Raised in a musical family in Kyrgyzstan, Leili Asanbekova’s early interest in piano was natural.

This passion would soon bring her to Moscow’s Central Music School. Years later while she was studying piano in France, one of her former instructors from the Russian conservatory recommended a graduate program at the University of Maryland.

Now, Asanbekova — who is a piano performance doctoral student at this university  — is one of nine piano students who will make history when they take the stage at New York City’s legendary Steinway Hall on Sunday — the first group from this university to do so.

The performance will be remotely broadcast at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s Gildenhorn Recital Hall by using one of Steinway & Sons’ newest technological achievements — the Spirio piano. 

This will allow Steinway Hall’s instrument to connect with the piano in Gildenhorn Recital Hall, so when a pianist hits a key in New York, that same key will depress and play in College Park.

“It feels completely like a normal grand piano,” Michael Blum, one of the student pianists performing at Steinway Hall on Sunday, said. “You’d never know [the difference], which is amazing.” 

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Blum, a piano performance graduate student, was selected for the show following a competitive audition process where students played a piece of their choice for the music school faculty — who then deliberated and whittled down the applicants to nine exceptionally talented musicians. 

Sunday’s show will mark an exciting return to the city for sophomore neuroscience and piano performance Marcello Silva, who previously performed at Carnegie Hall. The Spirio technology doesn’t intimidate Silva. In fact, he appreciates the abilities of the souped-up instrument, he said. 

“I’m just gonna put all my feelings and emotions into it and hope the Spirio picks it up,” Silva said. 

The emerging technology features applications beyond simultaneous performances, said Mayron Tsong, who serves as the division coordinator and an  associate professor of this university’s piano program. In the future, Tsong hopes to see the Spirio series bring top-level pianists to underserved communities that lack access to high-quality music education.  

The price remains a barrier to entry. A Steinway & Sons Spirio piano ranges from $122,000 to more than $400,000, depending on the model, but this university’s relationship with the company allowed them to circumvent purchasing their own or having to rent out the performance space at Steinway Hall.

This university is an All-Steinway School, meaning that all pianos owned by the university are Steinway-made. The All-Steinway School program allows participating colleges to travel to New York City and use Steinway Hall’s facilities free of charge, and despite being in the program for more than 25 years, this university has never taken advantage of that perk. Sunday will change that.

“It took about two years of planning in my head and grabbing all the forces that work together,” said Tsong. “It’s going to be very exciting and the students are just crazy about it.”

The performance group is composed of students from a variety of backgrounds. Some hail from the international community, like Asanbekova, while Silva is a first-generation American from a Brazilian family. 

For many of the performers, the piano has been with them for most of their lives. Asanbekova began at age 6 and Blum’s lessons started when he was 7. 

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The group will have a final recital at The Clarice on Thursday before beginning their journey to New York City. The performance is set to be a culmination of the group’s collective academic and musical efforts — a testament to the hours they’ve poured into their craft. 

“It’s such a nice chance to perform in New York City and in this hall, because Steinway is […] the best piano in the world,” said Asanbekova. “I’m thrilled to perform there.”

Asanbekova, Blum, Silva and the rest of their group will take the stage at 2 p.m. on Sunday, ready to perform for the crowd in New York, and all those watching the Spirio spring to life back home.