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Koerner Hall’s 10th Anniversary season, sponsored by BMO Financial and the Toronto Star, continued on Saturday, October 20th with Grammy-award winning Canadian ex-pat pianist and RCM alumnus Chilly Gonzales, popularly known as “Gonzo”, who performed his second sold out show in the past three days. Gonzales, who now lives in Germany, apparently holds the Guinness world record for the longest solo concert at over 27 hours. Although this concert was just over an hour and a half, Gonzales and his adoring audience made the most of their time together.
Gonzales arrived to exuberant applause, decked out in his now familiar camouflage bath robe and slippers. As he took his seat at the piano, the house lights went dark, and only the keyboard itself was illuminated, allowing the audience to become totally enveloped in Gonzales’ pensive and contemplative opening medley of songs from his recent Solo Piano III album. This was followed by another medley of songs from Solo Piano II. Gonzales’ compositions take the form of classical-style vignettes and etudes, often being compared to Debussy and Satie. It is also not difficult to hear hints of Chopin, as well as modern composers such as Steve Reich and Ola Geilo. He plays with a very soft and delicate touch, introducing simple but unusual lyrical motifs that he deftly develops. In a heartbeat, he can become furiously percussive and then just as quickly return to a state of complete serenity. The actual solo recordings do not do justice to the richness and emotional depth of his playing displayed in this live performance.
The solo segment lasted for about forty minutes, during which he explained that while on a sabbatical from performing in 2016, he became more comfortable with dissonance, chords left unresolved, and in the process became an artist. Then, as he started another piece, cellist/vocalist Stella Le Page glided onto the stage and joined in, creating a haunting interplay of melodic and percussive intensity between cello and piano. They continued together with a beautiful rendition of a piece that he apologetically titled “Cello Gonzales”.
Chilly Gonzales; Photo credit: Martina Wörz
The Artist Known as Chilly Gonzales
His trademark humour was on full display when he teased the audience about applauding in perfect Koerner Hall style while coyly suggesting that perhaps if they saw themselves at, say, a rap concert, their response might be different. He went out of his way to remind patrons about the implied contract between performer and audience, and that the audience had a role to play - but not by being manipulated into it by him. It was all in good fun, and led to a major shift in direction for the concert with a seemingly impromptu (but carefully planned) musical seminar on the nature of rap music, which he basically described as “beats and rhymes”. The former is metronomic while the latter is imperfect and compelling word play. Diving into his back catalog, he and Le Page launched into a straight ahead rap number, with Chilly dusting off lyrics penned by himself over ten years earlier, leaving him wondering who the psychopath was who write them. While this was unfolding, drummer/vocalist Joe Flory set up his kit from scratch and joined in, creating a hard driving finish to the piece and inspiring cheering from what had seemed to be a more laid back audience. Clearly, Gonzo’s reputation had preceded him, and the audience was only too willing to indulge this expected diversion and go along for the ride. The remainder of the concert featured another rap number with Chilly on drums and the other two either on piano together or singing a cappella harmony - which actually worked beautifully in the rap idiom. There was some thumping rock, featuring extraordinary symphonic style piano playing, and at the end, Chilly got the spontaneously loud and raucous appreciation from the audience that he had been seeking. As an RCM grad, he did the grand institution proud, on this, his fourth visit to Koerner Hall. There will be more soon, we hope.
Next up in Koerner Hall's TrailBlazers Series is Jane Bunnett and Maqueque All-Stars at 8pm on Friday November 30th 2018.
Review by Jeff Mitchell
Toronto ON October 21st 2018
Chilly Gonzales, Le Page and Joe Flory; Photo credit: Martina Wörz