The Sunderland Pianoforte Society was founded at a public meeting on February 2nd 1943 “to encourage the study and playing of piano music by presenting at least four concerts in each season”. Initially half of each concert would be given by members and the second half by a professional pianist. After some years this arrangement was replaced by having one full evening each season devoted to members’ performances (the “Members’ Evening”), and the remaining recitals (increased to five) each season given wholly by professional pianists. That was the arrangement until the “Millennium Season” (2000/2001), when for such a special celebration the number of professional recitals was increased to eight. By that time the number of pianists among our members capable of taking part in a “members’ evening” had fallen drastically – enough to make such evenings no longer viable. We held two seasons at Sunderland University (see below) and the Officers and Committee decided to make all recitals fully professional at that time.
At the beginning of its life the Society used to borrow pianos, but as the membership grew, it was decided to buy a piano for the sole use of the Society. After a great number of fund raising activities, a Steinway concert grand was purchased and this is still in use. Ted Ducker, a long-standing member of the Committee, Secretary and Chairman was instrumental in organising the purchase of a suitable piano. He sought the practical advice of the great pianist Ronald Smith who actually travelled around with him to various piano showrooms in London, trying out pianos on behalf of the Society. It was he who selected the present Steinway Model D Concert Grand in its light walnut Louis 16th style of case. This was late in 1960. Over the years many visiting artists have commented that it is probably the finest instrument that they encounter in their northern tours, and many eminent pianists have played for us. (See the complete list on our website)
Despite a drop in membership in the immediate post-war years, the Society managed to increase the number of concerts each season to six or seven. This was made possible by the generosity of sponsors who have, in the past, included Sunderland Corporation, Northern Arts (standing for Arts Council of England) through the good offices of “Making Music” (the National Federation of Music Societies North East), Metro Radio, Youth & Music (through Natwest Bank), Foundation for Sports and the Arts, Messrs. Vaux & Company, the Countess of Munster Musical Trust, and the Tillett Trust. Without them it would have been impossible to maintain the high quality of artists obtained for our recitals. For this the Society is most grateful.
The venue for the Society’s recitals for many years was the Art Gallery (upstairs) in Burdon Road, Sunderland. Major alterations for the refurbishing of the Gallery and the rebuilding of the “Winter Gardens” (destroyed during World War II) forced the Society to find a new “home”, for what eventually became two seasons. The crisis was averted by the timely intervention of Sunderland University who were most generous in allowing the Society to hire the “Tom Cowie Lecture Theatre” on their St. Peter’s Campus, including the use of their new Steinway Model C Concert Grand Piano. In 2001 we were able to move back into the Sunderland Museum, and recitals are now held in the elegant surroundings of the Pottery Room.
The Society is constantly trying to encourage young people (and especially families) to come to our concerts. The importance of the future generation of music lovers was emphasized when Laurie Giles organised the Society’s first “Festival of Young Pianists” in May 2003 as the main event which celebrated our Diamond Jubilee – 60 continuous years of promoting fine music in Sunderland. Further Festivals were hosted in 2005, 2007 and 2009. Also in 2009 the Society became a Registered Charity.
Following an excellent 2013-14 Season, our AGM was held on 2nd September 2014 in the Roker Great Western Hotel followed by a dinner. This turned out to be a very successful evening with encouraging new appointees to the Committee.
Our concert grand is a Steinway “Model D” in the Louis 16th style case, in light walnut. This particular model was never sold in large quantities, being only produced to special order. This piano was also never sold to concert halls. Our piano was built in Hamburg and sold in the 1902/3 season, and the six pianos of this style which were built at that time were all sold to stately homes (palaces?) in Europe. Steinway’s rules of client confidentiality will not allow them to tell us who was the original purchaser.
In 1996 it was decided that the instrument was seriously in need of refurbishment. The Secretary (Mrs. Lily Scott) made application to the “Foundation for Sports and the Arts” who made a grant to cover the cost of the work. A completely new action was brought from Messrs Steinway at Hamburg and Steinway technicians worked for fully three days in the Sunderland Art Gallery fitting the action and renewing the pedal mechanism, tuning, toning and balancing.
During the rebuilding of the Sunderland Winter Gardens, when the Society was temporarily housed at the University, the Society’s piano suffered a serious accident:. The single leg was broken in two places, the sounding board cracked ,the main cast iron frame also cracked and the outside case damaged in a fall onto concrete. The repair was too big for their factory in London so Steinways took the piano away to Hamburg to their main workshop and completely rebuilt it with new sounding board, main frame and completely restrung. The outside walnut case was also refurbished. The bill for this was £17,600, so it was fortunate that our insurance company covered the loss for us. Steinways told us that when the piano was first sold in 1901 the rubber-faced casters were fitted so that no damage would be done when moving it on the “palace floor” (a palace in Europe), However housing the piano on a fully carpeted floor would put too much drag on the legs. We thus were advised to have a specially designed A-frame trolley for the piano to be moved about on the fully-carpeted floor in the “Sunderland Pottery Room” of the new Museum and Winter Gardens.