Dr. Vanessa Cornett-Murtada sits at the new Steinway in Schoenecker Center. (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)
Dr. Vanessa Cornett-Murtada sits at the new Steinway in Schoenecker Center

Music to Our Ears: St. Thomas Acquires New Steinway Concert Grand Piano for Schoenecker Center

Professor of Music Dr. Vanessa Cornett-Murtada traveled to Steinway & Sons in New York in March to select an extraordinary artisanal 9-foot concert grand piano for the new Schoenecker Center at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

She took a two-hour tour of the massive on-site factory and was able to watch piano components being made, before spending many hours in the showroom with five brand-new instruments. She did more than look. She performed repertoire in multiple styles, and by diverse composers, to gauge the touch, tone, and responsiveness of each instrument. She also listened while the piano was being performed by others, to hear the instrument from a distance.

“To be at the factory and the showroom in New York, to watch pianos being made by hand and to play on the finished pianos is the experience of a lifetime for any pianist,” Cornett-Murtada said. 

Professor Vanessa Cornett-Murtada plays Steinway piano
Music Professor Vanessa Cornett-Murtada in Schoenecker Center on April 5, 2024, in St. Paul, prepares to play the new Steinway piano. (Mark Brown / University of St. Thomas)

Why would anyone go through so much effort to travel and pick out a single piano? The answer is that Steinway & Sons is the most esteemed producer of concert grand pianos in the world. Because every Steinway concert grand is handcrafted by a group of skilled artisans, each piano is unique, and each provides the widest range of tone colors.

“The piano I selected for St. Thomas is without a doubt the finest piano I’ve ever played on, anywhere,” Cornett-Murtada explained. “I purposely selected the most versatile and responsive instrument in the Steinway showroom. This piano will do pretty much anything I ask it to do, and I can get almost any tone color I want out of it. It is a dream come true!”

The new handcrafted Steinway concert grand piano (model D) was recently delivered to St. Thomas, marking a momentous acquisition for the university, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Department of Music, Film and Creative Enterprise. The purchase was made possible by strategic planning in the building construction budget for the recently opened Schoenecker Center. It now sits in the performance center. 

“The opportunity for us to have an instrument of this caliber on our campus is a strong testament to the importance St. Thomas places on music and music learning,” Professor of Music Dr. Doug Orzolek said. “We certainly look forward to this beautiful piano contributing to our community for many years to come and we are very grateful to everyone who supported the process of selecting and bringing this special instrument to our campus.”

It takes approximately 14 months for workers at Steinway & Sons to handcraft a single concert grand piano. The soundboard of every Steinway grand is handmade from Alaskan spruce. The piano selected for St. Thomas features a German-engineered action, with parts measured to 1/32,000th of an inch. The iron frame is cast by hand in the Steinway metallurgy lab, and the felt hammers that strike the strings are made from Australian and African merino wool. The outer frame of a Steinway grand piano is crafted from a single piece of laminated hard rock maple that is conditioned and bent by hand by a team of five artisans working together.

These examples of extraordinary craftsmanship explain why many concert artists request Steinway pianos for their live concerts and studio performances. Registered Steinway artists have included Van Cliburn, Vladimir Horowitz, Arthur Rubinstein, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Diana Krall, Nina Simone and Billy Joel. Classical composers who owned or preferred a Steinway piano included Sergei Rachmaninoff, Franz Liszt, George Gershwin, Gustav Mahler and Igor Stravinsky.

Next in St. Thomas Magazine