Restoring the HSO Steinway

“I love a piano, a grand piano,” swoons the old standard by Irving Berlin. “I know a fine way to treat a Steinway…”

The star of the HSO piano collection is our 1999 Steinway Model D, which we acquired new in the summer of that year. This is a classic nine-foot concert grand, used by guest soloists performing concertos with the orchestra as well as by HSO musicians playing piano parts within the ensemble.

As you might expect, it is a beautiful, superlatively crafted instrument. But it isn’t invincible; comprehensive maintenance is typically required approximately every twenty to twenty-five years.



Recent Restorations

Between 2021-23, the HSO has partnered with Lou Thiry, a master technician here in Huntsville, on a two-phase restoration plan.

The first phase centered on rebuilding the piano’s action. “Action” refers to the collective mechanism of the keys and hammers which work together to strike the piano’s strings, creating sound in response to the pianist’s touch.

Because of the precision and sensitivity required, the action of a grand piano consists of no fewer than 10,000 individual parts! The traditional wooden hammers were replaced with specially engineered carbon fiber components, mechanically hardy and more resilient than wood against periodic changes in temperature and humidity.

Included in the second phase were replacements of the piano’s Canadian Spruce soundboard with a new hand-matched specimen. This included the heavy wooden pin block which anchors the strings and their tuning pegs to the instrument’s frame under tons of tension, and the piano’s Swedish steel strings—more than 200 of them. Because this phase required protracted disassembly of the piano, the Steinway was temporarily relocated to Mr. Thiry’s workshop before returning to the Von Braun Center at the end of work.

Now that the dust has cleared, the piano sports a freshly dynamic, nuanced touch response and a more brilliant tone than ever before–it has been given a new lease on musical life. In the future, the HSO will undertake cosmetic work on the exterior finish, completing the piano’s reinvigoration inside and out.



Special Thanks

The extensive work could not have been undertaken without the support of a few generous and visionary Symphony patrons. Nancy and Skipper Colin, David and Maribel Chan, and an additional anonymous donor all contributed to make the work possible.

nancy and skipper colin
Skipper and Nancy Colin

Nancy and Skipper Colin are longtime supporters of the symphony. “It’s all about the instrument being in excellent condition for the talented musicians we invite to play,” Nancy relates. “Our contribution is in honor of my mother, Dorothea. She was a pianist, and I’ve always held the piano as a symbol of the unconditional love I received as a child—it is one of my treasures.” 

david and mirabel chan
David and Maribel Chan

“I’ve been attending HSO performances since around 1970,” says David Chan, “but the contribution to the piano restoration is really made by my young daughter, Mirabel. Her connection to the symphony isn’t as long as mine, of course, but it is equally joyous. She wanted to make this restoration possible because her mother is an accomplished pianist.”

We are immensely grateful to the donors whose generosity has enabled this vital, necessary project, sustaining the HSO Steinway grand piano for many years to come.