Thursday, June 13, 2019

Goodyear rising

Absolutely thrilled to present a Q&A with the American composer and pianist Stewart Goodyear, who's in London today (QEH), Basingstoke tomorrowSymphony Hall, Birmingham, on Saturday and the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, on Sunday to perform his own suite Callaloo with the Chineke! orchestra. We talk inspiration, celebration, composition and golden ages...

Stewart Goodyear: part of a new golden age of composer-pianists?

He's also the soloist on a new album featuring the work alongside Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which will be out on 7 July (Orchid Classics). It's conducted by Wayne Marshall. Here's a taster - which takes me right back to the day, around two decades ago, when Wayne performed the solo piano part with the LPO under Kurt, though, he and Stewart seem in much greater harmony!). JD

JD: Stewart, welcome to JDCMB! Please tell us about Callaloo: what is the story behind it? What inspired you to write it? And what can listeners expect from it?

SG: I always wanted to write a work that paid homage to my Trinidadian background. My suite for piano and orchestra, Callaloo, was composed in 2016, two years after I first experienced Carnival in Trinidad. At that festival, I was exposed to gorgeous Calypso music for two weeks straight, riveted every second. My dream was to showcase the music of my heritage in a classical work.

The suite is in five movements, each a musical depiction of various parts of the Carnival. The finale is a wild Soca, a high-tempo Calypso that compels the listener to jump up and throw away inhibitions. 
The work is a joyous celebration of life, of people coming together....Listeners can expect their bodies to inadvertently move to the music!

JD: What’s it been like to work with Chineke? What does this orchestra mean to you?

SG: I love every moment of working with the musicians of Chineke! All members are passionate and committed to their art, and strive for the very best in musicianship. The representation of people of all races and colours performing music that they love, and are passionate about, is a statement that is very much needed in the classical world. 

JD: Please tell us about your own background. How and where did you start learning the piano (and/or composition)? Who most encouraged and inspired you? And what do you regard as the most important landmarks in your career to date?

SG: I come from a very musically eclectic background...My father, who died a month before I was born, left a legacy of LPs ranging from the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, and the symphonies of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. Hearing those later artists made me desire to have a close affinity to classical music...I was drawn to that music more than any other. 

There are so many people I will be eternally grateful for. A few I will mention: so much thanks, love and gratitude to my mother who believed in me and supported me from the very start, my piano teachers at both the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School, and Jennifer Higdon for supporting my composition, Matthew Trusler and the team of Orchid Classics, Stephen Carpenter, Chi-chi Nwanoku and the musicians of Chineke!

I have been fortunate to work with wonderful music teachers, hear incredible musicians in concert and on recordings, and work with fantastic people throughout my career. Some of the landmarks of my career have been fulfilling my dream of recording the complete Beethoven piano sonatas and concerti, composing 3 piano concerti and various other compositions, and recording Callaloo with Chineke!

Stewart plays his own 'Baby Shark' Fugue

JD: Have you always composed as well as being a pianist, or is this a new departure for you? How do you manage the combination of two musical activities in the practical sense? And what are you composing next?

SG: I have always had equal passions of becoming both a concert pianist and a composer. Being a lover of music history, I have been enthralled by the works of composer/performers like Beethoven, Liszt and Rachmaninov to name only a few. Composition has become a part of my life since I was 8 years old, and musical ideas flow through me wherever I I always travel with manuscript paper!

I have just composed a cello concerto which will be performed Rachel Mercer and the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa next season, and future projects include a piano quintet in honour of the Beethoven year 2020.

JD: Do you think there’s a resurgence taking place in the tradition of the composer-pianist that was so prevalent in the 19th century and early 20th? How do you feel about this idea?

SG:I truly hope that this tradition becomes the norm, and I am very excited by the resurgence of this practice, with composer-pianists like Thomas Ades, Daniil Trifonov, Stephen Hough and others. I believe nurturing a new generation of composer-performers will bring the classical music art form to a new Renaissance and golden age.

JD: Do you think the classical music world is making progress in the matter of diversity and equality? What would make the biggest difference, in your view, to the possibility of establishing this balance?

SG: The classical music world is beginning to take notice that many musicians of all colours are celebrating their love of this music without the fear of boundaries or walls. There are still ways to go for the classical music world to make progress in the matter of diversity and equality, but those ways are now being discussed, which is a positive step forward. I think the solution for true equality lies with how classical music programs are structured: Instead of boxing composers by race and sex, include them on programs where they are equal to the composers established already through history. As French, Russian and Italian composers are celebrated equally to German and Austrian composers in concerts, composers of every colour and background should be just as celebrated. Classical music will then be a truly relevant art form embraced by all demographics.