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London’s South Bank sells Brendel’s Steinway to Caracas

The pianist Clara Rodriguez has a curious story of a kind that never gets into the news.

Clara, who is based in London, had been asked by the Teresa Carreno Centre back home to buy them a concert grand. The London dealership of Steinways refused to sell, saying their models were not suited to Latin climates….

Then Clara heard that London’s South Bank Centre was downsizing its stock of Steinways. With the help of an ingenious piano engineer, Peter Salisbury, Clara airlifted a Steinway played by Alfred Brendel and other legends out of the South Bank to a new life in South America.

Here’s her story below, exclusively on Slipped Disc.

clara rodriguez

In February 2012 Professor Jose Antonio Naranjo kindly asked me to help the National Music Company to purchase a piano for the Sala José Félix Ribas of the Teresa Carreño Complex. My heart skipped a beat! Professor Naranjo had been after this idea for 3 years until finally the then Minister for Culture Pedro Calzadilla approved the funds. I immediately made a small list of piano technicians I know in London and as soon as I got home in Wimbledon I met with Peter Salisbury.

To explain who Mister Salisbury is I will go back to the year 1989 when I played my first recital at the Purcell Room – Royal Festival Hall Room of the Southbank Centre in London. Peter Salisbury has been one of the technicians of that important cultural centre for about 25 years. He is one of the 5 or 6 technicians internationally with the level that is capable of servicing pianos for the greatest pianists and who is constantly on call from recording labels and other concert venues such as the Sydney Opera House, to name just one.


peter salisbury

Peter Salisbury entered Steinway house as an apprentice at fifteen, ten years later he was a professional. What is this training about? Peter explains that he spent three years learning to tune, three more years learning to handle and make every part of the machinery of the instrument and as many years learning the art of calibrating each sound to perfection as well as the resistance of each key so the balance is equalized. It is the work of a craftsman with artististic sensitivity . Peter is passionate about pianos and piano work. His life has been dedicated to achieving a level of perfection so that pianists can perform on instruments in which they can find dynamics that can go from subtle pianissimos to the most powerful fortissimos and most importantly, so that we can do the full range of nuances that good pianists know to exist between those extremes. Colours, shadows, different kinds of embossing musical phrases is what we seek when we perform in order to give life to the music. That, in my oppinion is the true artistic purpose of good pianists … or at least those from the old school!
Peter Salisbury complained a few days ago because he says that that tradition which comes from the greatest such as Chopin, Liszt, Clara Schumann is dying and he attributes the blame to the international competitions that reward those who play fast and loud, busting strings and un-tuning the pianos from the first notes they touch because they do not care much for producing sublime sounds through relaxation, but practically these are characters that could be defined as pugilists or “musical athletes”.

In my case, I had the joy of playing pianos served by Peter in about 15 concerts with works from the universal repertoire as the Sonata in B minor by Liszt and pieces by Chopin, Schubert, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart without forgetting that I premiered many works by Federico Ruiz, Mirtru Escalona, Alfredo Rugeles, Ricardo Lorenz as well as music from the rest of South American music for the wonderful London audience.  The experience has always been the best you can have as a concert pianist. To have an instrument where the interpreter can let his/her imagination loose and where we can concentrate deeper because we know that we can let the music speak as we thought, we can make our true interpretation of the selected works.

So I did not hesitate in contacting Peter Salisbury for this project for Venezuela in order to find the best possible piano.

I have to say that I went to Steinway House in Marylebone Lane and they told me that Venezuela could not buy a European piano, they had to get an American one!, well, we all know the difference! specially in the tropics, humidity does cause horrible effects on the American Steinways.

By good fortune the Southbank Centre is in a period of renewal and this is one of the pianos they wanted to sell. Peter restored it and built a second mechanism or extra action which can be applied and removed with ease. The advantage of this innovation is that it doubles the life of the instrument, in addition there is a difference in timbre or colour.

I am infinitely grateful to our dear “Toñito” Naranjo who has believed in my word and after eighteen months of red tape, elections, the President’s death, new elections, new President, hundreds of emails, linked to the tenacity the love my country has given me, the dream of having here an instrument of this quality plus the constant moral support from Peter Salisbury and the members of the National Music Company, I HAVE TO BREATHE, the piano is ready to be performed in an inauguration on August 9, 2013 at 6.00 pm.

Among the pianists who have also played concerts and recorded piano CDs on this piano are Eugene Kissin, Maurizio Pollini, Alfred Brendel, Barry Douglas … yours truly.

Apart from the professional relationship I have with Peter Salisbury, he was for many years the technician of my piano teacher in London, Phyllis Sellick, and Peter ten years ago, married a pianist and my great friend for over twenty years, Eva Maria Alexandre.



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  1. robcat2075 says:

    “… they told me that Venezuela could not buy a European piano, they had to get an American one!, well, we all know the difference! specially in the tropics, humidity does cause horrible effects on the American Steinways.”

    So a European Piano is unsuitable and so is an American one.

    I’m not sure what solution was arrived at. What was done to make the (European?) piano ultimately purchased able to survive Venezuela?

  2. “What was done to make the (European?) piano ultimately purchased able to survive Venezuela?”

    Extreme climatic conditions are of course a serious issue on any piano. The course of action taken was to prepare the piano for the specific environment. That entailed ensuring that the concert hall management understood the level of climate control that was required to keep the instrument in performance condition as it was in London.

    I travelled with the instrument from London and worked on site in the hall in Venezuela to ensure that conditions were suitable.The piano had been specifically prepared well in advance to take this into account and then allowed four days of technical set up after delivery to see that everything was stable.
    As a concert technician, I am very fond of that instrument as it is a very beautiful piano. I have worked on that instrument over many years for some very memorable performances and cd’s. It’s my experience that if that passion is demonstrated congruently, people get the message and ensure it remains in the correct conditions where possible. If I don’t care what happens next, why should they? And i do care, that’s part of what being an artisan is all about.

  3. At Steinwyas they also said to me that the reason Venezuela could not buy an European piano had to do with jurisdiction, according to the gentleman, an American country HAS to buy in America…it was funny to see the face of the salesman when I told him I had known Bob Glazebrook and that he had not said any such things, on the contrary he had mentioned the fleet of second hand pianos Steinways has from which Venezuela could have purchased an excellent piano for 5.000 punds -about 14 years ago- the nowadays cost is of about 95.000.
    They then inmediately wanted to show me the piano Lang Lang had just played under the rain in Buckingham Palace gardens during the Jubilee, I declined the invitation.

    • Clara, estuve presente durante tu ejecución en la sala josé felix ribas y estuvistes magnífica. Saludos

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