The Great Steinway debate -
The great Steinway debate: Is the Hamburg model best? Continued from page 3G New York if necessary. True, that can be expensive. It's a world-wide problem. We have seen schools handing out diplomas to so-called technicians after a year's course. It's criminal. It takes about eight years to create a good piano technician." Steinway, Incidentally, never has been a prolific manufacturer. Its pianos are all virtually handmade, and seldom has production gone over 4,000 a year in the United States. The Hamburg plant , produces around 2,000. By way of contrast, Baldwin makes about 45,000 a year and Yamaha, the biggest of all, some 250,000. j. The Hamburg Steinway is a more traditionally : built instrument than its American counterpart, and - it uses the old-fashioned cloth felt bushings. It is the .position of American Steinway that the greater .extremes of temperature in American homes and concert halls, what with central heating and air conditioning, demand a different kind of manufacture than European instruments need. It is a fact that before World War II European pianos (and furniture, too) were not kiln-dried and seasoned as American pianos were. But after the war most European piano manufacturers began to match American specifications. Steinway in America force-dries the wood . in kilns to 6 percent of moisture content, and so do "most European manufacturers these days. New kilns are being put into the Hamburg plant to match the moisture content of the wood in the American pianos. Steinway says that European pianos do not stand up jn America a fact hotly denied by owners of Hamburg Steinways, Bosendorfers and Bechsteins. Many pianists also take issue with Steinway's claim that there is little difference between the American and Hamburg concert grand. They maintain that the Hamburg is a more "precisely built instrument, with a more even action, -with ivory keys (some pianists hate to play on plastic keys, even if there is every indication that nobody "could tell the difference in a blindfold test) and more responsive in its attack. Alexis Weissenberg is one pianist who is convinced that American Steinway has deteriorated. '" "The United States Steinway used to be magnificent," he says. "In recent years there has been a change. The piano is uneven. It has become' more .difficult to sustain a singing line. More and more synthetic materials are being used. About four or five years ago it beoame literally dangerous to play. .1 was lighting the instrument. I have complained to steinway. It was a very difficult emotional decision : for me to make. The Steinway people understood." " Not long ago Vladimir Horowitz, who has played . only the American Steinway since he left Russia some 60 years ago, tried out a Hamburg Steinway. He liked it but would not think of using one for a concert. "Much lighter," he says. "Much less volume, especially in the bass. It is a very good piano for light things, but for Schumann, Tchaikovsky, no." Of course Horowitz does not judge pianos by normal criteria not Horowitz, who demands a type of . brilliance and who can command a sonority unique in the history of piano playing. di -2-1 Dichter. Weissenberg. Andre Watts, who played a Hamburg Steinway the other week in New York, seems to be unhappy with all pianos. "There are very few of any make I like," he says. "The Hamburg I played had a nice, even projection. But I have lost confidence in pianos built by Steinway today. Or by any other maker. A pianist's natural inclination is to keep on looking for something better. It might be an American Steinway, or a Hamburg, or a Bechstein. Whatever it is, I want it." But since American Steinway has not brought any Hamburg insruments into America, what is a pianist who wants one to do? Enter Ricard de La Rosa. ' He is a piano technician who, with his partner, Danta C. Raso, opened a rental and maintenance establishment in San Francisco about 10 years ago, De La Rosa well knew of the unhappiness with the American Steinway, and he purchased a Hamburg Model D (the concert grand). The Hamburg D, incidentally, costs around $40,000 here, as against some $20,000 for the American D, about the same for the Baldwin SD and $45,000 for the Bosendorfer concert grand (the most expensive of all pianos). By now ProPiano, De La Rosa's company, has five Hamburg Ds two in New York, three in San Francisco. He says that just recently the London branch of Hamburg Steinway has refused to sell concert grands to him, and that he is going to have to get them by devious means, De La Rosa sent circulars and ProPiano credit cards to pianists. Vladimir Ashkenazy was the first to respond, and was happy with the instrument rented to him. Previously Claudio Arrau had used one of ProPiano's Hamburgs for a West Coast recital and word got around. Pianists on the order of an Arrau or Ashkenazy do not change instruments idly, and there was a rush to the ProPiano quarters. Suddenly the Hamburg Steinway became the fashionable instrument. For the coming season, De La Rosa has 75 orders for the Hamburg Steinway. He will send an instrument anywhere in the country, and he promises he will provide proper maintenance. "We can't fill the demand," he says. "But we're here to stay. We'll pull pianos from the West Coast if rjecessary."