Classical Music World: Smith Auditorium Steinway Back Home After Major Restoration

Piano technician Kevin Stock backstage at the Smith Auditorium with the recently refurbished Steinway grand piano. Courtesy/LACA

By Ann McLaughlin
Artistic Director
Los Alamos Concert Association

The Steinway grand piano in the Smith Auditorium has a long and distinguished history. It has been played by the great artists presented by the Los Alamos Concert Association, Emanuel Ax being the most recent. It is over seventy years old. 

Those of us of a certain age can empathize with the piano’s creaking joints, little problems that can be frustrating for pianists and signs of worse come.   

If you are one of the many who have loved hearing great music played on that venerable instrument, be reassured. The piano equivalent of a complete organ transplant has given the instrument new life!

When the Civic Auditorium (now renamed in honor of Duane Smith) was built in 1950, someone had the foresight to recognize that a venue seating over 900 would need a grand piano. The hall and the piano were provided to the community by the Atomic Energy Commission. Eventually, the Los Alamos Public Schools took over management of the auditorium at which point the piano became school property.

Because the piano was kept backstage where anyone could use it, the instrument, by 1967, was in nearly unplayable condition. LACA resorted to renting pianos for its concerts, a less than ideal and expensive arrangement. Eventually, the hammers were replaced, and verdigris removed from its large metal components. This was an improvement, but the instrument continued to deteriorate.

LACA has always presented world-class artists who require a world-class piano, so over the years, LACA and the schools agreed that in exchange for free rental of the instrument, LACA would be responsible for maintaining it.

In 1996 LACA mounted a fundraising campaign: “Buy a Key – Save a Steinway”. That successful effort funded a partial renovation which included a new polyester finish on the case and made the piano fit for great artists to use again. Also, a small room was built to store the piano and protect it from misuse.

Over the last five years or so, comments by several pianists began to cause some concern once again.  In 2022, LACA presented the brilliant Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski. He described playing the piano as “exhausting” and made a compelling case that major work was needed.

LACA located a highly regarded piano technician, Kevin Stock, who presented a detailed plan and estimate for a major restoration. It was expensive, but within LACA’s reach, and certainly less than the cost of a new Steinway.

One hurdle remained.

Along with other piano technicians, Kevin had been frustrated with the Steinway company’s focus on selling new pianos at the expense of older instruments in need of replacement parts. LACA presented Steinway with a list of artists who have performed recently on the piano, many of whom are “Steinway Artists”, a designation important to the company’s reputation.

Impressed, Steinway delivered everything Kevin needed and in May, he transported the piano to his workshop in Indiana completing the restoration over the summer. The piano is now back home in its locked storage room backstage at the Smith, ready for the opening concert in LACA’s 77th season.

That concert, beginning at 3 p.m. on Sept. 23, will feature Frisson Winds with pianist Marika Bournaki, a treat for both wind instrument enthusiasts and folks who would like to hear the refurbished Steinway in action. Visit for more information and for tickets ($30).

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