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PianoForte Buys Bigger Space to Host More Events

SOUTH LOOP — After months of searching for a new location big enough to accommodate its piano sales floor and concert and lecture series, the PianoForte Foundation has found a new home — nine blocks south of its old one.

Founded in 2005 by Thomas Zoells, the foundation was created as an extension of PianoForte Chicago, a piano store in the historic Fine Arts Building downtown, mostly to support Zoells' habit of offering the storefront for salon-style performances by local and touring musicians.

The foundation has since been established as an independent nonprofit, but still relies on the PianoForte store for performance space, which Zoells described as "a challenge. The layout is far from ideal," he said.

Late last month, Zoells made the purchase he's dreamed about for years, signing a deal on a building he plans to call "The PianoForte Studios" at 1335 S. Michigan Ave.

"It' going to be a center for keyboard music in Chicago," Zoells said, adding that he plans to expand programming to fill it. "I don't mean that in a commercial way at all. It should be a place where people can learn about keyboard music, keyboards, pianos — where they can go to lectures or concerts, and have classes. It's sort of the whole package."

Between now and July, the space will be customized with acoustic insulation; small, private studios for lessons; and dedicated space for recording and performances. Zoells expects the move to be done by the end of the summer.

Zoells said it's no accident that the move to the new building will be a short one. He said the South Loop is the perfect home for the city's piano capital.

"It's a really good location for a couple of reasons: One is it's right across the street from Sherwood Community Music School, which is part of Columbia College, so there's already a lot of music on that block," Zoells said.

"And it's in the South Loop. That neighborhood has become a very tight-knit, very residential community with a lot of cultural activity right around there. We want to contribute to that. And at the same time, it's so close to downtown, you can walk there, you can hop on a bus, you can more easily park there than you can where we are now, so I think it's a winner."

Members of the South Loop's classical music scene are already excited about the new space. Kim Diehnelt, music director of the South Loop Symphony and artistic director of the "Sounds of the South Loop" music series, said she was thrilled to hear PianoForte was moving to a bigger space but staying in the South Loop.

"There's something about that neighborhood, it wouldn't have the same vibe anywhere else," she said. "PianoForte's events are always a robust series. They never do anything with half energy, and it's always an eclectic and high-quality mix of styles. I would love see that be the South Loop's niche: [Music that is] off the beaten path but always very high quality."