USF's Piano Man


Svetozar Ivanov was given the task of choosing the coveted Steinway grand pianos for the new School of Music.


By Barbara Melendez

USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Mar. 22, 2011) – It’s hard to imagine a more delicious moment than a pianist feasting his eyes on a roomful of the world’s most coveted pianos.


But when Svetozar Ivanov, associate professor of piano and chamber music, entered the Steinway selection rooms at the New York City and Hamburg, Germany factories, he found the experience to be both “thrilling” and “humbling.”


It was his responsibility to visit the factories and choose the stately Steinways that grace the performance spaces and studios of the new University of South Florida School of Music, part of the College of The Arts. 


Was there pressure?  Yes. And joy. 


“It’s a very important decision,” Ivanov said. “They will be in the building for so many years and used by so many people.  But I loved every minute of it.”


And he did have some help, from USF faculty members Dharshini Tambiah and Miroslava Panayoyova, and three USF graduate piano students, Jana Ceteleva, Agnieszka Zick and Leah Dodds. 


Each concert grand piano is handmade and takes more than a year to be completed. So far, there are 66 new pianos in place – divided evenly between uprights and grands – three of them concert grand pianos. By the time this piano replacement initiative is completed there will be 87 Steinway-made pianos worth approximately $3.4 million. With this amassing of what many consider the world’s best pianos, USF is poised to qualify as an All-Steinway School as fundraising efforts continue.


Ivanov, who confesses to a partiality for baroque and early 20th Century compositions, began playing piano around the age of seven which he says is a little late. Most children began learning between the ages of five and six in his native Bulgaria. By his teen years math and physics started to take precedence over his love of music, but at age 17 the piano won out and he’s been playing ever since. 


Ivanov has appeared on stages throughout the world and serves as artistic director of the Steinway Piano Series at USF. His recent two solo CDs, “Naked Tango” and “Vers la flamme,” were highly acclaimed by critics. All Music Guide called “Naked Tango” “superbly original, quite moving, personal and musically absorbing,” while Fanfare Magazine praised Ivanov’s performances in “Vers la falamme” as “supple, radiant, evocative - exemplary realizations of the compositions.”


It appears he made the right choice in his career and now when it comes to choosing pianos, he’s equally pleased.


“I’m very happy with my decision, the three concert grand pianos are three very unique pianos, with very specific features and they will satisfy any taste and desire. I am looking forward to the Steinway Celebration on April 10 when we will hear all three of them in a concert – at the same time.”


The gleaming black lacquer nine-foot grand piano audiences will hear in the main concert hall is a special case. It was pure love from the start. After trying several that didn’t particularly thrill him, a Steinway executive suggested a piano in another room that just came from the factory – it was not prepared yet for the selection room. Ivanov sat down to play and knew right away.


“That was the one,” he said. “I tried a few others the next day but that one stood out from all the rest. But please keep in mind, they’re all great pianos, it’s just that some are exceptional.  It’s impossible to explain the magic in knowing when it’s ‘the one.’”


It’s easy for Ivanov to put things in perspective as he contemplates the School of Music’s future.


“This new building and everything in it is great for the students, that’s what matters the most,” Ivanov said. And the students are already responding as they get acquainted with their new home. 


Jeff Chodil, a graduate student in one of Ivanov’s classes, is impressed.


“The concert facilities are just amazing,” he said. “All the new pianos are fantastic. They will have a very positive effect. You can focus so much more with a responsive instrument. Some pianos you have to work against. These pianos don’t get in the way. You can fine-tune and determine how precise you want to get your message across.”


Fellow student Rosa Ruiz sums up student reaction heard over and over, “I’m very excited and happy about having more grand pianos to play.” 


And then there are the new pianos, in pairs so that teacher and student can work together, that can be found in the music professors’ new offices – each decorated in ways that reflect their occupants’ personalities. Still more pianos are in classrooms and the places where pianists spend the most hours, the practice rooms.


“You’ll find students practicing at all hours,” said Ivanov. “That’s an indication of how pleased they are with having these beautiful new instruments in this wonderful new building.  You almost don’t want to stop playing.