First you start a classical concert series, then you get a stage built, after that you decide that the top-notch performers you are getting need a top-notch grand piano.
Or that’s the way things worked out for a group of music-loving friends in Chapel Hill.
In 2008, as a new resident of The Cedars, I met Paul and Skip Green and learned that we had a mutual love for classical music along with a serious interest in establishing frequent, high-quality classical performances. Using the Greens’ large apartment and their 1927 Steinway concert grand piano, we started a chamber music program and attracted artists from around the world who were pleased to perform for a live audience in a rehearsal setting in preparation for more formal concerts elsewhere. When these performances attracted more than the Greens’ apartment could hold, we formed a Classical Concert Series Committee and made plans to establish an annual concert series and hold them in The Cedars ballroom.
A subscription campaign offered to Cedars residents and selected outside guests covered the expenses of the first concert season in 2010-11, including musicians’ fees, leasing and tuning a concert grand piano, and renting a portable stage. As we approach our fifth season, annual subscriptions continue to provide adequate funds for each season.
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Our goal from the beginning: Present six extraordinary concerts each season, selecting the most accomplished solo and ensemble musicians. We also wanted an interesting mixture of performances and at least one instrumental surprise, such as an organ, harp or classical guitar. Committed to providing the highest-quality performances, we draw artists from the leading music conservatories, such as Juilliard, Curtis, Peabody and the New England Conservatory of Music. We also find outstanding talent from the N.C. Symphony, the N.Y. Philharmonic, and the music departments of UNC, N.C. State, other NC, Virginia and Maryland universities, plus Duke, Emory and Harvard.
The ballroom lacked a raised stage and was used as a multipurpose space, so early on we investigated various ways to create a stage that could be used both for concerts and many other activities. Thanks to Sara Flynn, the executive director of The Cedars, and two resident architects, Weezie Oldenburg and Herb Lawton, the 2013-14 season opened with a new stage and improved lighting built by The Cedars.
Leasing a grand piano was expensive and created problems of delivery and tuning before each performance. That’s when our concert committee launched a search for a topnotch grand piano. Some we heard about didn’t meet our criteria of either manufacturer or model. We found a Steinway Model D in Raleigh and had it tested extensively by concert pianist and recording artist Frederick Moyer, who spent four hours playing the instrument and doing things like using weights to measure how long it took each key to drop. A great piano, but ultimately too expensive for our budget. We also found a Model C in excellent condition, but again the price was high for us.
Concert pianists kept telling us that a Steinway Model B would be best for our ballroom setting. At the suggestion of Fred Moyer, Paul Green and I drove to Pinehurst to look at a Model B. The piano was in a large, empty house and was the only piece of furniture there. The old piano was dusty and in less than performance-level condition, but the piano technician we had with us said it had enough possibilities. The price was right and the piano was immediately available for restoration work. In April 2013 a bill of sale was signed with the owner, and four committee members covered the purchase price.
We invited bids for restoration work on our new prize and finally hired expert piano restorers John Foy and John Johanson in Greensboro. We took a collective deep breath and signed a contract, and then immediately started to raise the money to cover the basic restoration commitment. Initially, all members of the committee contributed to the piano fund, and other residents began to donate a variety of amounts, enough to cover the restoration work.
It was a big job. We wanted a completely restored piano as good as or better than a new Model B Steinway. That meant replacing every part except the case, the harp and the pedals, though those and other small items required refinishing.
On August 21 this year four of us went to the shop in Greensboro and listened and watched as concert pianists Susan Mullins and Dmitri Shteinberg tested the restored piano. Once some technical keyboard adjustments were made, our piano was delivered to the Cedars ballroom to be “voiced” to its new home for our first concert of the 2014-15 season next Sunday, Sept. 28, which will feature Clara Yang, a recording artist and member of the UNC Music Department.
Don Rorke is chair of the Classical Concert Series at The Cedars of Chapel Hill.