There was music in the air at the George Town Library on Aug. 30 and if Schubert’s Sonata in B Flat Major played by Glen Inanga sounded richer in tone, there was a good reason: The Cayman Arts Festival finally has a piano of its own.
“This piano is a game-changer for the Cayman Arts Festival,” Inanga said to recital attendees. The Cayman Arts Festival was established 15 years ago by Inanga, Jennifer Micallef and Caymanian attorney Sharon Roulstone. For its inaugural festival in 2004 and for every concert it has held between then and Aug. 30 of this year, it had to borrow grand pianos from residents. This meant that the piano had to be moved out of someone’s home to the event venue — a large undertaking each time and a risk for the owner of the piano.
In 2016, the organisation decided it was time to obtain a piano of its own and it started holding recitals to raise funds to buy one. Eventually, the Aall Foundation, already a supporter of the Cayman Arts Festival, recognised the historic importance of the initiative and made funding available.
Inanga then had to go about choosing the right piano to buy.
“There are many brands of pianos to choose from,” Inanga said, noting that there was some pressure to find a Steinway. But Inanga knew Cayman did not need a $150,000 piano, at least not at this time.
Inanga had specific criteria for the piano: It had to handle Cayman’s humid climate; be able to project well in large venues; and be of a high enough calibre to entice world-class performers.
He decided to contact a supplier in the United Kingdom with which he had a long-standing relationship. He flew to London to test-play a number of new factory-made instruments. None stood out. The sales manager then suggested that he try out a handmade Kawai, a brand with which he was familiar, but was not entirely sure would meet his criteria.
“I remember sitting down and playing,” he said. “Because it was so specifically engineered for performance and response, you couldn’t fault it in any way. It was like a high-performance car.”
Inanga discussed price and a quote was provided. The manufacturer, aware the piano was for a non-profit organisation and important to the arts in the Cayman Islands, discounted the price. The manufacturer then shipped two 7-foot-6-inch Shigeru Kawai pianos to the U.K. for him to try.
He returned to London and played the same repertoire on each piano. He found the first one very responsive. The second one had a strong character. It had brilliance, but it lacked a warmth of tone that the first piano had.
“Pianos can be finicky beasts,” Inanga said, noting that every piano must be played differently and pianists sometimes have to work a little harder to get the sound they want. In deciding which piano to choose, Inanga said he gave thought of whether he wanted an instrument with character or one that would be simply responsive. He realised that with the variety of performers who will play the piano, it would be better to have one that is neutral. He chose the first piano.
“It will be the musicians who will bring what character they have to the instrument, and the instrument will respond.”
Once the piano was purchased and shipped, it needed to be insured. Camana Bay-based insurance company Aon offered to sponsor the cost of the insurance premiums for the storage
of the piano when it is at its home in George Town Library. Aon’s Deputy Managing Director Nigel Twohey said that one main reason his company decided to sponsor the insurance premium was Cayman Arts Festival’s commitment to youth initiatives.
“Glen has always emphasised the teaching aspect and having the great performers go to the schools and encourage the local talent has always been an attractive part of the Cayman Arts Festival,” he said. “I have been very happy to have the opportunity for us to help the great programme that Glen and his colleagues have for us in Cayman.”
Inanga says he is equally happy for the support from Aall and Aon, as well as from the wider community.
“We have been incredibly grateful for the generous support from the individuals who lent us their pianos over the years,” he said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Only a small group was on hand on Aug. 30 to hear Inanga play the Shigeru Kawai right after it arrived. However, the public had a chance to hear the new piano at the first of a monthly series of “Music at the Library” events held on Sept. 13. These hour-long events, which feature various local musicians in addition to Inanga or another pianist, cost CI$20 and start at 6 p.m. The next one is on Oct. 25 and tickets are available only at the door.
Two concerts featuring the new piano and visiting artists are also slated. The first on Oct. 4 at the Cayman Islands Baptist Church on Pedro Castle Road, will feature award-winning Romanian/Nigerian pianist Rebeca Omordia. The second will take place on Nov. 3 at Agape Family Worship Centre and features the “New York Quintet,” a collaboration featuring Inanga with top soloists of the New York City Ballet Orchestra. Among those coming with the Quintet is violin virtuoso Elizabeth Pitcairn, who performed with her famous red violin at the 2016 Cayman
For more information or to buy tickets, visit caymanartsfestival.com.