The New-York Historical Society is welcoming Cole Porter’s Steinway piano, which will stay at the Historical Society until the Waldorf Astoria, the instrument’s permanent home, is finished with its historic restorations. The 1907 Steinway grand piano, which recently underwent its own extensive restoration, will take up residence in the museum’s lobby, and for the months of May and June the Historical Society has invited acclaimed musicians to play live for the museum’s visitors.
The Historical Society has invited renown pianists Daryl Sherman, Adrianna Stoiber and Simon Mulligan to perform during the summer months, and we at Untapped Cities had the privilege to interview two of the pianists, as well as the museum’s curator, to learn more about the piano itself, Cole Porter’s connection to the instrument and the musicians who will now bring his songs to life.
Debra Schmidt Bach, the Curator of Decorative Arts at the Society, told us a bit of the piano’s history: created by Steinway & Sons in 1907, the grand mahogany piano was given to Cole Porter by the management of the Waldorf Astoria after he moved into hotel’s residential towers. “This was one of two pianos that he owned and kept in the apartment,” Bach explained, “and he composed many of his most famous songs and musicals on this piano.”
Cole Porter lovingly called the Steinway piano “High Society,” and among the classics he is believed to have composed on this piano are “Anything Goes,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” “To me Cole Porter is probably one of the most important American songwriters and creators of American musical theatre in our history,” Bach says, “so it’s an enormous thrill to have Cole Porter’s piano here.”
Daryl Sherman is a pianist and vocalist with a remarkable 14 year run at the Waldorf Astoria. “I’ve worked at the Waldorf Astoria as a pianist and singer,” she says, “and this very piano was located on the Cocktail Terrace, which overlooked the main part of the lobby, at the hotel’s main entrance.” Sherman remembers the many lavish cocktail parties held and the many famous individuals that stayed inside Waldorf Astoria’s walls, including Bill Clinton and the Dali Lama. “All kinds of people would walk through that lobby, as I was sitting up here and watching it all.”
The Waldorf Astoria is set to reopen in 2021, and Sherman looks forward to the hotel’s reopening: “I hope I‘ll get to play when it reopens, hope that they will have live music…I loved working all the New York hotels but the history and beauty of the Waldorf, and what it stood for, made it even more special.”
Simon Mulligan, an internationally acclaimed Steinway Artist, says this might be the first piano he has played that belonged to a prominent American composer. “I love old instruments,” Mulligan says, “and I believe in the soul of an instrument…I’m always curious of the [instrument’s] background.” As a Steinway Artist, Mulligan has a great respect and love for Steinway pianos. “Each have different personalities, and I enjoy, every time I play on stage, getting a different friend, in a way. It’s nice when in an instrument throws something back at you that you didn’t expect.”
Daryl Sherman and Simon Mulligan at Cole Porter’s piano in the New-York Historical Society
Both musicians are honored to get to play Cole Porter’s classics on his beloved piano. “I’m very excited to have the opportunity to play the great Cole Porter’s Steinway,” Mulligan says, “When you actually play a Steinway with a wonderful history behind it, it means even more.”
The New-York Historical Society, the oldest museum in New York City, is one of America’s prominent cultural institutions and is devoted to researching and presenting American and New York history through exhibitions and public programs. Musical performances on the Steinway piano will take place on most Fridays from May 10 to June 28th, during Pay-as-you-wish evenings, allowing the museum’s guests to listen to Cole Porter classics as well as other American Songbook pieces.