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U-M to unveil historic George Gershwin piano at free concert

September 23, 2014

U-M to unveil historic George Gershwin piano at free concert

A fully restored 1933 Model A Steinway piano, owned and played by George Gershwin, will be unveiled by the School of Music, Theatre & Dance at a free public concert Oct. 10.

The piano was donated to the school in 2013 by Marc Gershwin, George Gershwin’s nephew, as a crowning gesture of partnership between the Gershwin families and U-M during the creation of the U-M Gershwin Initiative.

Announced last year, the initiative provides U-M with complete access to the Gershwin archives to develop the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition — the only scholarly edition of the Gershwins’ music — as well as student performances, new courses and scholarly symposia of national reach and impact.

The concert will be at 8:30 p.m. at Hill Auditorium. No tickets are required.

Featuring a wide spectrum of music by George and Ira Gershwin, the multi-disciplinary concert, performed by students and faculty, will highlight the piano and reflect the many genres at which the Gershwins’ excelled — including classical music, jazz, opera, musical theatre and dance — all of which have renowned performance programs at SMTD.

Included will be some of the Gershwins’ most celebrated works, such as “Three Preludes,” selections from “Porgy and Bess,” and the first performance of the critical edition draft of “Rhapsody in Blue,” featuring the original jazz orchestration from the work’s 1924 debut by the Paul Whiteman Band.

George Gerswhin works at the piano that has been donated to U-M and which will be featured at a free concert Oct. 10. (Photo courtesy of the Ira Gershwin Archive)

In addition, audience members will learn about the piano restoration from Robert Grijalva, director and assistant professor of piano technology, who oversaw the project, and Mark Clague, associate professor of musicology and editor-in-chief of the George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition.

“As plans for the U-M Gershwin Initiative evolved, I realized that the University of Michigan would be the ideal home for my uncle’s Steinway,” Marc Gershwin said. “I wanted the instrument to be accessible to the students and faculty who would be preserving the legacy of George and Ira Gershwin’s music through this important initiative.

"I’m delighted that the piano will once again be in regular use, and am thrilled that it has been restored to performance condition.”

“The opportunity to perform on George Gershwin’s piano will be extraordinarily inspirational for our students and faculty,” said Christopher Kendall, dean of SMTD. “We are so grateful to Marc for his generosity and to the entire Gershwin family for their vision and commitment to ensuring that the music of their remarkable forbears will be preserved through the U-M Gershwin Initiative.

"This concert will be the first of many at SMTD to celebrate the Gershwins’ music with exciting, historically informed performances.”

A pre-concert talk beginning at 7:30 p.m. will feature musicologists Ryan Banagale of Colorado College, author of “Arranging Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue and the Creation of an American Icon” and volume editor of the “Rhapsody in Blue” edition, and Richard Crawford, a U-M professor emeritus of musicology and renowned Gershwin scholar who is completing a book titled “Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music.”

To further explore the piano’s illustrious history and exacting restoration, a panel discussion will take place at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at Hill Auditorium. Participants will include Grijalva, Banagale and Clague, as well as Marc Gershwin and Mike Strunsky, nephew of Ira Gershwin. The event is free and open to the public.

After George Gershwin’s untimely death in 1938, the U-M Gershwin piano resided in the New York City apartment of his mother, Rose Gershwin. Following her death in 1948, Marc Gershwin’s parents, Arthur and Judy, occupied the apartment. Almost never played during this period, the piano did not move from the apartment until it was brought to Ann Arbor in the spring of 2013.  


Faculty members from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance discuss the Gershwin piano, its role at U-M and how it was meticulously restored.

The U-M instrument is one of three Gershwin pianos in the United States. The others are housed in the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in New York.

Steinway’s records indicate that George Gershwin took delivery of the piano in January 1934 while preparing for the 10th anniversary tour of “Rhapsody in Blue.” It is presumed that he used the instrument to produce portions of “Porgy and Bess,” first performed in 1935.

In partnership with Patrick DeBeliso, proprietor and master artisan-craftsman of PianoCrafters Inc. of Plymouth, Michigan, the Gershwin piano has undergone several hundred hours of careful rehabilitation to restore it to playable condition.

The instrument received a new soundboard — handcrafted to duplicate the original, which suffered from both age-related deterioration and an irreparable crack — strings, keyboard, hammer and damper actions. The exterior of the piano was not refinished, although the case was cleaned to remove decades of dirt and grime.

“It will retain the look of a piano that was used by a great composer,” said Grijalva. “A bit worn around the edges, but otherwise presentable.”

Grijalva and DeBeliso documented the yearlong restoration process, and the challenges faced by the technicians, in a blog on the U-M Gershwin Initiative website.

The piano’s original keyboard and action are being preserved for public viewing at the E.V. Moore Building, SMTD’s main facility for music studies. The building is undergoing an extensive renovation and expansion, scheduled for completion in fall 2015, and the piano’s permanent home will be in the new addition, the William K. and Delores S. Brehm Pavilion.

The Gershwin piano is the fourth historic piano to undergo a major renovation at U-M and reside on campus. The others are:

• The Elizabeth Gould Hochmann Steinway Model B, on permanent loan to the U-M Museum of Art, featuring a case design that is a copy of the first Steinway piano ever built.

• The Martha Cook Steinway Model A, built in 1913, in the Martha Cook residence hall.

• The Brescoll Steinway Model C, built in 1880, in the President's House. The oldest Steinway on campus, it formerly was owned by the manager of Carnegie Hall in New York City.


Bruce Pierson
on 9/24/14 at 8:08 am

I'm so excited to come see this performance, what a feather in the cap of University of Michigan to have such a historically prestigious instrument.

on 9/24/14 at 3:30 pm

As a descendant of Gerschwin's teacher - the composer Edward Kilenyi,Sr., who taught the self-taught George Gerschwin music theory and orchestration, I am very pleased that my University owns the archives and now the piano. I hope to be make time ( we have an alumni event) to attend this concert.

Mark Clague
on 10/09/14 at 11:54 pm

Wow Paul -- we know well of Edward Kilenyi's influence on George's compositional style. Great to know that you are a U-M alumnus. Please do come to the concert and send me an email if you have a chance. Best -- Mark Clague, Director, U-M Gershwin Initiative

Sarah Katz
on 9/25/14 at 1:46 am

Will this concert be streamed online? This concert seriously excites me, but alas, I live and study in Texas.

Mark Clague
on 10/09/14 at 11:55 pm

My apologies Sarah; this is a live event only.

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