Pianist plays way into local hearts

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

The man in black sat down at the piano as the audience hushed. A waterfall of perfect notes poured out of the familiar black piano at Burroughs High School’s Parker Performing Arts Center. The audience was caught by surprise as Frederic Chopin’s “Revolutionary” built up and rebounded off the walls.

The Indian Wells Valley Concert Association’s second concert of the 67th season featured classical pianist Julian Gargiulo. With a stunning mastery of the instrument, Gargiulo played precise notes so rapidly they seemed to flow like water. Sometimes those liquid notes were a gentle brook; other times, they were like great waves crashing onto a rocky shore, the spray dancing weightless in the air.

In addition to a remarkable touch, Gargiulo also has a sense of humor. A thin man with a wild mop top, he jokes about his hair. “When I was little, I wanted to be a rock star, but my mom got me piano lessons,” he said. “But, as you can see, my hair kept on dreaming.”

One unusual piece was Domenico Scarlatti’s “Three Sonatas,” which were written for the harpsichord, before the invention of the piano. Nevertheless, Gargiulo played all three on the piano to marvelous effect.

He also composes, and several of the selections he performed were his own. One, which was not listed on the program, was a musical description of an experience he had in New York, trying to get from Point A to Point B while the Puerto Rican Day Parade was in process. Unable to cross the boulevard, he was given conflicting directions and had to wait the parade out in frustration. In the music, you could hear the grandeur of the floats, the rumble of background traffic and the up and down melody of his fruitless search for a way across.

Kidding with the audience, he asked, “How far are we from Area 51?” Audience members assured him that was in Nevada, at least four hours away. “Can anybody go visit there?” “No!” came the audience’s reply.

Another intriguing piece involved one of his arrangements, combining music by both Johann Sebastian Bach and Johannes Brahms — accompanied by a video of Gargiulo wrapping a long cloth “Moby Wrap” around his body and snuggling his newborn daughter, Nikita, into its folds so she could sleep while he practiced the lullaby. The video was entitled, “If Bach had used a Moby Wrap for his 20 children.”

A true citizen of the world, Gargiulo was born in Italy to American parents and educated in Italy, Moscow and the U.S. He earned his doctor of musical arts degree in Maryland and speaks five languages. Today, he lives in Paris with his Greek wife and baby daughter, when his concert career is not taking him all over the world.

Another of his own compositions was “Toccatina,” a mix of classical and jazz styles. A showy piece, the melody romped up and down the whole keyboard until the classical style reclaimed control. The audience applauded heartily.

“Thanks for the applause,” he said. “Of all the composers whose work has been played tonight, I’m the only one who’s here to hear it.”

The concert concluded with Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” which earned him a standing ovation. For an encore, he played Chopin’s beautiful “Nocturne in C# Major.”

I had the sense that he pours his considerable personal energy into the music, which then dives into the listener’s ear and goes straight to the subconscious. I felt distinctly energized all the way home.

The IWVCA’s next concert is set for Nov. 18, with “The Folk Collection.” This quartet plays three-part harmony from the acoustic era, with a sing-along repertoire of favorite hit songs and TV western theme songs. Please see www.iwvca.com for more information.

Story First Published: 2013-10-23