Jura Margulis, professor of piano at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and a Steinway artist for twenty years, could scarcely value the time-honored Steinway method more. He came to the Queens factory in spring of 2010 to choose twenty-four uprights, six model M “medium” grands, ten seven-foot B models (the most popular of Steinway’s grands) and one concert D for his school — a $1.5 million purchase Margulis calls “transformative.” He went through about twenty-five pianos to select the ten B models.
”Like children,” Margulis says, “Steinway pianos are each unique, and when they are new, they are like babies. It’s not only about what they sound like at first — it’s about their potential for growth, the development in their sound. They play in; they grow.”
Margulis is an aficionado of piano-building, fascinated by the physics of the instrument. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, he was raised in Freiburg, Germany, and came to the U.S. in 1994 as a student of Leon Fleisher. Margulis’s father and father’s father were concert pianists, with a Steinway always in the house. He often practiced in a piano workshop as a youngster, growing to love the smell.
When Margulis toured the Queens factory recently, it only reinforced his conviction that the instruments within it and the way they are made should be treasured. Now, in his Fayetteville studio, he takes his hand off the keyboard of a new Steinway model B and muses, “Just think about the way things have changed over the decades. Even the toothbrush is different now than it was twenty years ago. But these pianos are almost unchanged from a hundred years ago — they were almost perfect machines even then. You realize in the factory that the making of a Steinway piano is this arcane mastery — just like the playing of the instrument.”