UWF’s Steinway celebration remains in key, a decade later

By Kenny Detwyler

Contributing Writer

 Nyasha Brice performing "Prelude No.1 in B flat major", by George Gershwin. Photo by Kenny Detwyler.

Nyasha Brice performing “Prelude No.1 in B flat major”, by George Gershwin.
Photo by Kenny Detwyler.

On Saturday evening, the halls of the Center for Fine and Performing Arts at the University of West Florida echoed with the sounds of talented musicians paying tribute to the most iconic instrument in music, the piano. This year marks a decade since Warren and Helen Wentworth donated 18 Steinway Pianos to the UWF Department of Music, thus granting UWF the prestigious distinction of being an “All-Steinway School” by Steinway & Sons.

The Steinway is often regarded as the most distinguished piano brand in the world. Recording artist Billy Joel once said, “I have long admired Steinway pianos for their qualities of tone, clarity, pitch consistency, touch responsiveness, and superior craftsmanship.” Pianist Martha Argerich even argued that “sometimes a Steinway plays better that the pianist, and it is then a marvelous surprise” The Steinway is also the exclusive performance instrument of famous artists, such as Harry Connick Jr. and Randy Newman.

In honor of the Wentworth’s generous gift, the Department of Music holds a yearly concert to celebrate the Steinway piano. The concert featured an array of UWF students, faculty, alumni, and local pianists. The show featured the compositions of a few of history’s greatest musicians such as George Gershwin, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, Piotr Tchaikovsky, J.S. Bach, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Johannes Brahms.

The concert was performed to a packed audience, which enjoyed seeing the Steinway in action. “It was very nice, I enjoyed listening to the different recitals. It was very relaxing and engaging,” Ebony Cornish, a graduate student,  said.

Amazing performers took the stage including the director of UWF’s piano and chamber music programs, Hedi Salanki. “Ever since the wonderful gift, we’ve built up the program and gotten stronger and stronger,” Salanki said.

Other performers included: junior Nyahsa Brice, senior Daniel Kern, freshman Lydia Harris, senior James Matthews, junior Meridith Stemen and assistant professor Blake Riley.

One of the shows stand-out moments came from three young performers, all of whom are students at Hedi Salanki’s private studio. The young students resonated extremely well with the audience, as they performed complicated compositions on the same stage as students of the performing arts here at UWF. “They’ve all worked so hard, they were able to perform for a large audience which is something a lot of 15-year-olds can’t do. They performed music that is not your average pop song,” performer Nyasha Brice said. “They have all made amazing progress, I am training them to be pianists, so this is a natural part of what they do,” Salanki said.

Also taking the stage was former UWF student, Bolton Ellenberg. Bolton has been performing at UWF since the first Steinway celebration 10 years ago. “I think he gave a brilliant performance, it all came together well, and it was fantastic.” Bolton’s brother, Easton Ellenberg said. It appeared that the audience shared similar sentiments, as Bolton received a spectacular standing ovation following both of his performances.

Even with all of the talented performers who took the stage, the real star of the evening was no doubt the Steinway Piano, which sat center stage. The piano means a great deal to the performers, and the Wentworth’s gift is still greatly appreciated a decade later. “The piano is a medium for me to turn my soul into notes and share it with people,” Bryce said. “As a performer it’s important to get interaction with the audience when you communicate emotions,” Samantha Negron, a junior, said after watching the show.

“When words stop, that’s when music starts. For me the Piano is extremely versatile, there’s so much you can say with it,” special guest performer Bolton Ellenberg said. “I can channel things that cannot be put into words”

For a complete schedule of the CFPA’s upcoming performances visit: http://uwf.edu/cfpa/