Custom-made piano coming to Tempe Center for the Arts

Michael Spreeman, of Spreeman Piano Innovations, holds the leg of the 9-foot Ravenscroft 275 grand piano being built in his Scottsdale studio, Tuesday, May 17, 2011. The grand piano’s home will be the Tempe Center for the Arts. [Tim Hacker, Tribune]

By Garin Groff, Tribune May 19, 2011 Updated May 19, 2011

The next star to appear on stage at the Tempe Center for the Arts may not be a celebrated musician who is tickling the ivories – it may be the piano itself.

The arts venue is getting a $275,000 custom-made piano, which is being constructed in the Valley by one of the world’s few custom piano makers. The Ravenscroft Piano is one of a handful ever made and the first of its kind in a performance venue.

The 9-foot grand piano will require 1,000 hours of labor by its Aug. 1 debut, said Michael Spreeman, owner of Spreeman Piano Innovations. Other grand pianos take 250-300 hours to build.

“At a time when most American manufacturers are trying to build it faster and do more of them, we’re taking the opposite approach,” Spreeman said.

Spreeman decided to create his own line of instruments after spending years rebuilding high-end pianos. The idea came when jazz musician and composer Bob Ravenscroft hired Spreeman to refurbish a decommissioned grand piano 22 years ago. Spreeman started his company in 2004, naming the pianos in honor of Ravenscroft based on the project he undertook for him.

Ravenscroft and his wife Gretchen, of Scottsdale, are donating the piano to the arts center. Ravenscroft described the venue as among the finest he’s ever performed in. People who hear the Ravenscroft should hear the kind of sounds other pianos don’t produce, he said.

“They may not know the technical names for those, but they will feel it in their soul and their heart hopefully,” Ravenscroft said.

He’ll play the piano at the TCA on Sept. 24, when the Bob Ravenscroft Trio is scheduled to perform.

The Ravenscroft is being made with the art center’s acoustics in mind, Spreeman said. To test the sounds, he’s loaned a prototype to the venue so artists could use it.

The piano’s wood and parts are imported from around the world and crafted by hand in Spreeman’s Scottsdale studio. Many parts use titanium rather than less expensive metals, he said as an example of how his pianos differ from even high-end instruments. But it’s what people hear that stands out the most, he said.

“Although our sound is very clean and pure, it’s also very complex,” Spreeman said. “There are a lot of different harmonies going on.”

The arts center acquired two grand pianos, a Steinway and a Boston, when it opened in 2007. They’re fine pianos but already some artists have preferred to use the prototype Ravenscroft after trying it, said Gail Fisher, a member and founder of the Friends of the TCA.

“The artists recognize this is an uber piano,” Fisher said. “It’s so easy to play. It feels so good when you put your hands down on the keys and the sound is so luscious.”

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Ravenscroft Pianos

Ravenscroft Pianos