Magazine article Gramophone

Steinway Sale to Private Equity Firm Improves the Company's Outlook

Magazine article Gramophone

Steinway Sale to Private Equity Firm Improves the Company's Outlook

Article excerpt

Change is always viewed with some suspicion--especially when dealing with an established and reputable institution. So the sale of Steinway & Sons--world-famous maker of top-ranking pianos--to US private equity firm Kohlberg & Company for $438m (288m [pounds sterling]) during July has naturally generated some discussion. Steinway, which this year celebrates its 160th anniversary, also sold its showroom in Manhattan for $46.3m at the end of June in a separate transaction.

The Kohlberg deal, which amounts to $35 per share of the company, 'represents an exceptional valuation for our shareholders,' said Michael Sweeney, Steinway chairman and interim chief executive. 'We are delighted that Kohlberg recognise the bright future for Steinway as well as value our great heritage.'

Certainly for pianists and pianophiles, maintaining the company's time-honoured manufacturing methods is of far greater importance than a good deal for shareholders. Steinway spends almost a year building each grand piano at one of two manufacturing facilities in Astoria, Queens, and Hamburg in Germany, ensuring that every instrument combines its celebrated delicacy of touch and subtlety of sound coloration. Thus any money-saving attempts to speed up the manufacturing process could have detrimental effects on the company's reputation. However, Kohlberg partner Christopher Anderson has insisted that, while his firm will help Steinway expand globally, 'the artisanal manufacturing processes that make the company's products unique' will be 'preserved, celebrated and treasured'--good news for all who value fine piano recordings and concerts.

During the past few months, there have been a number of technological innovations which have succeeded in blending digital advancements with classical music in genuinely interesting and intuitive ways. At the forefront of the revolution has been Touch Press, which in May launched a comparative Beethoven Ninth Symphony app featuring four legendary recordings and has since followed this up with an app dedicated to Liszt's Piano Sonata in B minor, recorded specially by Stephen Hough. The new app includes not only this new recording but also die ability to watch the performance from multiple angles alongside the musical score, which scrolls automatically, plus commentary, analysis and NoteFall view--providing a graphic representation of the notes.

It's all very impressive and even more so when looking at the sales figures. In a market saturated with free competitors--including a notable Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra app for children launched by the Britten-Pears Foundation in July--these premium-priced products (9. …

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