Arts Center hopes it’s found perfect fit in second Steinway grand piano

Margaret Morris, executive director of programs and partnerships at the Lawrence Arts Center, plays a few notes on the Arts Center's new Steinway piano just after it was unwrapped Thursday.

Hear the new piano

Five pianists will debut the Lawrence Arts Center’s new Steinway & Sons grand piano during a free concert Jan. 3.

The performance starts at 6 p.m. in the theater at the Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. There is no charge, but seating is reserved and tickets are required.

Steven Spooner is scheduled to perform on the new piano at 7 p.m. April 10. Tickets start at $12.

Find more information and reserve tickets for either performance online at

It’s not you, it’s me.

When the Lawrence Arts Center parted with its recently acquired Steinway, it wasn’t because there was anything wrong with the instrument — it was a beautiful grand piano with a lot to offer. It’s just that, well, they found a better fit.

“The first one was perfect,” Arts Center Executive Director Susan Tate said, “but not so perfect for the space.”

The new, and hopefully lasting, relationship began Thursday, when the replacement piano arrived at the Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. Kansas University associate professor of piano Steven Spooner, an internationally acclaimed concert pianist and official Steinway Artist, played matchmaker by traveling to the Steinway & Sons factory in New York and selecting the instrument he believes has everything the Arts Center was looking for.

In all seriousness, though, it’s fair for the Arts Center to be picky — we’re talking about a roughly $100,000 instrument.

“This is a legacy gift,” Tate said. “It will be in the Lawrence Arts Center for generations, and we all agreed it should be just the right piano.”

When an anonymous donor announced intentions to purchase a Steinway for the Arts Center, Spooner and Ric Averill, the Arts Center’s artistic director of performing arts, went to the Kansas City area Steinway dealer and chose one, Tate said. The instrument was delivered in time for a planned October performance.

But Spooner, explaining that all Steinways sound different because each is handmade, thought a different sound would be better for the Arts Center.

The donor wanted a Model B grand piano for the Arts Center theater (at 7 feet long, that’s one model smaller than the Lied Center’s 9-foot Steinway concert grand). On a trip to New York, where he performs regularly, Spooner visited the factory, playing and applying his trained ear to numerous pianos. While many Model Bs are prepared to be all-purpose, he said, he wanted one with the brightness and color to carry a soloist.

“Those kinds of qualities they were looking for I could only find in a couple pianos,” Spooner said. “This will be an amazing shot in the arm for the Lawrence Arts Center, because when you have an instrument like that you suddenly become a real bonafide concert hall.”

Tate said the Steinway acquisition inspired two new concert series at the Arts Center, one for young children and the Nine Forty Classical series for adults.

“Having a piano of this caliber attracts pianists of the same high caliber, who take into consideration the instrument that’s available for them to play,” Tate said.

As for the first piano, Averill said, things may not have worked out with the Arts Center. But he’s confident it’s going to make someone else very, very happy.