Meredith's New Toy: The Robert H. Lewis Steinway
by John W. Lambert
October 10, 2006, Raleigh, NC: Meredith's new Steinway D grand arrived at the West Raleigh college during the summer — see http://www.meredith.edu/mcnews/steinway.htm [inactive 6/10] — and has been used in several concerts since then, including one on September 5 that was the first of what the Music Department calls its Steinway Series. There've been others, by Meredith artists and visitors, and there are many more on the horizon — for details, the best place to look is probably college's series tab. But on the evening of October 10, there was a gala celebration of the new instrument that served as its formal dedication, and a very handsome, mostly white-tie affair it was, too. Various Meredith dignitaries were on hand, of course, and David Lynch, head of the Department of Music, served as master of ceremonies. He spoke of his long friendship with Robert H. Lewis, the donor of this instrument, summoning up the distant past with some of his remarks; truly, their working relationship spans most of Lynch's own long career and the college's several ups and downs, too. Lewis spoke briefly, introducing members of his family, who filled out the seats on the north side of Carswell Recital Hall — the place was, as one might have guessed, packed.
The program demonstrated the overall excellence of the keyboard itself. Kent Lyman and James Fogle got things underway with the first movement of Mozart's Sonata in C, K.521, for piano four hands; duets were all the rage in proper households (on both sides of the pond) till the invention of records and the development of pop music. It was good to hear this spectacular example, although chances are no beginners or dilettantes could have realized it with the skill and precision of these two master artists! The performance of the Mozart brought with it the concert's most copious piano sound, thanks to those twenty digits, although it was of course not the loudest or the most dramatic fare of the evening.
Karen Allred played four exceptional preludes from a set of six (Op. 6) by Sergei Lyapunov (1859-1924), whose music is the subject of her dissertation, and while he wasn't quite Rachmaninov (whom some consider de rigeur for piano dedications), these works were close enough, and they alternated in mood, technical demands, dynamics, and bravura just as much as Old Rocky (a.k.a. Stoneface) himself.
Meredith has its own composer, too, and it was good to hear a sample of Tom L. Lohr's fairly recent work — a (presumably notated) Improvisation from 2002 — and some much earlier atonal pieces from 1977.
Lyman then encored one of the most brilliant sets in his active repertory, Ginastera's Tres Piezas, performing them even more marvelously this time than on September 5 — although it's completely possible that those who heard them on both occasions responded more favorably because the music was more familiar.
Last but hardly least, Frank Pittman, one of our region's most versatile artists and chamber musicians (and, like the others, a fine teacher, too), performed the Ballade No. 4, in f minor, Op. 52, a Chopin masterwork that has everything in one fairly neat, tight little package. It was touching to have him be the cleanup hitter, too, because one of the artists who advised Meredith on the selection of this piano was Pittman's great teacher, Walter Hautzig, who plays Chopin with distinction (and who has performed several times at Meredith). More than a little of Hautzig's interpretive wizardry has rubbed off on Pittman, and everyone present seemed to know it, when the piece roared to its conclusion.
Thus in Mozart, in Russian fare, in contemporary American music, in Ginastera and in the grand master of the piano, Chopin, the new instrument met Meredith's best faculty artists, who helped it reveal its myriad tones, delicacies, and powers. It passed this inaugural test with flying colors.
With the music over, Lynch invited Lewis to return to the platform to do the ceremonial signing. He also presented the donor the three little red booties that Steinway shipped on the piano's "feet." And a rep from Steinway New York was on hand to recognize and thank Lewis, too; she presented one of the famous Steinway lyres in the form of a lapel pin. And then when that was over, Meredith put on the most spectacular reception offered there in memory. Yes, the Steinway is good. Long may the celebrations continue!