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Get your hands on 5 famous pianos during the Games

SHARE Get your hands on 5 famous pianos during the Games

The chances are slim that during his concert here in February, Itzhak Perlman will loan you his Stradivarius to fiddle a tune on. But for those looking for the chance to play music on famous instruments, there is hope.

Five famous Steinway pianos will be on display at the Abravanel Hall Lobby Feb. 8-24 from 1-4 p.m. daily. The exhibit is free to the public.

Each piano has its own personality, said Steinway vice president Frank Mazurco. "If these pianos could talk, they would have incredible stories to tell."

The first piano on display is a brand new one making its public debut at the Cultural Olympiad. The "Olympia" was created by renown artist and designer Dale Chihuly, whose 27-foot glass sculpture is also currently located in the lobby of Abravanel Hall.

The piano's purpose is artistic, Mazurco said, and carries Chihuly's trademark colorful glass, but it has a sound so beautiful that "any pianist would die to get their hands on it."

While the Olympia may have unsurpassed beauty, the second piano on display, Vladimir Horowitz's personal piano, makes up for its nicks with character and sound.

"I think people will be surprised to see Vladimir Horowitz's piano is so banged up," said 2002 Cultural Olympiad director Raymond T. Grant. "Whenever he had a concert they moved it out of his apartment through the window with a crane. Therein lies some of its character."

Horowitz took the concert grand with him all over, including on his famous 1989 tour of Russia, calling it his "incomparable friend."

The third piano on display was owned by another name that is synonymous with pianists, Van Cliburn. Cliburn took the world by storm when he, at age 23, won the First International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

The fourth piano was designed in honor of the 100th anniversary of George Gershwin's birth. The Rhapsody in Blue is an artdeco piece with more than 1,000 mother of pearl stars and a music desk carved into the shape of the New York skyline.

The fifth piano was made to mark the completion of Steinway's 500,000th serial number grand piano in 1988. The piano features the engraved signatures of more than 800 famous pianists who use Steinways.

What sets this apart from other exhibits is the hands-on nature of it. At the pianos, there will be sheets where people can sign up to actually play the pianos.

"The notion that emanated from this exhibit was that of participation," Grant said. "That even if you can only play 'Chopsticks,' you can still play it on Horowitz's piano. You can also play 'Rhapsody in Blue' on the Rhapsody piano."

Mazurco explained the allure of playing these pianos like this: "Imagine that you're a car fanatic and someone puts you in an Indy 500 car. It's something like that."

Mazurco said it is emotional to watch the responses of some of the people who come to play the pianos.

"We have videos of people who are so overcome by emotion after playing that they just can't speak. Some of these people idolized Horowitz for decades and playing his piano was something incredibly special to them."

Taking care of the pianos during their stay for the Cultural Olympiad will be Salt Lake's Daynes Music, which sells Steinways.

Gerald "Skip" Daynes, the fourth generation president of Dayne's Music, said Utah is a natural fit for the exhibit.

"I'm excited the pianos will be here because we live in a musical state with a great heritage of music," Daynes said.

Grant reiterated this idea and added that more pianos are sold per capita in Utah than in any other state in the United States making music "the social fabric of this community."

Grant isn't worried that piano lovers will come out to see and play the pianos, he's sure they will. What he does hope, though, is that the pianos may grab the attention of those visitors who are not aware of the cultural side of the Winter Games.

"The pianos give an added perspective for those concertgoers," Grant said. "But if there are people at the Games who come out of the cold, step into Abravanel Hall and take a minute to listen to or play the pianos and from this come to understand that the cultural experience is an integral part of the Games, that would make it all worth it."

Mazurco says it's his job to be nervous about the pianos while they are on the road but would never consider the pianos only being looked at and not touched.

"Our pianos were meant to be played, it's that simple," Mazurco said.

But isn't pounding out with one finger "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" or "Axel F" on Horowitz's piano something akin to blasphemy?

Mazurco says the song doesn't matter. "As long as it's done for the love of piano, we don't care what they play on it."

E-MAIL: pthunell@desnews.com