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Piano Concert Commemorates UWF’s Status As All-Steinway School

 

Once a year, the combination of dedicated and talented students, thousands of hours of practice and 18 of the world’s finest pianos means an unparalleled night for Pensacola music lovers.  Thanks to a generous donation a decade ago, the University of West Florida’s Department of Music presents its All-Steinway Celebration at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, in the Music Hall of the Center for the Fine and Performing Arts on campus.  “It’s an amazing celebration that showcases the work we do throughout the year,” said Nyasha Brice, a junior , who will perform pieces by Bach and Gershwin. Other student performers are James Matthews, Daniel Kern, Hannah Ji, Lydia Harris, Tyler Wilson, Kelly Wu, and Meredith Stemen performing works by Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Gershwin and Albeniz. Dr. Hedi Salanki-Rubardt, director of chamber music, piano program and harpsichord at UWF, and her colleague Blake Riley, assistant professor of collaborative piano, will play as well. 

 

  UWF became an “All-Steinway” school with a gift of 18 pianos from Pensacola resident Helen Wentworth. She decided to give the donation in honor of her late husband Warren, a Steinway aficionado and Pensacola-based entrepreneur, who died in 2003.  “I wanted to do something with the Steinway, because he loved the Steinway and always looked forward to having a Steinway. He started taking music when he was 6 years old and played and he was a piano tuner toward the end of his life, and he loved the Steinway piano and said ‘there’s no comparison with it and other pianos,’ ” she said in an interview at the time of her donation.  Helen  Wentworth,  UWF’s Martha Lee Blodgett and members of the music department traveled to New York to the Steinway factory in 2006 to select the final five grands. Ten pianos are grand, the other eight are uprights.

 

With the acquisition, the school received the All-Steinway endorsement, a designation given to only about 175 institutions around the world. UWF is one of four in Florida. The other three are the University of Florida, the University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida. “It’s just such a wonderful gift,” said Blodgett, Associate Vice President for the Division of Advancement. “Think of the legacy. Think of the students who get the opportunity to learn their craft on the best of the best instruments.”  Dr. Salanki-Rubardt echoed that comment, “A musical instrument, it has a soul; When our students are learning, it is the most crucial time to have excellent pianos.”  The students are growing. Bad pianos could give bad habits. We have no concerns about that.”  

 

“We are so fortunate to benefit from Mrs. Wentworth’s generous gift,” said Bolton Ellenberg, a former UWF student who is now the accompanist for its music department. “Musicians know that Steinways have this wonderful sound. Every piano is different so a performer might be concerned when playing an instrument for the first time. However, if that piano is a Steinway that has been properly maintained and tuned, then the sound is absolutely reliable.”  Ellenberg, who played in the first All Steinway Showcase at the age of 12, will present “Totentanz” by Listz during Saturday’s performance.  

 

The pianos certainly get their share of workouts. James Matthews, a senior who will perform Tchaikovsky’s “Concerto in B Flat Minor, Opus 23, First Movement,” has been working on his piece for a year. He said it is not uncommon for people studying to be performance pianists to rehearse five to eight hours a day.  “Wow, if you consider that, I would really need to calculate how many thousands of hours I have practiced,” he said. For Matthews, the practice has paid off. He has twice performed at Carnegie Hall. 

 

 This article is part of a collaboration between WUWF and the UWF Center for Research and Economic Opportunity.