Steinway & Sons

Steinway piano store ‘a happy place’

BY L.H. TIFFANY HSIEH

 

alex_walkerIt’s no secret a Steinway is among the Lamborghinis of pianos.

But just what are the secrets of Steinway?

For one thing, the American and German piano manufacturer’s exclusive dealer in the GTA — the Steinway Piano Gallery Toronto — is located in a quiet, low-key industrial area in Markham.

But look again and there is nothing low-key about the plaza. Its small parking lot is loaded with Mercedes and BMWs with predominantly Asian children being dropped off for classes at the Euromusic Centre — organizer of the classical piano competition, the Markham Music Festival, for the last 16 years.

“It’s really quite a happy place to come,” said Alex Walker, general manager of Steinway Piano Gallery Toronto. “We are not just an expensive store, we are property located to serve the music community in the Toronto area. Traffic has been quite high.”

Mr. Walker pointed out that Markham and Richmond Hill combined probably have the highest number of music students per capita in the GTA.

But aside from that, the location of a Steinway gallery here was a no-brainer. Like the conjoined Euromusic Centre, it’s a division of Tom Lee Music Group.

The Vancouver-based company is a Steinway dealer and one of the largest music retailers in Canada with branches in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Among other things, Tom Lee Music has a superstar on its list of friends — the flamboyant Chinese pianist Lang Lang, whose one-line endorsement for Steinway reads: “There is no way but Steinway”.

Not all Steinway artists are alike, but there is nothing low-key about Mr. Lang and his performances.

The same can be said of his instrument of choice.

From the forest floor to Steinway & Sons’ factory floor in Queens, New York, to the newly opened Steinway piano showroom in Markham, Steinway pianos are handcrafted using techniques dating back more than 100 years and transformed from more than 12,000 individual parts.

A Steinway grand piano takes nearly a year to create.

“It’s a lost art. Each one has its own charm,” Mr. Walker said. “When you play a Steinway, it’s an exclamation mark instead of a question mark.”

That may sound like a sales pitch from a piano salesman, but Mr. Walker, who is a classically trained jazz musician, prefers to describe himself and his associates who are also professionally trained pianists as matchmakers.

“People buy cellphones or cars every two to three years, but people will only buy a piano once or twice in a lifetime,” Mr. Walker said.

“So we are piano matchmakers with high musical skills. We ask customers for permission to explain the pianos. It’s the nicest environment to come to and buy the piano of your dreams.”

There are many on the showroom floor — 22 as of last week and about 60 more in the nearby “selection centre”.

It took three trips from New York to ship them in and a special John Lennon limited edition — one of about 100 — is scheduled to arrive in Markham at a moment’s notice.

The white Lennon grand piano will join a prestige fleet that includes a rare East Indian Rosewood grand piano, a satin ebony concert grand and other, more affordable Steinway- designed pianos, Boston and Essex.

A Steinway concert grand — the largest grand piano stretching about nine feet in length — can vary in price from about $140,000 to $1 million depending on the finish, Mr. Walker said.

It’s one of the most trusted and revered pianos in big and small concert halls around the world, including Markham Theatre and the newly anointed Steinway Music Hall at Euromusic Centre.

The unassuming recital hall can seat about 100 and features two Steinways grands on stage.

Not only will Euromusic students and outside groups get to perform there, the school’s classrooms will also be outfitted with Steinway pianos soon.

“Steinway is a lifetime piano, they invented the modern piano,” Mr. Walker said.

He said while other piano makers have copied various Steinway advancements over the years, it’s the complete recipe that makes Steinway pianos unique.

So what are the real secrets of Steinway anyway?

“It’s all the things that you can’t see,” said Mr. Walker, who doesn’t own a Steinway, “but I will”.

 

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