Local pianists have been surprised and disappointed to hear that Hastings Museum and Art Gallery sold off a 9-foot Estonia concert grand piano last winter for a price of around £2,000 without any consultation save within the committee that runs it. 

The piano is believed to have been owned by the museum for upwards of 30 years but, according to Damian Etherington, Museum and Cultural Development Manager at Hastings Borough Council, it was never “accessioned” as part of the formal collection and was therefore free to be disposed of.  According to a council spokesperson, it was being played only once or twice a year and was taking up floor space that could be used for exhibits. Cllr Kim Forward, now leader of the council but then its portfolio holder for regeneration, culture and tourism, is said to have given approval for the sale in September 2019. It was then discussed and approved by an informal museum committee two months later, though there are apparently no minutes that show this. 

PICTURE: Gorringes, Lewes

In response to queries raised as to the £2,000 price tag, the council spokesperson said last week: “Two independent valuations were carried out by piano experts, who both valued the piano in the same region. The figure it eventually sold for was at the upper end of both estimates” – the council is “ very confident, knowing the history of the piano, the pedigree of the maker, and period in which it was made” that the best price reasonably achievable was obtained.

Local professional pianist Hugh Alexander does not accept this. He points out that Lewes auctioneers Gorringes had previously advised an insurance value of £18,000 for the Estonia.  And he says that, when he recently visited Gorringes salerooms, he saw two grand pianos ready to go into auction there, both valued well in excess of £2,000, even though one was of obviously lesser quality than the Estonia in question.

“At the end of the day, they got rid of an excellent concert grand piano, which wasn`t doing any harm in the museum and had been there for at least 30 years, for the paltry sum of £2,000.  They didn`t even have the foresight to alert the local community, nor the musicians who used to play it (mostly for charitable purposes).  All of this demonstrates a complete lack of any consideration for the promotion of live piano music in the town … one wonders what other items they might decide to get rid off without telling the local community.”

Local composer of international renown, Polo Piatti, who is founder and artistic director of the Hastings Sinfonia orchestra. the International Composers Festival and the Opus Theatre, has expressed similar complaints. 

One wonders what other items they might decide to get rid of without telling the local community

“It is a real shame to hear about the selling of that iconic piano,” he said.  “I’ve played on it several times and, although not the best in town, it was in good enough condition to be performed on. I don’t understand why local musicians have not been consulted on an item that should have been protected as part of the town’s heritage. 

“Without a piano, numerous opportunities to offer musical events at the museum, many even benefiting local charities, have now been lost. Was it absolutely necessary to sell the instrument? And if so, why haven’t local musicians been contacted to help achieve a better price for it by using our professional contacts?”

The museum reopened to pre-booking visitors on 27th August after five months of closure due to the Covid-19 outbreak:click here.

We hope you have enjoyed reading this article. The future of our volunteer led, non-profit publication would be far more secure with the aid of a small donation. You can also support local journalism by becoming a friend of HIP. It only takes a minute and we would be very grateful.