Shapiro Chair Impact Assessment

David Kaplan has plans for the Shapiro chair.

“The desirability of a gift like this is that it can create really big things,” said Kaplan, assistant professor of piano performance.

Shirley and Ralph Shapiro donated $1 million to create the Shapiro Family Chair in Piano Performance. The donation primarily supports faculty member at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music and piano students, and David Kaplan is the inaugural chairholder.

The donation was important for the School of Music. Chair funds can support instrument purchases and bring distinguished pianists to UCLA for masterclasses. Finding funds for such things can be difficult at public universities, which makes these donations all the more important. But Kaplan’s plans go far beyond that.

“My ambition is to inaugurate a summer piano festival,” Kaplan said. “We will build around our own faculty and bring in guest artists. We plan to recruit aspiring high school pianists from all over California and the wider region to attend.

Music festivals help raise the profile of host institutions like the School of Music. They are not only great recruiting tools, but they also provide many opportunities to build meaningful relationships between UCLA and students in the wider global community.

“Once students have the chance to work with our piano faculty, they begin to get a sense of the opportunities that are available at our school and the culture of our studios,” said Kaplan, whose vision is to host an annual event while he holds the Shapiro chair. This would provide UCLA undergraduate and graduate students with the opportunity to meet professionals in the field and mentor young players. Other regional music schools hold similar events, making it important that UCLA raise its profile with its own festival.

“It wouldn’t have been possible without a constant source of funding, something that would be a base from which we could do this work,” Kaplan said. “The Shapiro chair will allow us to establish that.”

The Shapiro chair was also put into use immediately. Part of his funds were used to purchase a Bösendorfer grand piano for use by UCLA students and faculty. The presence of such a piano may be rare in music schools. Many schools accept sponsorships with a single piano manufacturing company. Such sponsorships mean that students often only experience one brand of performance instrument during their training.

That, Kaplan explained, could be a downside.

“Professional pianists often have to adapt to the piano that’s in the room,” Kaplan said. “It’s important to experience different types of pianos. UCLA has a good variety, and I’m happy about it. But I always push for more.

The Bösendorfer has a special reputation. “Modern pianos are often made with a regularity of timbre in the registers. The Bösendorfer is true to the 19th century aesthetic that varies the sound according to register,” Kaplan said. “It gives the piano a more orchestral sound.”

“I love the Bösendorfer,” said second-year piano student Aiden Tang. “It gives me so much range, versatility, and projection when it comes to sound creation. On its own, it already sounds really nice compared to other pianos I’ve experienced on campus, but when it’s controlled properly, I believe it can transform a melody from a simple pleasing sound to touching one’s heart, which I believe is essential to my work as a pianist.”

“It’s a different piano than the pianos in the practice room,” said Terry Hsu, a sophomore in piano performance. “The depth of the keys is a little less deep. And the tone is warm, wonderfully clear. Clarity, of course, can be a double-edged sword, as Hsu acknowledged. “The Bösendorfer does not allow players to hide their mistakes. But that makes it a wonderful piano for learning.

“Plus,” Hsu added, “it’s really pretty and sparkly.”

There are about two dozen students in the music school’s piano studios at any one time, with 9 or 10 new students admitted each year. The opportunity to play on a Bösendorfer will expand to hundreds of students within a decade.

The real benefits and glory of the Shapiro chair are still in the future. As Kaplan would be the first to admit, the celebration is premature, at least until he can organize and establish a summer festival and make additional plans. But behind every big event that has a powerful and deep legacy, there were simple sketches, ideas and plans.

And David Kaplan has plans.

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