In the summer of 1994, two friends, David Dumont, working for the 144-year old Steinway & Sons piano dealer, Sherman, Clay & Co., and Billye Erickson, a retired businesswoman interested in classical piano, saw an article in the music magazine “Lyra,” produced by Steinway & Sons, Inc. The article described a post-concert reception sponsored by the Atlanta Steinway Society, and stimulated David and Billye to discuss the need for a similar organization to enrich classical music life in the Bay Area. Over several months, they formulated a plan to obtain local sponsorships and develop private donors to help fund concerts by world-class pianists, create opportunities for in-home recitals and support for young, developing pianists and music education. These conversations were the genesis of Steinway Society – The Bay Area. David and Billye approached Tony Thomas, Sherman Clay’s District Sales Manager for Northern California, and he agreed to help in an advisory position. Steinway and Sons, Inc. gave permission for use of the Steinway name.
In the first two years, David and Billye began promoting Steinway Society through in-home concerts. These were enthusiastically received and indicated strong support for building the organization. David, Billye and Tony Thomas realized that more board members would be needed to expand Steinway Society’s activities. They recruited Emilia Shvarts and Gerri Alexander, both piano teachers, to the help form the first Board of Directors, with Tony as an advisor. Soon after, they recruited Keith Watt, owner of San Jose’s Le Petite Trianon Theatre, who offered to let Steinway Society use the Theatre as a Concert Hall. Billye helped the organization become a 501c(3) (non-profit) organization.
David and Billye realized that to attract high-caliber pianists they needed a fine instrument. They traveled to Steinway Hall in New York City and selected a Steinway Model B. Peter Goodrich, Director of Concert Artists for Steinway, enthusiastically supported their plan to start the first West Coast Steinway Society. Henry Z. Steinway, the great-grandson of the founder, graciously consented to sign the plate of the Steinway B they purchased. David and Billye later sold the piano to Keith Watt, and today one can see the plate signatures of many well-known Steinway Society concert artists at the piano’s long-time home, now named Trianon Theatre.
In 1997, Henry Schiro, President of San Jose Jazz, came onto the Board, and eventually served as Board President. Barbara Day Turner, Founder and Director of the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, came on as Artistic Director in 1997-1998. In 1999, Ellen Chen, piano teacher, became Artistic Director, and in 2001, Norval Nelson joined and became Board President. Maestro Leonid Grin, Music Director of the San Jose Symphony, and his wife, Marina Gusak Grin, also served as early advisors to the organization.
At Steinway Society – the Bay Area’s beginning, David Dumont forged a relationship with the International Van Cliburn Piano Competition. As a result, the Society has presented many of its medalists, e.g., Diane Walsh (5th, 1969), Vladimir Viardo (1st, 1973), Jon Nakamatsu (1st, 1997), Olga Kern (shared 1st, 2001), Stanislav Loudenitch (shared 1st, 2001), Antonio Pompa-Baldi (shared 2nd, 2001), Maxim Philippov (shared 2nd, 2001), Alexander Kobrin (1st, 2005), Joyce Yang (2nd, 2005), Sa Chen (3rd, 2005), Haochen Zhang (1st, 2009), Di Wu (final round, 2009), Vadym Kholodenko (1st, 2013), and Sean Chen (3rd, 2013). Other well-known artists have included Emanuel Ax and Yefim Bronfman (playing two Steinway grands), Leon Fleisher, Hélène Grimaud, Ursula Oppens and Garrick Ohlsson.
Steinway Society also brings to the Bay Area critically acclaimed winners of other prestigious international piano competitions, e.g., the Tchaikovsky in Moscow, the Queen Elisabeth in Belgium, the Chopin in Poland, the Rubinstein in Israel, the Leeds in England, the William Kapell at University of Maryland, and the Viotti in Italy.