Friday March 5, 2021 Smile of the Day: Steinway

On this Day:

In 1853, the piano company Steinway & Sons was founded by Heinrich Steinweg (later Henry Steinway) in New York City.

Steinway & Sons, also known as Steinway, is a German-American piano company, founded in 1853 in Manhattan by German piano builder Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg (later known as Henry E. Steinway). The company’s growth led to the opening of a factory in New York City, United States, and later a factory in Hamburg, Germany. The factory in the Queens borough of New York City supplies the Americas, and the factory in Hamburg supplies the rest of the world.

Steinway has been described as a prominent piano company, known for making pianos of high quality and for inventions within the area of piano development. Steinway has been granted 139 patents in piano making, with the first in 1857. The company’s share of the high-end grand piano market consistently exceeds 80 percent. The dominant position has been criticized, with some musicians and writers arguing that it has blocked innovation and led to a homogenization of the sound favored by pianists.

Steinway pianos have received numerous awards. One of the first is a gold medal in 1855 at the American Institute Fair at the New York Crystal Palace. From 1855 to 1862, Steinway pianos received 35 gold medals. More awards and recognitions followed, including three medals at the International Exposition of 1867 in Paris. The European part of the company holds a royal warrant of appointment to Queen Elizabeth II. Steinway & Sons was named Company of the Year in 1996 by The Music Trades magazine. The award was given in recognition of Steinway’s “overall performance, quality, value-added products, a well-executed promotional program and disciplined distribution which generated the most impressive results in the entire music industry.”

In addition to the flagship Steinway piano line, Steinway markets two other, lower-priced brands of piano sold under the secondary brand names Boston and Essex. The Boston brand is for the mid-level market, while the Essex brand is for the entry-level market. Boston and Essex pianos are designed by Steinway engineers and produced in Asia at other piano makers’ factories under the supervision of Steinway employees to utilize a lower cost of parts, production, and labor.

In contrast to other piano makers, who presented their pianos to pianists, William Steinway engaged the Russian pianist Anton Rubinstein to play Steinway pianos during Rubinstein’s first and only American concert tour from 1872 to 1873, with 215 concerts in 239 days. It was a success for both Rubinstein and Steinway. Thus, the Steinway Artist program was born. Later the Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski toured America playing 107 concerts on Steinway pianos in 117 days.

As of May 2017, around 1,800 pianists worldwide are official Steinway Artists, which means that they have chosen to perform on Steinway pianos exclusively, and each owns a Steinway. None are paid to do so. Steinway Artists come from different genres: classical, jazz, pop, and rock. A few examples of Steinway Artists are Daniel Barenboim, Harry Connick, Jr., Billy Joel, Evgeny Kissin, Diana Krall, and Lang Lang. Some examples of Immortal Steinway Artists are Irving Berlin, Benjamin Britten, George Gershwin, Vladimir Horowitz, Cole Porter, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Steinway Artist program has been copied by other piano companies, but Steinway’s program is unique in that a pianist must promise to play pianos of the Steinway brand only to become a Steinway Artist. The Steinway Artist designation restricts a pianist’s use of pianos by other makers and implies an obligation to perform on Steinway pianos (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

The audience at a piano concert was appalled when a telephone rang just off stage during the concert. Without missing a note, the piano soloist glanced toward the wings and said, “If that’s my agent, tell him I’m working!”

Second, a Song:

Nobuyuki Tsujii (辻井 伸行, Tsujii Nobuyuki) (also known as Nobu Tsujii) is a Japanese pianist and composer. He was born blind due to microphthalmia, and his exceptional musical talent has propelled him to become a world renowned artist. Tsujii performs extensively, with a large number of conductors and orchestras, and has received critical acclaim as well as notices for his unique techniques for learning music and performing with an orchestra while being unable to see.

Nobuyuki Tsujii was born blind due to microphthalmia. From an early age, he exhibited exceptional talent and musical ability. At age two, he began to play “Do Re Mi” on a toy piano after hearing his mother hum the tune. He began formal piano study at the age of four. In 1995, at age seven, Tsujii won the first prize at the All Japan Music of Blind Students by the Tokyo Helen Keller Association. In 1998, at age ten, he debuted with the Century Orchestra, Osaka.

He gave his first piano recital in the small hall of Tokyo’s Suntory Hall at age 12. Subsequently, he made his overseas debut with performances in the United States, France, and Russia. In October 2005, he reached the semifinal and received the Critics’ Award at the 15th International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition held in Warsaw, Poland.

