IT’S a grand tale of two Steinways which have provided a headache for two local authorities.
They are found on concert platforms all over the world but both Cheshire County and Chester City councils have had problems maintaining their concert grand pianos.
The Town Hall instrument is enjoying a new lease of life having overcome difficulties which arose a number of years ago.
Cultural organisations who made use of the piano discreetly raised the point it was perhaps well past its best.
It was suggested that top class players might not be willing to come to Chester to perform if the piano itself was not top notch.
Steinway came up with hefty five figure estimates to refurbish the instrument but, to the relief of local organisations and music lovers, arrangements were found to ensure the necessary work could be carried out and the piano maintained in a satisfactory condition.
It is now revealed the county council’s Steinway is languishing in St Mary's Centre, having fallen into disrepair.
The grand is familiar to many throughout Cheshire having graced the platform at Tatton Park for the seasons of winter recitals which were held there on a regular basis.
It was played by world renowned pianists such as Moura Lympany, who also performed on the Town Hall Steinway for Chester Music Society, and John Ogdon.
Like the Town Hall piano, it has been part of the city’s musical scene and has been used for concerts by Chester in Concert, Chester Music Society and the Chester Summer Music Festival.
Originally owned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, it was bought by North West Arts and then by the county council for its arts service more than 30 years ago.
More recently, it has been loaned out free of charge with the organisations booking the instrument footing the bill for insurance, removal costs and tuning.
Echoing the city council’s earlier problems, county arts and culture manager Helen Battersby said: “The piano has fallen into a state of disrepair, prompting complaints from users of the instrument and concerns that high quality performers will not be attracted to Chester if a top quality instrument is not available for use.”
Steinway have been back to the city and say the piano needs immediate work costing almost £10,000. Restringing and an overhaul would cost £28,646.
The county council has disclosed that urgent work was carried out in 2007 costing £5,775 which at least rendered the piano safe to use.
Steinway say that if the piano was fully restored, its value would be between £50,000 and £60,000. In its present state it is worth between £6,000 and £8,000. A new one would cost almost £100,000.
A report points out the county council cannot afford to cover the cost of full repairs and if the instrument is left to decline, it could be lost to the north west.
County Hall has been considering four options ranging from doing nothing to giving the instrument away. A suitable organisation would be able to apply for funding, it is suggested, or attract sponsorship.
It could sell the piano in its present state and use the cash for fundraising to buy an instrument of similar quality or could fundraise to cover the cost of the repairs.
County councillors were recommended to agree the piano should be gifted to the Chester Festivals Partnership.
The partnership has strong links with the private sector and is well placed to attract sponsorship and apply for funding which would not be available to the county council, believes the report.
The grand would continue to be housed in St Mary’s Centre.
The County Hall executive has approved the gift with the proviso the new Cheshire East council can have access to the instrument on agreed terms.
The county council believes this gives the best possible chance of the instrument being retained for future community use.