For sale: 75 eighty-eights
Ryan Summerlin August 27, 2005
The Benedict Music Tent is filled with pianos this weekend – each one intricately crafted and all for sale.Most of them were used during the last nine weeks by pianists at the Aspen Music Festival and School. They are loaned to the school for the summer by Steinway & Sons, manufacturers of what are commonly referred to as the finest pianos in the world.Since the music festival and school ended last weekend, all of the pianos delivered to the school in early June are now for sale. The instruments range in size and include baby grands, concert grands and uprights in a number of finishes and types of wood.As of Saturday afternoon, half a million dollars worth of pianos had been sold, said Justin Holcomb, a piano technician from Denver who was working at the sale with his father, Rick. The sale, held by Wells Music, a Denver company that deals in Steinway & Sons pianos, includes several “Art Case” pianos designed by artists.
One, called “Pear Grove” includes detailed inlaid artwork of a grove of pear trees and sells for $235,000. Another piano is one of just 50 made several years ago to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Aspen Music Festival and School. The Art Case collection includes pianos in sometimes wild, ultramodern shapes.Another Steinway & Sons collection called the “Crown Jewel Collection” includes pianos made in traditional styles but with untraditional wood, including Kewazinga Bubinga wood from Africa that give a piano wilder colors and tones than a typical polished black satin finish.Holcomb’s father is the tuner for the Colorado Symphony, and together they practice the art of tuning the instruments and personalizing them to each pianist, whether the player has a heavy-handed style or a lighter touch. Neither of them actually play the piano – it’s a different art, Justin said.Only about three serious players have checked out the sale, he said, although one piano was sold for use in a recording studio.The Holcombs know enough about pianos to keep even the unmusical types interested, but there’s one other piano history heavyweight on hand to keep sale browsers enraptured. Franz Mohr, who was the chief concert technician for Steinway & Sons for more than 25 years and also legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz’s exclusive piano tuner, is on hand this weekend, lending not only good stories but decades of expertise to the sale.
“This is a fantastic selection of pianos – I got excited when I saw it,” he said. “And it’s a great plus that many of them are broken in – that’s nice for Steinways.”Mohr grew up in Germany playing violin and viola before a wrist injury curtailed his playing. He worked for the oldest piano manufacturing company in Germany and fell in love with Steinway & Sons pianos while working on concert grands. Eventually the company brought him to the United States to work as a technician, and he later become the chief concert technician.The company makes only 13 pianos per day, compared to companies like Yamaha that make 800 per day.”They’re handcrafted, so each is different – they feel different and they sound different. It’s a very individual thing,” he said.
Mohr is at the sale to help people find the right instrument – he says it’s his great joy to connect “the right person with the right piano.””Because of the 50 years I’ve spent working with pianos, I can say to a person, ‘That is your piano’ once they play it for me,” he said.The piano sale continues today at the Benedict Music Tent from noon to 5 p.m. For more information or an appointment, call Wells Music at 1-888-879-3557.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com