In April 2007, Tsujii entered Ueno Gakuen University, graduating in March 2011,

Tsujii competed in the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and tied for the gold medal with Haochen Zhang. He was also awarded the Beverley Taylor Smith Award for the best performance of a new work. He played all twelve of Frédéric Chopin’s Études (Op. 10) as part of his performance in the preliminaries. Tsuji was one of the competitors prominently featured in the Peter Rosen documentary film about the 2009 Van Cliburn competition, A Surprise in Texas, which was first broadcast on PBS TV in 2010.

In addition to being a pianist, Tsujii is a composer. At age 12, he performed his own composition “Street Corner of Vienna”. He has since released numerous albums of his own compositions. He is also a film music composer and the 2011 recipient of the Japan Film Critics Award for Film Music.

On November 10, 2011, Tsujii made his debut in the main hall (Isaac Stern Auditorium) at Carnegie Hall in New York, as part of the Keyboard Virtuosos II series. Tsujii debuted at the BBC Proms on July 16, 2013, with a performance with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Juanjo Mena.

Tsujii is featured in a 2013 English textbook for high schools in Japan. A 2014 film Touching the Sound, also by Peter Rosen, documents Tsujii’s life from birth to his 2011 Carnegie Hall debut, including footage of his visit to the region in Japan that suffered the devastating aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.

He won the 1st Prize at the InterArtia 2015 international competition by the International Art Society in Volos, Greece.

In the wake of Japan’s 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, Tsujii made numerous contributions to the restoration efforts. He was featured in an original short film “Lights of Japan” shown at the World Economics Summit in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2012. In the film, he performed on a grand piano restored from the ravage of the March 2011 tsunami that devastated Eastern Japan. Additionally, he performed in numerous charity concerts on behalf of Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami victims, including a UNESCO concert held in Paris on March 11, 2012. Part of the proceeds from his 2012 Flowers Bloom CD goes towards Japan’s earthquake reconstruction effort.

In addition to his earthquake relief effort, Tsujii frequently performs benefit concerts, such as for children’s hospitals, the Japanese Red Cross and the disabled.

In the summer of 2012, Tsujii contributed to a one-million rubles donation from the proceeds of an acclaimed concert, in which he performed on July 8 with conductor Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, to the victims of a flood in Kuban that occurred the night before.

On October 25, 2015, Tsujii performed with the Longwood Symphony Orchestra in Boston, in partnership with the Japan Society of Boston and the Berklee College of Music, benefiting the Boston Higashi School and the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta. On the next day, Tsujii paid a special visit to the Higashi School and “inspired children and staff alike.”

In Taiwan on April 15, 2019, Tsujii visited the Taichung Hui Ming School for the Blind at the invitation of the TSMC Culture and Education Foundation, where he performed and spoke to the students, encouraging them to fulfill their potentials (per Wikipedia).

Here is Pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii playing his own composition “Elegy for the Victims of the Tsunami of March 11, 2011 in Japan” at Carnegie Hall, NYC. I hope  you enjoy this! And yes, he is on a Steinway!


Thought for the Day:

“When she started to play, Steinway came down personally and rubbed his name off the piano.” – Bob Hope (referring to Phyllis Diller)

In regards to the March 4, 2021 Smile, Randy Prokopanko of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada writes:

Good afternoon, David, and thanks for today’s smile….you’re not trying to tell us it’s your birthday, are you?!!! [Editor: No!]

Just had to let you know that I was a little “disappointed” to think that you’ve been away from Winnipeg too long.  March 4th comes along and you don’t highlight the 1966 Blizzard tells me you’ve been on the “Left Coast” much too long.  I know we’re getting a little older and memories fade, so I’ll attach a few photos of the snowfall to remind you.  And if you need a reference for your visa to come back to Manitoba, drop me a line.

I should be a little sheepish sending this today, since the temperature is a balmy +3C right now and snow is actually melting.  But still….it’s March 4th!!!

– Randy Prokopanko
  Young enough to still remember….

Randy: I doubt that anyone who lived thru that storm will ever forget it!  We had snow up to our eves. Our next door neighbour had a snowmobile and we had a school at the end of our block. Once the storm cleared their boys and I went snowmobiling in the school playground (it was huge as it was combined with a city park).  Great Fun! I also remember standing on top of the snow with a shovel knocking the snow way down to our neighbour who had a snowblower at the level of our sidewalk about 10 or so feet below me who was then blowing it up and over to clear the sidewalk….

Loved your photos…

Have a great day!

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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