Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Pilgrimage

I just got back from a week in New York for work. For the first half of the trip I was staying at the Millennium Broadway Hotel, which is in midtown Manhattan, right in Times Square. When I learned I was going to be spending time in Manhattan, I knew there were two things I had to do while there: 1) run Central Park; 2) visit Steinway Hall.

The reception area of Steinway Hall, NYC

Steinway Hall is on West 57th St., just a half a block from Carnegie Hall. The reception area inside the entrance is a large, two-story domed room with a D sitting right in the middle (see the photo). I failed to surprise the receptionist by saying I was on a pilgrimage from Texas. She had me sign in and pointed me to the five rooms off the hallway leading from the back of the reception room. The salespeople at the desks around the outside of the room appeared not to notice my intrusion.

The piano rooms were more old mansion than store showroom. Each had several Steinway grands, mostly As and Bs. And there seemed to be very few stock pianos: most were from the Crown Jewel Collection, with some combination of scrollwork music rack, retro fallboard lettering and exotic wood. I plinked a couple of notes on each, trying to find the piano that was expecting me. The closest I came was a Macassar Ebony B. Unfortunately, a piano tech was tuning in the adjoining Boston room, so I continued on down the hallway.

The room at the end of the hallway was the largest and housed several stock As, Bs, Os and a couple of Ms and Ss. One of the As insisted I play it, so I carried over the lone bench and pretended I was Enrique Granados. The action was gorgeous and the dynamic range was shocking. Unfortunately, the cubic shape of the large room and the tiled floor made the room much too live for my tastes. Rather than cry about it, I found a brighter A in the center of the room and blasted out some Rachmaninoff. The room may still be echoing.

I had read that there were two other floors of pianos and wanted to explore a bit more. So I returned to the entrance only to find the receptionist's desk empty. The salespeople continued their theatrical display of not noticing me, even though I was the only other person in the room. So I wandered over to the staircase and went up to the second floor. I was somehow met by one of the previously uninterested now suddenly very interested salespeople. He told me that guests aren't normally allowed upstairs unescorted. Taking this as an offer to escort me, I asked to see the second-floor rooms and pianos.

We started our tour in the Artist Room, whose walls are covered with portraits of Steinway Artists. I immediately picked out Alicia's photo. We then went on to the large room at the end of the hall, where they keep the concert Ds and Bs. The salesman started probing a little, so I told him my story: how I became infatuated with an A out of my league, had a brief affair with a Boston 215 and ultimately found true love in my Essex 183. He conceded that the 183 was a nice piano, if not an A. They don't stock many of the larger Essex and Boston because people who shop for pianos on W57th are usually there for a Steinway (even if their piano needs are for something 7-feet and black for the empty space in the living room).

I think at this point we both sensed mass was over. I didn't play any Ds, but I had seen more beautiful Steinways than you can shake a topstick at. And playing those two As in the home of Steinway was an absolute joy. Next time I'll have to think up a story that will get me into the Concert Bank.