Thursday, October 19, 2006

New Steinway at the Pikes Peak Center

This weekend, Steinway number 574,858 will make its debut with Orion Weiss and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic.

Colorado Springs Philharmonic conductor Lawrence Leighton Smith premiered the Pikes Peak Center’s new concert grand piano for a small group on the center’s stage on Sept. 21st. Smith chose the piano out of five Steinway “D” models — the nine-foot concert grands — at the company’s New York City store. (Steinways are built across the East River, in Queens.)

This is a significant step forward for the facility: Years of neglect had left the old Steinway decayed beyond the point of cost-effective renovation, and the philharmonic had been hauling Smith’s own Steinway to the center for concerts.

As for the new piano: “It’s a little rough to play,” Smith said before a brief program consisting of Schumann’s “Arabesque” and Chopin’s G-flat Impromptu and A-flat Ballade; “It needs to be played in.” The tone is silvery and sweet, but not yet very brilliant — something that will change as the piano seasons. Just what sort of piano it will be is difficult to predict: Each Steinway is handmade, and two pianos with identical designs can have dramatically different characters for both player and listener. It will not be fully seasoned when Weiss plays it on Saturday and Sunday, so cut him some slack.

The $120,000 piano (which includes a $20,000 service contract) was a gift from the CSSO Foundation, a group that was formed to raise money for the old Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra.

And this has caused some tongues to wag. There was bad blood between the CSSO musicians and the CSSO Foundation back when the old symphony went bankrupt in 2003: The musicians’ union and the foundation bid against each other for ownership of the CSSO’s music library. (As a footnote, the musicians’ justification for the bidding war — that allowing public circulation of the library would ruin it — has not yet been borne out.) The episode was a dramatic public display of just how fragmented and adversarial the old CSSO had become.

So, did this money come, as has been rumored, from what remains of the CSSO’s endowment? Probably. But what remains of the endowment is still tied up in court, and there’s no great probability that it will ever go to the philharmonic anyway. In the meantime, this money was used as its original donors wished: To benefit symphonic music in Colorado Springs.

Traditionally, such things as music libraries and pianos were the property of the performing arts organizations that used them. But with orchestras — especially medium-sized orchestras — in financially precarious positions all over the country, it’s prudent to hand them over to more stable organizations. And it takes a little pressure off the philharmonic, which has an extraordinarily lean budget for a group of its size and quality.


Anonymous Alan Isaacson - Local # 154 said...

Mark, regarding your comments in respect to the CSSO Foundation, and "what remains of the endowment is still tied up in court, and there’s no great probability that it will ever go to the philharmonic anyway." I think this your comments are not quite accurate.

The CSSO Foundation like many other individuals and businesses in the Pikes Peak Region has a claim with the Bankruptcy court in respect to the CSSO estate. As you know, all assets of the the old Colorado Springs Symphony were liquidated in 2003 under Chapter 7. The value of that entire liquidation in dollars is currently being held in escrow by the U.S. Trustee. It eventually will be disbursed to the remaining creditors in order of priority.

As the CSSO Foundation is a separate 501 C3 non-profit organization, its value (that originally came out of the old CSSO endowment) is not "tied up in court" as you indicate. That's why the CSSOF aparantly feels it can purchase pianos and do other things with it's money as it sees fit.

The original donors to the old CSSO endowment, (out of which the CSSOF was eventually formed many years ago,) gave their money at that time to specifically support the only professional symphonic performing arts organization in the region, namely the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra.

As the Colorado Springs Philharmonic is now the defacto successor organization to the old CSSO, it remains a shame that the current leaders of the old CSSOF continue to find themselves unwilling to use these monies their organization was founded on in direct support of the CSPO.

Point being, this attitude has nothing to do directly with the Court proceedings. This only has to do with their own perogative.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Mark Arnest said...

Alan, thanks very much for the correction and clarification.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous thomas blomster said...

Mark, it's been four years, and we musicians are still the bad guys. I find your remark about our library totally ignorant! I know something about this because we lost our library with the Denver Chamber Orchestra with this tactic of it being a lending library for every Tom, Dick, and Harry. And I have very carefully rebuilt a library of my own for the Mercury Ensemble. We do lend music out to very select groups/people. But an orchestra's music library is much more than the printed music - it's the 100's of markings that have been made over the years. Just this weekend we performed Shostakovich 10, and my part has useful markings that go back to when Venus Mann was a member of the percussion section (early 80's). Those markings saved me a lot of trouble and time. Not to speak of all the great Ansbacher quotes that Chris Nelson (former percussionist) always wrote into the music!

Those things have a way of being destroyed when you lend your library out too often. Music has a way of disappearing as well when you create a lending library...

Thought you should know.

One of those nasty musicians,

Thomas A. Blomster, Percussion II
Colorado Springs Philharmonic

1:57 PM  
Blogger Mark Arnest said...

Thomas, you're absolutely right about the potential dangers of lending parts to the public. A circulating collection in the hands of an overworked librarian can be destroyed frighteningly quickly. But the situations of the old CSSO library and the Denver Chamber Orchestra are dramatically different.

1. Joe Head, who's in charge of the old CSSO library at Colorado College, is highly knowledgeable - and Michael Grace, the head of CC's music department, is extremely aware of the collection's value, and how important it is to protect it.

2. The chamber orchestra repertoire isn't the full orchestra repertoire, and especially not the huge orchestra repertoire. The markings were still there in Shostakovich 10 - in spite of its being available to every Tom, Dick and Harry for three years - because there is only one ensemble around here that could possibly perform this piece: The CSP. I'll bet you cash that you'll find old marks there the next time you program "Tod und Verklarung" (which, btw, I hope is soon).

Yes, you'll lose a few marks on a Haydn or Mozart symphony that's been programmed by a high school or community orchestra. (Some of these, of course, you just would have erased anyway. Not all of those hundreds of marks are actually useful.) But you also don't have to pay to maintain the library - and right now every dollar counts with the philharmonic.

When someone provides evidence that the collection is being degraded - as opposed to hypothetical situations based on other libraries - I'd be very interested in hearing it. In the meantime, I'll stand by my original statement.

3:34 PM  

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