Family donates Rolls-Royce of pianos to York’s music department

The Rolls-Royce of pianos has arrived at York. A Bösendorfer – one of the world’s oldest piano manufacturers – was generously donated to the University’s Department of Music by the Rosenberg family in Toronto.

The exquisite 100-year-old grand piano will advance York’s music programs once restored. It was gifted in memory of Barbara June Rosenberg, a collector of art and champion of the performing arts who died unexpectedly in October 2013.

“The Bösendorfer was her baby,” Rosenberg’s sister-in-law Arlen Handelman said. “She wasn’t a pianist, but the piano was her pride and joy.”

Barbara June Rosenberg
Barbara June Rosenberg

Made in 1913, the Bösendorfer came into the Rosenberg family when Rosenberg purchased it in the 1960s. The piano became the centrepiece of the family’s grand living room. Whoever entered the home was offered a seat and begged to play.

“She recognized the quality of the piano and wanted to open people’s ears, eyes and hearts with music,” Handelman said. “She had several passions. The top three were family, education and the arts.”

The oldest of four children whose parents came to Canada from Russia as teenagers, Rosenberg was the first in her extended family to have the opportunity to attend university. She was one of the first women admitted to the business school at the University of Western Ontario. In the 1960s, she became one of the first female commercial developers.

“She was astute in business and was an accomplished entrepreneur,” Handelman said. “I fell in love with Barbara first before falling in love with her brother. She was not only smart, but was also a dynamic, gorgeous blonde. Her presence and intelligence were powerful, yet she’d sit down and share a cup of tea with people from all walks of life.”

Following Rosenberg’s sudden death, Handelman said the family talked at first about selling the piano, but decided instead to gift it to keep alive the spirit of Rosenberg’s values and beliefs.

“Barbara lived larger than life. She was socially active and active in fundraising through donations to fine arts and music departments. Her house was a revolving door for musicians and artists. She believed music and art were the ultimate expression of beauty, strength and true spirit,” Handelman said. “We felt a connection with York in that it truly understood the importance of the piano. It is the perfect fit for who and what Barbara was. We all cried. We were so honoured that York understood Barbara’s spirit.”

Christina Petrowska Quilico, professor of piano performance and musicology at York, described Bösendorfer pianos as being known for their wonderful warm quality of tone.

“It has a liquid, melting sound. Mozart just sings on it,” said Petrowska Quilico, who has performed in prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall. “The key action is like driving a sports car. It performs. Because pianists play on a different instrument each time we perform, you live for the opportunity to play on a supreme instrument like the Bösendorfer. I remember every concert I played on a supreme piano, including two recitals on a Bösendorfer in Taiwan.”

Once restored, Rosenberg’s Bösendorfer will join the Kawai concert grand in the music department to be reserved for concerts and recitals only.

“A lot of our students don’t get to play on grand pianos, so it’s really wonderful to have the Bösendorfer in our facility,” Petrowska Quilico said. “I can’t wait to try it out myself.”

The Department of Music has launched a campaign to raise $30,000 needed to restore and bring the Bösendorferback to its full glory. To find out more about the restoration or make a tax deductible donation, contact Alasdair Hooper at or 416-736-2100, ext. 33118.