In the modern era, most pianists don’t travel with their own instruments when they perform on tours. But pianist Vladimir Horowitz had the luxury of having his piano with him every time he had to travel and perform during the last four years of his life.
And this special piano, which Horowitz kept in his New York townhouse and used as his exclusive instrument on tour, will be on the grounds of Chautauqua for a demonstration Friday, July 27, and for a presentation on Saturday, July 28.
The open demonstration is at 11 a.m. Friday, July 27, in Sherwood-Marsh Studios. The public will be able to hear discussions among Jon Nakamatsu, Nicola Melville, John Milbauer and Robert Bussell on the Horowitz piano and another 9-foot Steinway Concert D in Sherwood-Marsh Studios.
Nakamatsu, a concert pianist and artist-in-residence for the Piano Program, will also play on the Horowitz piano to see how it feels different from other instruments. Chautauqua piano students will have the opportunity to play the piano afterward.
According to Bussell, a registered piano technician, even though all of the pianos share the same name — piano — they are individuals, especially Steinway & Sons pianos.
Bussell has worked at Chautauqua Institution since 2012 as the Music Festival concert piano technician and has attended four weeks of advance Steinway factory training, in addition to being an RPT since 1988.
Friday’s event is a rare opportunity for the piano students to see, hear and even play this 9-foot piano following the demonstration. On Saturday, July 28, Jim Hoover of Steinway & Sons will lead another public demonstration at 1 p.m. in Sherwood-Marsh Studios. The public will have the chance to reserve five-minute time slots to play the Horowitz piano on Saturday by contacting the School of Music office. According to Milbauer, co-chair of the Piano Program, Friday’s event is a way of investigating the magic of Horowitz’s piano and trying to uncover what made it so special. Milbauer said the relationship Horowitz had with his piano was the last great piano-pianist relationship.
“Now it’s not feasible anymore to travel with one’s own instrument,” Milbauer said. “It’s too expensive.”
According to Nakamatsu, adjusting to an unfamiliar piano is a must-have skill for pianists, albeit a difficult one.
“One of the hardest things for a pianist is that we meet a new instrument at every concert,” Nakamatsu said, “and in a few hours, we have to somehow make it seem like we’ve known it forever.”
Milbauer said today’s event is a great opportunity to try to see some hidden part of Horowitz’s “magical” playing through his instrument, which was heavily adjusted to meet Horowitz’s own needs and preferences.
“When we listen to Horowitz’s recordings, we are constantly overwhelmed by his ability not only as a pianist, but as a musician,” Nakamatsu said. “(He was) really the last of the Romantic pianists — this long-gone style of playing that we don’t hear in the modern world any more.”
According to Nakamatsu, to have Horowitz’s piano for people in Chautauqua to look at, understand and even to play, “we could see a side of him as an artist, and as a pianist, get into his mind, a little bit of what he liked, and how he prefered to have the piano feel and sound.”