out, the electric piano was not a poor substitute for the real thing. I played with the different settings and adjusted the volume. Unlike my concert performance earlier that day, the gallery performance was intended as background music. No one acknowledged me after each piece like the residents in the luxury retirement home that same afternoon. No one applauded. At times I felt invisible.

Just after 8 pm, I stopped. I joined the rest of the guests with a glass of champagne and a bite of the delicious crab cakes to meet the artists. I considered it a privilege to discuss the works with the creators. Once my music stopped, I started receiving feedback. People were listening after all.

Original acryllic miniatures, same size, different frames by Roxana Broadbent
Original acryllic miniatures, same size, different frames by Roxana Broadbent

Wanted: piano in Maui

The pianist laments for her piano left behind. There are pianos to borrow, to rent, and to buy. But she longs for the piano she cannot have, not to perform but to practise with no one listening.

How long can I stand not having a piano to practise on?

There’s an upright piano (a spinet) at the community centre nearby where I can practise in the afternoons. The first time I tried the piano, it was out of tune. After it got tuned for our short concert, I tried it again. Several groups were playing mah jong. They didn’t mind and even applauded after Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, the only sheet music I had that was remotely Christmassy. The mah jong players invited me to snack with them during the break and gave me Haiku tangerines. “Come back next week,” they said when I was leaving.

A kind lady offered her Steinway grand in south Kihei. It’s at least a half-hour drive to her beautiful home. My sister told me of another place in Kihei with a grand piano that I’ve yet to visit.

There are many churches nearby. I’m sure there are pianos I could use, but first I need to enquire.

Still, I get tempted when I see a piano for sale. Perhaps I just want a piano in my home and not anywhere else.

On Craigslist I spotted pianos for sale: an upright piano — a medium-brown-coloured spinet left behind when the house got sold. The new owners initially advertised it for $300 two weeks ago. Now they changed it to $250 or better offer. I imagine it sitting in the corner in my living room. I would wake up and play it to my heart’s content.

The piano reminds me of the Yamaha console my father had bought brand new for our family. We all learned to play the piano. My mother told me that she took lessons with us because we were the first and only students of our Japanese piano teacher (at that time.) She stopped when our teacher recruited other students. Sadly my father sold the piano after we had grown up and left home. I guess I’m still pining for that piano.

Yamaha upright in Okinawa, Japan
Yamaha upright in Okinawa, Japan

Buying a piano is not a trivial thing. In my article “Buying a piano: a decision maker’s guide,” I advised buyers to get a professional assessment (by a piano technician) before deciding. I did not add that there are costs of moving, tuning, advertising and selling when one leaves.

Why buy a piano if you can rent one? In Houston, I rented a Baldwin upright on a monthly basis for 14 months. I did not have to find a mover or a tuner. One phone call and it arrived. Another phone call and it left. What a joy it was to play! What a joy it was to compose!

Rented Baldwin upright piano in Houston, Texas
Rented Baldwin upright piano in Houston, Texas

What I really want is not a piano in my home but access to a piano in a room (nearby) where I can practise without an audience. When I’m aware of the presence of someone else listening, my playing becomes a performance. What I really miss is being able to practise on a good instrument close by, whenever I want, and for as long as I want.

The guitarist has no longing as such. His guitar is always a heart beat away, anywhere he goes.