Lower Hutt Little Theatre gets new Steinway, but several much cheaper improvements still needed

A new Steinway for Lower Hutt

Welcome reception and concert for the new piano at the Lower Hutt Little Theatre

Sunday 4 May, 2014

On Sunday friends of the piano were invited to see and hear the new Steinway that had been bought for the Lower Hutt Little Theatre. Replacing the earlier Steinway which had been used in the Little Theatre since the 1950s, it had arrived and been run-in.

Ten years ago at the urging of players, teachers and audiences the Hutt City Council set about building up a fund for the purchase of a new piano, and a charitable trust was set up in parallel to encourage individual contributions. Committee members of Chamber Music Hutt Valley have been vigorous and prominent in promoting the whole exercise.

Among other contributions were a large number of small donations from individuals and small businesses; and particular value was placed on a ‘Kids for Keys’ piano playing initiative, organised by local music teachers. And individual keys were up for purchase: there are still some for sale.

Concerts by the Hutt Valley Orchestra, Chamber Music Hutt Valley and the newly established Chopin Club also yielded funds for the piano.

While the old model D piano continued to serve pretty well, and most professional pianists tended to be discreetly charitable about its sound and the problems of producing top-class performances, there was little dispute about the need for a new instrument.

The target has nearly been reached through the $60,000 raised by donations to the Trust and most of the balance from the City Council with the proceeds of the sale of the old piano, to meet the $170,000 cost of the new piano.

However, the Trust still needs $7000 to meet its commitment.

After a formal welcome with speeches from Mayor Ray Wallace and the Chair of the Trust, Joy Baird, a varied programme was presented. Poulenc’s Sonata for Piano, four hands, began the concert, with Diedre Irons and Richard Mapp at the keyboard. It was an excellent demonstration of the piano’s dynamic and tonal range, and sensitivity. A virtually unknown piece by Alfred Hill followed: his early Miniature Trio for violin, cello and piano, the violin and piano parts taken by pupils at Hutt Valley High School, Hayden Nickel and Nicholas Kovacev.

Two students of piano teacher and composer Susan Beresford, Thomas Minot and Hannah Louis, played three of her compositions plus a remarkably ebullient piece, Carnival, by Thomas. Pianist Ludwig Treviranus who was a high school student in the Hutt Valley, studied music with Rae de Lisle at Auckland University and took his doctorate at Florida State University, has been a loyal friend of music in both Upper and Lower Hutt. He and his jazz group played a set of jazz pieces as well as the Alla Turca movement from Mozart’s Sonata in A major.

Finally, Diedre Irons showed the piano’s responsiveness to Chopin’s ‘Heroic’ Polonaise (Op 53).

So far, so good.

But in spite of the upgrade of the auditorium and back-stage a year or so ago, and now the new piano, the ambience of the foyer remains bleak and unwelcoming, even though a café has been created and doors now give access to the Library. There are no comfortable seats for the audience before, during the interval and after a concert.

There is no décor of any kind, not even places on which posters about forthcoming concerts could be fixed. The walls could well be used to illustrate aspects of musical activities in the valley since the Little Theatre was built, making use of archival photographs which I’m sure could be unearthed.  And racks could be provided for brochures and flyers advertising future concerts and cultural activities in the Hutt Valley, and in the wider Wellington region.

Given an attractive venue, music lovers will come from far and wide for good concerts: I am just one case, living in Tawa and having been a regular at concerts in both Lower and Upper Hutt for many years. Though one hesitates to make a point that might strike a parochial note, city officials could well take a look at the most attractive environment that has been created and maintained in the Arts and Entertainment Centre in Upper Hutt.

Incidentally, I gather the city council is contemplating acoustic enhancement. In the light of the several much easier and cheaper enhancements that still cry out for attention, the professional services of acoustic engineers would be just a little ridiculous. No auditorium is perfect, and one of the first tasks that a performer new to a hall undertakes is to listen to the acoustic and to ensure that he or she obtains the most rewarding sounds. As it stands, I can see (or hear) no justification for such needless extravagance.