Keys to the Kingdom

Olga Radovic, a graduate student, plays the inaugural performance on the university’s new Steinway model D concert grand piano while performing with the UConn Symphony Orchestra at von der Mehden Recital Hall on Dec. 7, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Olga Radović, a first-year Master of Music candidate in piano performance, had mixed feelings when she learned that she would be the first musician to perform with the new Steinway & Sons grand concert piano that arrived in November for use at J. Louis von der Mehden Recital Hall.

“I had both excitement and concern,” says Radović, who performed on the piano in December as a soloist with the UConn Symphony Orchestra after winning the 2017 Aria/Concerto Competition last fall. “A brand-new piano can be very challenging to play and to control.”

A native of Belgrade, Serbia, Radović has performed with orchestras since she was 12 but did not often play on pianos comparable to a Steinway — considered the best of its kind in the world. However, after talking with Angelina Gadeliya, assistant professor-in-residence and director of keyboard studies, about her own experiences performing with the handcrafted instrument, Radović understood the opportunity before her. “All I could feel was excitement and joy,” she says.

One of the campuses Steinway pianos, this one located in Jorgenson Auditorium.

At her first rehearsal for the Concerto Concert, where she would play Robert Schumann’s “Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54,” Radović was eager to get started. “I was overwhelmed by the huge sound of the orchestra and the sound of the Steinway,” she says. “The only thing that I could say about the piano was how effortless it was to play.”

Several weeks later, just before Radović appeared on the newly renovated von der Mehden stage with conductor Harvey Felder, director of orchestral studies, the audience applauded warmly when informed by Eric Rice, head of the Department of Music, about the debut of the new piano. The 9-foot-long Steinway dominated the front of the stage, the reflection of its gold cast-iron frame, soundboard, bridge, and strings gleaming on the open lid.

Radović performed the first of the three movements in the Schumann composition, “Allegro affettuoso.” The piano alternates between delicate solo melodies and accompaniment with strings, oboe, clarinet, and the entire orchestra. Radović demonstrated dexterity and command of the keyboard while articulating the range of the hushed and vigorous moments in the work. Throughout her performance, Radović leaned into the varying tempi before finishing to an appreciative standing ovation.

“The control and ease are truly amazing,” Radović says of the piano. “The clarity of sound is so refreshing, and it simply grabs your attention. It was very surprising to me how the instrument, our tool, makes our playing more expressive and the realization of artistic ideas and thoughts are easier to bring to life. Since it is a new piano, the volume of sound is not there yet, but it will be in a couple of months for sure.”

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This is an excerpt of an article published in UConn Magazine. 

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