Julian Gargiulo is a performer of consummate piano skill and the pedigree to match. He’s played at numerous venues including the world-famous Carnegie Hall and released five albums to date with a sixth imminent. Joe Shooman reports.
That new LP is unique in that it includes, for the first time, selections of his own work alongside pieces by classical composers.
It’s not the only unique thing about Gargiulo, as event-goers attending the Diabetes Support Group of Grand Cayman fundraiser found out. The concert, held at the ballroom of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, was notable for Gargiulo’s distinctive approach. Rather than simply sitting down and playing pieces by the likes of Schumann and Chopin, he rather enjoys the interactive aspect of communicating with his audience.
And to do so he regularly jumps from his piano stool, grabs a microphone and encourages the audience to name his songs for him, or leads them through the backstory of the selections he’s playing. That could be a German piece ‘where everyone dies at the end’ or his own Waltz in Four which he explained he entitled ‘Hijacked’ in tribute to his mother who, on hearing the piece, decided she would claim it for herself.
His own music was equally-well received by the knowledgeable Ritz-Carlton audience, who particularly enjoyed pieces including the energetic rolling soundscape of Puerto Rican Day Parade, the third part of Gargiulo’s Petite Suite. Even the New Yorker’s poem-intro to Dismembering You, another original, took the crowd with him on a journey into the dark side of a failed relationship.
Ultimately, the fact that Gargiulo is fundamentally an extremely talented piano virtuoso is not masked by any amount of Q&A sessions or jokey intros. Not just anyone gets to perform at Verona Philharmonic, after all. Whether it was a pair of Chopin Etudes, the same composer’s resonant and evocative Waltz in C Sharp Minor or Robert Schumann’s Arabesque, there was not one moment where Gargiulo was not totally in command.
It may in fact be more accurate to say that the pianist was completely in tune with the form and function of the pieces at hand.
Music is about communication and at times doors were opened across centuries and generations with the composers, in a sense, talking directly to the gathered audience. Gargiulo was the conduit, able to allow a two-hundred year old piece to develop contemporary significance to each person present.
Of course, it’s just like Julian Gargiulo to stand up and invite questions from the audience immediately afterwards, but always with respect for the music. There’s a difference between having fun and clowning around inappropriately, and no matter how cheeky things were in danger of getting, what was not in question was that the music was central to it all.
He proved it in spades as he rounded the musical side of matters off with a thirteen-minute piano sonata of his own composition. It was fluid and visceral, muscular and tender, and through its three sections it told a certain story of how to wend and weave thematicism, rhythm, dynamic. It seemed inspired by everything from the city of New York to the years of practice and weighty study of the harmonic development of Western music that is inherent in any rise of any performer to the top of his profession.
For his own part, Gargiulo said he was extremely pleased with the way things had gone in a night that raised some $25,000 for the Diabetes Support Group of Grand Cayman. He said that he is always boosted by playing to new people in new places, as it proved on his debut in Cayman.
“Probably the most exciting part of the concert is walking out into a ‘foreign country’ of faces like you’re entering a new yet somehow familiar world.
“My first feeling upon seeing [Thursday night’s audience was that there was] excitement, but also [I noticed] the worried expressions of people having just signed over to me a couple of hours of their most precious resource – time,” he said, somewhat tongue in cheek.
The following day, the New Yorker led a gaggle of excited kids on a journey through music at a workshop in First Baptist Church. As is often the case, the kids got bang into the groove and threw themselves into such activities as acting out new stories for pieces that Gargiulo was playing. The atmosphere was as friendly and informal as could be hoped and all that were present got a lot out of it.
Gargiulo is a fantastic performer who both bares his musical soul and then stands up to be counted between the songs with some moments of daft fun. He explained that he enjoyed the back and forth between himself and his audience.
“The Q & A is sometimes the most fun for me, other than the playing, mainly because I have no idea what people will ask me.
“In fact, I encourage people to ask anything from love and marriage to divorce and infidelity.
“True, I mostly end up with the usual, ‘when did you start playing the piano’ but occasionally luck out with ‘Are you single?’”