UK museum director declares Steinway unaesthetic

UK museum director declares Steinway unaesthetic


norman lebrecht

October 19, 2019

There has long been a Sunday lunchtime concert series in the magnificent Gallery 3 at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Some 20 years ago Christopher Hogwood raised money to purchase a top quality Steinway for use in Gallery 3. This piano is now under threat because the Museum’s director, Luke Syson, has declared the instrument ‘unaesthetic’ and has declined to house it in Gallery 3 or adjacent spaces.

The music faculty are unhappy as they put forward undergraduate instrumental award holders to perform one concert each term.

Among performers next term is Rob Burton (sax, 2018 Young Musician woodwind finalist) with Konya Kanneh-Mason (piano). Rob attributes his first love of sax to hearing a player at one of the Fitz Sunday concerts.


  • Anon says:

    The thin end of the wedge regarding supporting music in the UK. Cambridge has always historically been musically vibrant, with so many concerts of such diversity being given by students, from both the university and London music colleges. What a narrow minded individual this museum director is!

  • double-sharp says:

    Quite right, too! The hi-gloss finish, brittle tone, and inhuman size of a Steinway have no place in the Fitzwilliam. Find a reconditioned Broadwood, there are dozens looking for a good home.

  • christopher storey says:

    Very dangerous territory for Luke Syson : if he thinks a Steinway is “unaesthetic” ( is there such a word ? ) , it rather calls into question his judgement on all matters artistic . Perhaps the Fitzwilliam needs a new director

  • The Unhappy Cockerell says:

    Steinway abuse? Performing and listening to music surrounded by fine art and architecture is a very special experience. There can be no excuse for the Fitzwilliam, as custodians of one of the finest small museums in the world, with exceptional holdings of music manuscripts collected by its founder and blessed with a top class piano, to interfere with a much loved and well established concert series.

  • John Borstlap says:

    The Fitzwilliam is a very classical, 18C building, and the Steinway is – visually and technically – a product of romanticism and 20C technology. Maybe that is the reason. The installation of a hammerklavier may solve the problem.

  • double-sharp says:

    I’d strongly advise young recitalists not to perform at the Univerisity of Cambridge at all. Your requests for your fee, or even payment of your travel costs, will be met with ‘later, later, the Bursar is on holiday’. If you persist in trying to claim the fee they offered you, you”ll get one of their “Now See Here, My Man! ‘ boilerplate letters.

  • Bill says:

    I hear Liberace’s mirror covered Baldwin is available for use.

  • Geoff Gadd says:

    As long-term supporters and enjoyers of the Fitz Sunday concerts, we consider a piano is a crucial element to a music concert series. The Steinway in question is an elegant instrument and it is difficult to understand how anyone could take exception to its presence in Gallery 3.

    Gill and Geoff Gadd

  • MusicBear88 says:

    I played a concerto in a venue with an “aesthetic consultant” who was very disappointed with me when I selected the old and rather battered Steinway concert grand over the newer, shinier Japanese piano because “it wasn’t as pretty.” Instruments are tools for musicians. Some of them are beautiful too, and if the museum director can raise the funds for a custom art case Steinway that fits into the prevailing aesthetic (probably around $200,000 at minimum) then more power to him. But the big black box isn’t meant to be looked at, it’s meant to be listened to, and I would hope that museum patrons would understand that. Throw a nice cover on it with some embroidery…

  • Phillip Ayling says:

    I wonder if Museum Director’s would encourage that their future hiring be dictated upon how aesthetically pleasing they seem?

  • William says:

    A silly case of personal pedantry and a dubious sense of priorities.

  • Rosamund Chalmers says:

    The concerts bring people into the museum and can introduce visitors to great music. I have loved attending these concerts. They make the museum the best place to spend an otherwise empty Sunday. Art music and coffee all in one place.

  • Penny says:

    Where else other than Cambridge can one expect to find a beautiful Steinway piano, played beautifully, in the beautiful setting of the Fitzwilliam? We are privileged and hope to remain that way. Please retain the Steinway in it’s customary setting!

  • Plush says:

    An hallucination.

  • Jonathan Burton says:

    Music in Gallery III began circa 1971 with a series of lunchtime concerts organised by me! No piano…

  • David says:

    What a shame aesthetic faddyness seem to drive out cultural heritage and the real purpose of our museums in keeping art alive. Such a wonderful piece of living history consigned to the dustbin. A shameful tradegy of our self important times.