Julian Gargiulo may be one of the most talented pianists on the planet, but that don’t mean you won’t find him having fun.
The ivory-tickling New York resident visits Grand Cayman on Thursday 4 March to perform a concert in aid of the Diabetic Support Group in the Cayman Islands, and amidst the technically-amazing pieces by the likes of Chopin and Beethoven, he also is prone to get the audience involved.
He prefers a relaxed atmosphere, he says, rather than a stuffy, straight-backed and over-polite audience, and to get the audience comfortable he encourages them to ask questions as he delivers his own blend of stand-up comedy.
It all began as a young musician when he found himself entertaining a bunch of senior citizens. And rather than sit there in silence, they would often answer the young whippersnapper back when he tried to explain some background to the music he was playing. It was an eye-opener, he says, and made him realise that he loved entertaining people in more ways than just through his incredible playing.
Gargiulo has also begun to write his own music, or at least allow the sketches and doodles he’d use as throwaway warm-ups to solidify into more formalised pieces of music. His latest, sixth, album is called Mostly Julian and it is the first time his own work has featured in the recorded format.
“I used to sit down and improvise but that is very different from composing something, writing it down, thinking about it, working it through and developing some sort of form and sense.
“A very good friend of mine, a composer, would be at my house and would always say I should write my improvisations down. And one of the other reasons is that during the Q&A sections of my concerts someone would always ask if I wrote my own music.
“I got tired of disappointing them and saying no. So I started writing stuff down and of the things I’m doing now it’s one of the most satisfying and interesting. I really feel creative when I’m doing it and I’m really excited about that.
“It’s easier for me than someone who is just a composer because I am also a performer and everything I’ve written is very easily contained.”
Gargiulo’s own music is inspired by Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninov as he’s been playing their work all his life, he says.
“There’s one piece that audiences seem to like called Puerto Rican Day Parade which is definitely more rhythmic and jazzy and doesn’t seem so classical. I also wrote a sonata where there are things that are reminiscent of Provokiev or Shostakovich. Composing is a very fun and creative thing to do – I guess it’s like writing a story.”
The pieces are usually ‘inspired by women’ he says, somewhat tongue in cheek – the universal inspiration for musical works by everyone from Beethoven to Chuck Berry.
“What’s important for me in general is connecting with people and communication. People are very, very important. It’s not so much about place – I am very happy to live in New York and it has an energy I don’t find in different places but it’s all about the people at the end of the day.”
The pianist, who also has his own charity 1600 Children, which is dedicated to raising awareness of how that amount of children die each day, and it was partly through talking about his organisation that he met organisers of the DSG Cayman.
Although he is a world-traveller who has appeared everywhere from Carnegie Hall to Singapore’s Esplanade and Moscow Conservatory Hall, he hasn’t yet experienced the pleasures of Seven Mile Beach, he explains.
“I’ve been to the Caribbean a lot but never to Cayman. I’m someone who loves warm weather and I hear there’s a lot of that there so I’m very excited. I’ve really learnt how to wakeboard and I love to sail plus I’m excited about meeting the people there too.
“Caribbean audiences are more ready to relax and have fun and when I propose that alternative they really jump on board. I’ve done concerts in the US Virgin Islands and the people are always affectionate and ready to take you sailing on their boats after the concert which is really cool. That doesn’t happen at a gig in Birmingham,” he laughs.
On Friday 5 March Garguilo will be giving a youth workshop at the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church. This free workshop is dedicated to hosting high school years 7,8 and 9 and is designed to introduce students to classical music in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
Tickets for the concert on Thursday 4 March are available from Butterfield Bank, main branch location, 2nd floor reception; Funky Tangs; Full of Beans café at Pasadora Place; Picture This in West Bay; and Vigoro Nursery at both Walkers Road and Agricola Drive location. They cost $75 per person
Sponsors for the event are Butterfield, Caymanian Compass, Crighton Properties, KPMG, Ogier and PricewaterhouseCoopers. All proceeds will benefit pediatric programs supported by the Diabetic Support Group in the Cayman Islands (DSG Cayman).