Steinway piano makes a grand entrance at Sussex

A grand sound. Professor Martin Butler plays the Steinway 'D236' for Professor Ed Hughes and Laura McDermott.

Tony Banks

Steinway Hall

A piano with an illustrious past is soon to arrive at the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts on the University of Sussex campus.

Steinway ‘D236’ featured in The Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in 2013 and 2014 and has been played by celebrated pianists such as Ludovico Einaudi, whose popular compositions include the soundtrack for the TV series This is England, and James Horner, who wrote the soundtracks for Titanic and Avatar.

Now it has been bought by the University with a generous donation from Tony Banks, composer and member of the rock group Genesis and a Sussex alumnus.

It will be delivered on 28 April 2016 and set up in the newly refurbished Attenborough Centre.

The purchase went ahead after the piano was given a test run by University of Sussex music professors Martin Butler and Ed Hughes.

They gave an impromptu recital of pieces by Debussy and Bach at Steinway Hall in London, where the piano received a new set of higher register strings and its bodywork was restored to showroom standards.

Professor Butler said: “It has an incredible power. The higher notes have a pearly sound that blossoms and hangs. The lower notes hold their purity, no matter how loudly they are played. Sussex has never had a concert grand like this before.”

The piano was hand-built in the Steinway factory in Hamburg in 2010 and, at 2m 74cm, is the longest of the models produced by the 163-year-old business. Although the instruments are built to the same original design, the method of construction means that each piano has its own individual sound.

Tony Banks, who was taught piano from the age of seven, has been credited with giving Genesis its distinctive sound of unusual chords and chords sequences. He began a degree in Chemistry at Sussex in 1968 but left after a year as his music career began to take off.

In an interview with the University’s alumni magazine, Falmer, Tony remembered: “I wrote a lot at Sussex and it was a really creative period for me. It was also the time when I first started to get more seriously into classical music.

“I would like to have finished my course and I do rather miss that more academic side of life, but the music was a very big calling, and having the opportunity to explore it was just too important.”

Laura McDermott, Creative Director at the Attenborough Centre, said: “It’s a beautiful piano, with an interesting and prestigious heritage. It has been carefully chosen for our context - to be suitable for younger and developing pianists as well as world-class concert musicians. I look forward to hearing it being played in our auditorium, which has the perfect acoustics to appreciate its sound.”

The piano’s first public outing will be for the Music department’s final-year exam recitals on 31 May 2016.


By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Friday, 22 April 2016