Proud 35 Years!

2020 marks the 35th anniversary of Theme & Variations Piano Services and with many plans of celebration now put on hold for this occasion, we would like to share our humble story of 35 years with our wonderful and loyal friends.

For those of you that may not know, Ara Vartoukian – founder and Director of Theme & Variations Piano Services began his piano tuning studies at the then NSW Conservatorium of Music in 1978, topping his class with  merit and also setting the record for the most accurate piano tuning.  He was offered a teaching role at the Conservatorium of Music in charge of the Piano Technology course which included extended further training in the Yamaha piano factories in Hamamatsu Japan .   During his teaching years Ara was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Scholarship for Young Australians to further his knowledge in piano technology at piano manufacturers in Europe and the United States. He ventured to Bosendorfer, Grotrian and Baldwin factories in Europe, and both Steinway & Sons in Hamburg and New York, and brought his newfound knowledge back to Australian shores.

In 1985 and at the keen age of 25, Ara Vartoukian decided to move on from teaching and embarked on creating his own business.  Settling in the leafy suburb of Artarmon he, and then fiancée Nyree opened their first piano showroom and workshop. Establishing themselves as piano retailers they soon became leaders in the professional piano sector. They also created relationships with many institutional customers which fondly are still clients today.

Throughout the corridors of the Conservatorium of Music Ara had developed many friendships with both colleagues and students who were now working as musicians within established arts organisations, and turned to Ara for his expertise in piano servicing.  This was the beginning of all the wonderful arts partnerships that are still so proudly reflected upon today – such as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Musica Viva Australia and the Australian Chamber Orchestra to name a few.

Established and aspiring musicians were made to feel welcome at the Artarmon showroom to practise, have a coffee, or just catch-up and collaborate in all things music-making.  It was also at this time that musicians started to perform recitals at the showroom for the community to enjoy including the launch of the Disklavier Grand Pianos with pianist Gabriella Pusner, playing ‘Scaramouche’ on multiple pianos at the same time! Theme & Variations was steadily growing and began to make themselves known within the Australian arts community, and with the continuing altruistic vision of Ara and Nyree’s generosity, Theme & Variations became a unique meeting point of bringing people together.

After 10 years Artarmon was not big enough and it was time to move on and expand into larger premises in Greenwich, to allow more showroom events and a larger workshop.  With showroom recitals, a fully equipped workshop, piano sales and piano servicing increasing, this new and expansive showroom allowed Theme & Variations Piano Services to become the official Steinway & Sons representation in NSW in 1998 and later in QLD.  This cemented a long and loyal working career for decades to come and allowed Theme & Variations to provide customers with a full-service experience in Steinway product sales and ongoing skilled technical support.  This also included the expansion of their workshop operation to take on more repairs and restorations.

During this time, the ‘Steinway Hall of Fame’ took shape and today the showroom houses numerous autographed photo frames and keyboard signatures of Steinway Artists who have visited the showroom, including Vladimir Ashkenazy,  Emanuel Ax, Alexander Gavrylyuk, Roger Woodward, Yuja Wang, Lang Lang, and many more which can be proudly seen today.

In 2009 once again Theme & Variations expanded and moved to the current destination on Willoughby Road, Willoughby. The opening celebration was an event filled with friends, colleagues, and partners.  Officially opened by chief conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, this celebration was of the happiest times marking over two decades of Theme & Variations Piano Services, and an even longer partnership with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

The Willoughby showroom also allowed for Theme & Variations to have two fully equipped onsite music studios for teachers and students to enjoy, as well as a generous rehearsal and concert space for musicians.  Many important Masterclasses have taken place over the years with pianists Paul Lewis and Angela Hewitt in conjunction with Musica Viva, and Stephen Hough with Sydney Symphony.  We often still have our friends from Sydney Symphony drop in to practise within smaller ensembles at the showroom too.

Automobile and piano composition? Who would have thought! With newly found neighbours in Willoughby Theme & Variations hosted the world’s first music composition for Steinway & Sons and Porsche automobiles. Titled ‘Firing 162435’ this pulsating piece was commissioned by emerging composer Daniel Madera of the Conservatorium of Music and was unveiled at Porsche Willoughby dealership as part of the NSW Chapter Annual Dinner for the Plastic Surgery Society.

With the many demands of running a small business and having such important clients and scheduling, Ara and Nyree’s philanthropic efforts were still important as ever. In 2012 the Theme & Variations Foundation was officially launched.  The opening was hosted at Government House with Her Excellency Governor Marie Bashir and guest of honour Vladimir Ashkenazy and pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk. This was an especially important and momentous occasion for Theme & Variations as it paved the way to officially continue the charitable efforts that were and still are so dear to their hearts. Over the last eight years the foundation has donated funds to eligible students to continue their musical studies.  We were honoured by long-time friends and celebrated pianist Piers Lane as Patron together with Alexander Gavrylyuk as ambassador for the Foundation. Significantly, Alexander over the years was nurtured by Nyree and Ara, this gave them such fulfilment and encouragement to see his success, and to continue doing what they do for many other promising young student pianists in an official capacity.

What sets Theme & Variations apart and adds to their success?  It’s their family culture and open spirit of community, keeping close partnerships, loyal clients, and working creatively with vision for all to enjoy.  In conjunction with the 100th year anniversary of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, in 2015 Theme & Variations celebrated their 30th anniversary by hosting a spectacular event staging six concert grands and 10 pianists.  TAKE 6” was a celebration of music, milestones and friendships. Composers from the Conservatorium of Music were commissioned to write six original pieces that were unveiled at this memorable event. The program commenced with one piano and pianist and soon built to a crescendo of 6 Steinway Concert pianos and 10 pianists in play.  Although a challenging logistical mission the audience were thrilled with the magic and beauty of the night, and our very own Theme & Variations Piano School Director Gabriella Pusner and Professor John Luxton joined in the celebration.

With so much devoted time and many years of philanthropic efforts, in 2016 Ara was awarded with one of the highest honours in his field in receiving an Order of Australia by being formally recognised for his ‘services to music as a piano technician and supporter of the arts’.  Being one of the leading piano technicians in the country, Ara has proudly represented Australia on several occasions with work in China, Germany, New Zealand and Russia.  His skills and expertise in piano technology have made him an internationally respected authority till today.

Although much time has passed with the tide of change, today Theme & Variations Piano Services, a small family business with a big heart and strong legacy steadily paces along in all things piano.  Continuing to hum along to the beat of concert halls, family homes, schools, our showroom and workshop, we ultimately are humbled and grateful to still be here, servicing our customers, our loyal friends and musical family.

2020 is undoubtedly a year like no other, one that will never be forgotten. Perhaps an obligatory or inconvenient change of pace, or perhaps a time of reflection, hope and care of well-being. This year we will be celebrating but in a different way – no grand parties or compositions, but instead a celebration of being thankful and grateful for all that we have achieved; our contribution to the Australian arts community and the many fabulous and inspiring people we have met along the way, that have not only enriched our lives but enabled us to continue doing what we know and love.

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