WALNUT CREEK--Susan Hammond had one unforgettable day at Massey Hall in Toronto, where she was sitting a mere few feet away from the piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz.

Hammond was a young pianist in 1976 who only dreamed of seeing Horowitz perform live. As she stood in line along with several other concert-going hopefuls waiting outside the hall to score tickets, she didn't think she had a chance. It wasn't until she actually got to watch him perform later that day that the surreal experience would make an impression on her and influence the way she played.

"I sat five feet from his left hand," said Hammond, who divides her time between Toronto and the Bay Area. "He had a unique technique and penetrating sound. The softest sound he could make on the piano could carry loud and clear to the back of the hall. If I heard this penetrating sound on the radio, I would immediately know it was him."

Hammond and fellow pianist and Horowitz enthusiast Justin Levitt will perform some of Horowitz' repertoire by Schumann, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, as well as some of Levitt's original compositions in concert on Horowitz' own Steinway Concert Grand Piano No. 503. In addition to the performance at the Lafayette Library's Community Hall, Hammond and Levitt will share video clips and stories about the Steinway pianist whose piano toured with him wherever he went.

"This piano traveled the world with him as his closest friend and confidante," she said.

Now, the piano takes up residence for a limited time in the Bay Area for the public to absorb some of the Horowitz "magic," said Levitt, manager of Sherman Clay Piano in Walnut Creek.

"We're having the recital at 4 p.m. on Sunday because it was the only time he would perform," said Hammond, who produced the ten internationally-acclaimed CDs, videos and live symphony shows called Classical Kids.

"He felt this was the only time he was at his peak," said Levitt, a Concord resident who performed at Carnegie Hall last year. "So, we're trying to keep this tradition alive."

Sherman Clay Piano will be offering appointment-only opportunities for the public to play Horowitz' Steinway Concert grand piano at the Walnut Creek showroom from Jan. 21-31. The tour provides a rare opportunity to see, hear, touch and even play the very same piano which was known to be one of Horowitz' favorite instruments, Levitt said.

"I also have a concert grand Steinway that I consider to be my best friend that allows me to feel and express my music," Levitt said. "It wasn't just a piano to Horowitz. This instrument allowed him to be himself musically."

Horowitz, who lived from 1903 to 1989, used this piano, which he kept in his New York townhouse, in several recitals and recordings during the 1970s and 1980s, said Hammond, who's currently writing a book about piano studies based on master classes, reading and private study.

Steinway Pianos keeps the piano on tour so the public can get a chance to see it and play it because "inside the piano carries the magic of his touch," said Hammond, who's been awarded six JUNO's (Canada's Grammies), the Billboard Award for Excellence, and the first Karl Haas Award for Music Education. She also has the Order of Canada for her contribution to arts education.

"When I play it, or anyone who plays the piano, hopes to conjure up the sound and spirit of Horowitz," said Hammond. "You wonder if any piece of him is still left in that piano."

Recital and lecture, 'The Legendary Piano of Vladimir Horowitz'
WHEN: 4 p.m. Jan. 20
WHERE: Lafayette Library Community Hall, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette
TICKETS: $10 tickets. 925- 283-6513, ext. 101 or e-mail reserve@LLLCF.org
INFORMATION: For piano tour and playing appointment times in Walnut Creek (and other information), call 925-932-0100.