Love for Lilian and music: the ‘unusual’ story behind Swee Goh’s gift of a piano to U of T
One crisp and sunny October day, Swee Goh (MBA 1974, PhD 1980) saw a concert with his wife Lilian Goh (née Sung) (MBA 1974) in the University of Toronto’s MacMillan Theatre. Michelle Lin (BMusP 2020), winner of the U of T Symphony Orchestra’s concerto competition the year prior, played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 to a rapt audience, who gave her a standing ovation.
The performance made a lasting impression – even for a couple who had seen countless concerts over 47 years of marriage, including many at U of T.
After Lilian’s death following a short illness a few years later, Swee was looking for a way to commemorate his late wife, whom he met as a graduate student at U of T. Rummaging through a dresser drawer, he stumbled on programs she had kept for concerts they had attended.
Lin’s was top of the pile.
It was a very unusual incident
“It was a very unusual incident,” Swee said, adding that, just moments earlier, he had been talking to U of T’s Faculty of Music about making a donation to the University in Lilian’s name.
He called the faculty back and offered to fully fund the purchase of a new Steinway.
“When I first heard the Faculty of Music needed a new piano, there was some discussion around the [model of] piano itself,” he said. “The consensus was the Hamburg Steinway, the crème de la crème of concert grands.”
The Steinway Model D is a fixture of illustrious concert halls and the instrument of choice for famous pianists, from Martha Argerich to Billy Joel. It costs in excess of $200,000. “There was no issue with my funding this piano,” Swee said. “I thought about Lilian. She always liked the best for me – and the best for us – so I didn’t want to compromise.”
Swee and Lilian met as master’s of business administration students at U of T in the 1970s. Though they saw each other in class and at parties, it was only after they both applied for the same summer job in human resources at Imperial Oil that they grew close.
Lilian was hired ahead of Swee.
“Well, you owe me a dinner,” he teased her.