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One grand piano

Bauman Auditorium’s massive new Bösendorfer receives rave reviews

New Residence hall construction

Music professor Kenn Willson’s computer screensaver doesn’t display photos of tranquil waterfalls, smiling family members, or soaring sports figures. Instead, it flashes through images of a blanket-wrapped piano being lifted from a truck and onto an empty stage.

Willson’s inspiration is a Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand piano, handcrafted in Austria and recently shipped to its new home in acoustically acclaimed Bauman Auditorium.

The Imperial is one of seven new pianos George Fox purchased this winter to replace and upgrade an aging set of three-decade-old pianos used by students and performers. Five are made by the Germany-based Schimmel company and two by Bösendorfer — a 175-year-old Viennese firm whose instruments were played by Liszt, Brahms, Dvorak, and Bernstein. The Bösendorfer Imperial is one of the largest grand pianos available today, stretching nine-and-a-half feet. Retail prices can reach $180,000, says Willson. According to famed pianist Garrick Ohlsson, it is “the Rolls-Royce of pianos.”

“It’s so responsive,” says Willson. “You can play it at a whisper level or make it roar like a full orchestra. It’s like it reads your fingertips before you touch the keys.”

While most pianos have 88 keys, the Imperial keyboard boasts 97. The nine sub-bass notes are used for a few compositions, but the main benefit is the additional resonance provided by the larger soundboard and extra strings. Like a violin, the entire piano case vibrates, allowing the Imperial to sustain pitches longer than a typical piano.

Willson, who earned a doctorate in piano performance and performs throughout the region, was invited to join the roster of Bösendorfer Artists. As such, the company may request him to perform concerts on their instruments. Bösendorfer scheduled him to perform a concert in Vienna this spring at the start of their “Happy Birthday, Mozart” celebration.

Music aficionados will have many opportunities to hear the Imperial next fall when the Department of Performing Arts launches several new concert series featuring alumni, faculty, and master artists.

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