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Piano Tour Plays Tribute to Half a Million Steinways

Steinway & Sons, the venerable piano-manufacturing company, has long had a reputation for musical quality and tradition. The name alone evokes images of gleaming black grand pianos adorning elegant drawing rooms and international concert stages.

With the company’s 300,000th instrument in the East Room of the White House, the firm figured that something even more special would be on tap when the 500,000th Steinway was produced.

There is, and it’s here in Los Angeles, third stop on a world tour. Through Nov. 10, that piano is in residence at Sherman Clay & Co. on Wilshire Boulevard.

This milestone piano, completely handcrafted as are all Steinways, was designed by furniture craftsman Wendell Castle.

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Working with the basic Steinway inside frame, Castle, whose work is displayed in such museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Smithsonian Institution, selected several imported ebony woods for this creation, his first piano design. According to Sherman Clay spokesman Ron Brockway, the finished result is “a combination of design between the 18th and 21st centuries, with classic and contemporary styling.”

Signed by Castle as a piece of art, Steinway No. 500,000 also bears the laser-reproduced signatures--engraved in white on the lid and sides--of more than 800 current Steinway artists. Insured for $500,000, it travels with its own custom-fitted travel case and tool kit, and after a brief stop at South Coast Plaza’s Jewel Court in Costa Mesa, Nov. 11 through 13, it heads for Chicago and New York, then for a European and Asian tour.

In 1990, it will return to New York, where it will be auctioned at Christie’s, all proceeds going to the Steinway Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports piano performance and composition.

Steinway No. 500,000 made its debut in the music world June 1 at a Carnegie Hall gala concert celebrating the company’s 135th anniversary. On that occasion, 23 Steinway artists, including Misha Dichter, Leon Bates and Ruth Laredo, performed on Steinway pianos to a capacity audience.

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Only one person was chosen to sit at No. 500,000. That singular honor went to 10-year-old Albert Kim, a student at the Manhattan School of Music--surely a dramatic beginning for two careers.


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