Mostly Classical

Is This Beethoven?

When I play Chopin’s Revolutionary
Etude for 400 high school students at Lakeshore Collegiate Institute in
Toronto, I get big applause. When I proceed to tell them it is Chopin’s 200th
anniversary this year, their interest begins to wane. It is only when I follow
that up with a comparison between Frédéric Chopin and Justin Bieber that the
entire auditorium goes wild. Chopin is known for his singing melodies, direct
emotional approach and pianissimo sound.

The students aren’t really able to
tell me the three things they like most about Bieber, but various girls simply
scream “I love him” among the general uproar.

I am in Toronto to play a concert
for the Cayman Islands Diabetic Support Group organized by Christina Rowlandson
at the Fairmont Hotel’s beautiful Ontario Room. This city reminds me of a
small, more relaxed version of New York, but the people are almost unnervingly
nice. It is as if the entire city has been sent to finishing school. After
receiving particularly involved answers to simple questions from complete
strangers, I find myself sniffing the air for hallucinogens.


Travelling by horse

I am meeting all sorts of different
people, from filmmakers and producers to agents and actors. Toronto (or Trono
(as the natives call it) is in the midst of TIFF (not the picture format but
the Toronto International Film Festival). I feel incredibly lucky to have a job
that takes me from Grand Cayman to Hong Kong, playing in front of people who
appreciate me for what I do, making new and interesting friends and also
helping a great cause, in this case diabetes education. I think of Chopin who
travelled by horse and carriage on terrible roads in less than great
conditions. True, he didn’t have to deal with airport security.

I try to keep the audience engaged
by telling them about the composers and myself. Beethoven dedicated Moonlight Sonata
to the 16-year-old countess Giulietta Guicciardi, whom he would have loved to
date. Communication was difficult in those days, and he might have gotten
around her father’s opposition if only he had had Facebook. 


Chilly silence

I ask the audience how they feel
about Americans. This meant-to-be ice-breaker is met with chilly silence. In an
effort to win back the crowd, I invite on stage the lovely Miss World Canada,
Denise Garrido, and ask how tall her boyfriend is.  Giving an entire generation of vertically
challenged guys hope, she replies “Five feet nine inches.”  I’ve devised a game to keep the kids interested
in the music. Similar to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? except for the money.
Actually it’s called Is this Beethoven? and involves two kids answering
questions about pieces I play. They must simply say whether the piece is Beethoven
or not. Gain one point for a correct answer. Lose one point for an incorrect
answer. Two points for naming the actual piece. I start by playing the US
National Anthem. Hands go up and Riley tells me, “It’s not Beethoven.”  Correct, I say.

He tells me it sounds very familiar
and then ventures, “Is it the Canadian National Anthem?”


Mostly audio…

Frederic Chopin: Revolutionary
Etude Opus 10 No. 12 in C Minor

Sviatoslav Richter, piano

Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata Opus
27 No 2 in C-Sharp Minor (3rd movt.)

Artur Rubinstein, piano


Mostly Julian…

Julian Gargiulo is a pianist and
composer who divides his time between wishing saber-toothed tigers weren’t
extinct and making paper pirate hats out of his old bios. He also finds time
for touring with his new album mostlyjulian, working on his nonprofit, curating the Water Island Music Festival in the US Virgin
Islands and Crossing Borders of Hunter College in NY, and endlessly walking the
streets of New York in search of people to add as Facebook friends. Further
study can be done at

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  1. What a refreshing article. The brief capsule on ‘Trono’, told me more about the city than any travel brochure. The comments on Chopin and Bieber, then on Beethoven and Guicciardi, with a passing reference to Facebook or, rather, to its absence, are worth remembering. Well done, Julian!

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