Julian G enthralls with mirth, melody

Queen of Arts

Julian G enthralls with mirth, melodyBy LAURA LEIGH MONTEREY

With the introduction hardly concluded, a lithe young man in black comes bounding up the aisle, swoops into his seat at the piano like a raven on a hot nickel and begins to play. Enter Julian G, the Pianist With the Hair.

His first piece, “Ritual Fire Dance” by Manuel de Falla, is full of action, big sound punctuated by happiness, like delighted children at a carnival and, like all the music that night, played from memory.

Offered by the Indian Wells Valley Concert Association, Julian Gargiulo’s evening concert at Ridgecrest Church of the Nazarene was a skillful blend of great music, witty anecdotes, zany clean humor and imagery projected onto a stage screen. Seems unlikely, but he pulled it off.

Many remembered when he played here six years ago. “It’s nice to be back,” he said. “It’s hard to be new all the time.”

He describes some peak moments in those years. He moved to Paris. He had a second child. “I cut my hair,” he said, curls shading his eyes from the spotlight. We laughed.

Now, about that hair. When God handed out hair, Julian got a double helping.

“If those are natural curls,” commented Wilma Zeutsius, a local piano teacher, “I would sure like some.” Rather than fight abundance, he has made a virtue of it, a trademark.

In Julian’s compositions, we see his sense of humor, but also love of family, love of big sound, mystery, even moodiness. Take his “Tango of the Whistling Ducks,” for example, a piece full of open skies, brooding mountains, yearning hearts. But… ducks?

We tried to rename it. He worked with us, but consensus was beyond our reach.

The beautiful “Finding Nikita” tells the story of looking for his little girl, lost one afternoon in the streets of Paris, where he and his family reside. The music is busy and urgent, then cheerful, and ends on a sweet top note like perfume.

Julian’s recording of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” was chosen for the trailer to “The Aftermath,” a movie starring Keira Knightley and released this year. We watched the trailer on the overhead screen, then Julian played “Clair de Lune” for us live. Uncanny how it reflects the drama of love, war, passion, fire, anguish, hope.

We determined that Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” is actually a minute and 42 seconds long. (Thank you, Bob.) We also heard two preludes by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakoff’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” Chopin’s “Scherzo No. 1” and Franz Liszt’s “Tarantella.”

The peak of the night, though, was Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”

The first movement, Adagio sostenuto, was lovely and majestic as ever. With naught but a heartbeat pause, Julian started in on the second movement, Allegretto. He played with concentrated heart to its final resounding notes. Then, with one muscular shrug, he shed his leather jacket and plunged into the sweeping third movement, Presto agitato. Immensely rewarding.

For an encore, he played a piece that he composed on the spot.

“It’s not something I’ve ever done before, but somehow felt quite natural there” he explained. “My philosophy is to try and go with what feels natural – as it usually works,” and it did. He capped it all off with Domenico Scarlatti’s “Sonata in C Major.”

We buried him in applause. Julian had won our hearts.

Like other world-class musicians, Julian was moved to support young artists of extraordinary talent. In 2014 he offered the first live competition through his program, “Getting to Carnegie,” a live competition where selected students from the top international conservatories vie for a chance to play with him at Carnegie Hall. (See www.gettingtocarnegie.com.) The winner would not only play at Carnegie Hall, but also travel with him to play at the acclaimed Water Island Music Festival, which changes venue every year. (See www.water-island-music.com.) For more on Julian, visit www.pianistwiththehair.com.

The audience rose to Julian’s warmth and embraced both music and musician. Ridgecrest was so fortunate to share a very enjoyable evening with a kind, gracious, talented pianist with a palette of gentle humor in his repertoire.

Buona serra, Julian. Come again.

Story First Published: 2019-10-11