The big news in musical circles these days concerns Steinway. The pre-eminent American piano maker has struck a deal with Kawai, which has begun producing a new piano using Japanese materials, manufacturing techniques and Japanese workmen but with this imprint: "Designed by Steinway & Sons."
Kawai hopes to market the new hybrid piano, dubbed the Boston, in seven upright and grand styles against such Far Eastern assembly-line pianos as Yamaha and Young Chang, which have won great popularity in recent years through their flexible pricing. But some critics see the development as a reflection of recent ownership and management changes at Steinway, which in recent months have produced a flurry of articles questioning the quality of the firm's pianos.
If it were not for the Steinway name, its deal with Kawai would probably go unnoticed. After all, stencil pianos -- brands carrying a name other than the manufacturer's -- have existed for almost as long as pianos have been made commercially. As the number of American manufacturers has shrunk, the survivors -- Baldwin and Wurlitzer, among them -- have stocked up on the names of discontinued independent brands.