The Noosa Long Weekend Festival 2015 welcomed international pianist Julian Gargiulo, as he brought a specially-developed piano recital in his only Australian appearance before returning home to Europe.
Reaching out to shake my hand in greeting, the charismatic Steinway artist, pianist and composer is a cut away from the ordinary.
Clad in a leather jacket and dark jeans, Julian speaks with an American accent with a deep Italian lilt influencing some syllables, dark curly hair bouncing as he energetically responds to my questions.
With an exuberant presence, he is a musical character as he launches into an impassioned description of his work.
“Playing is actually quite a physical experience, there is certainly a mental aspect where you have to keep the music in your head, there’s a musical memory like you’re actually listening to music in your head and the emotional story that the piece is telling … and then there’s the memory of seeing, because you’re following the score in your head,” he says, using his long-fingered hands, so adept at producing brilliant music from the keys of a glossy piano, to emphasis his point.
“I guess I just feel like I’m really connected to the piano, it really feels good when you get into the zone and forget about the fact there’s all these people there and you have to remember the music. When you get beyond all that it’s a very physical experience.”
Having recently been awarded the prestige of a Steinway Artist – the opportunity to play on majestic Steinway pianos is offered to Julian where possible – is another perfect note to add to an already illustrious career.
Julian was born and raised in Italy, and grew up influenced by his music-loving parents and bilingual to his American mother.
“I didn’t start playing the piano when I was three as most professional classical pianists would … I have an older brother and sister and they were playing, and I was kind of listening and repeating stuff by ear without knowing how to play music,” says Julian.
Eventually, Julian enquired whether he could audition into a music conservatory at the age of just 13 years old.
“To do that normally you would have to know how to read music and prepare a program. I just played by ear but I was really keen on it, but everybody told me you really shouldn’t do it because you’re just going to humiliate yourself – I did it and I guess they thought I was talented so they took me anyway.”
From there, Julian began to work with an “inspiring teacher” who he shares taught him the work ethic of a “maniac” – similar to the teacher/student relationship in Academy Award-winning movie Whiplash.
“It’s about a musician who has this mentor who … also makes him want to work like a maniac so in a way that’s what happened to me, only it wasn’t so abusive and I didn’t win an Academy Award – yet,” he smiles.
Now in his 40s, Julian has played across the world, from England to Greece and Russia, to Singapore and China, to name a few, to public and critical acclaim, and was named a Steinway Artist in 2015.
“I have to say that I did have an idea that first of all this is what I wanted to do and of course I had a very romanticised version of what a pianist does but some of it is very fortunately true, you travel and play and meet interesting people and get to do really cool stuff,” he smiles.
“One of the nicest things is hear positive feedback, even on Hastings Street just meeting people and they say, I really loved it when you did this and they are so nice to me and I feel so lucky.”
Julian pauses as he reflects on some of his career performances.
“I’ve played at Carnegie Hall in New York which is one of the foremost places to play for classical music and I lived in New York for a number of years and they have a lot of personality and it can be a tough audience but it’s definitely an audience I love to play for.
“Another memorable experience is playing in an outdoor venue in Singapore for about 4000 people on Symphony Stage in the Botanic Gardens … I realise it’s raining and I think everyone will leave because I’m used to Italy where everyone runs at the first drop of rain and instead I look up and there’s a sea of umbrellas and everyone stayed to listen.
“I’ve worked with singers from the Met, people from the New York Philharmonic in trios and duos and with orchestras.”
When performing solo, Julian’s performance style is a “full experience” for the audience, as he blends classical music from Beethoven to Chopin, to be integrated with his own music, scripting in audience interaction to keep the crowd captivated.
“I’ll start by hanging out in the audience before the show which is not typical and then I come running and jump on stage and then I’ll sit down and play something difficult to establish I am a pianist and then I’ll maybe tell a story about where the inspiration for a piece came from or what was happening in Beethoven’s life when he came up with a sonata.”
Julian’s family is also part of the show and he happily shares stories of his wife Elektra and their toddler daughter Nikita.
Little Nikita also features in a special video Julian created when he was trying to practice technical pieces while juggling a newborn – the footage captures Julian seated at his piano playing beautiful music while his baby daughter is fast asleep in a sling on his chest.
Julian and Elektra met in New York, moving to Athens to have their baby before relocating to their current home in Paris, while Julian returns to New York a few times each year for his concerts.
They reside in a very historical part of Paris, on the same little island in the centre of the Seine River that houses the Notre Dame church.
“It’s from the 1650s … it was a little difficult when the movers came to bring me this grand piano!” he laughs.
Julian shares his current passion is writing new music, with his project ‘Getting to Carnegie’ at Carnegie Hall in 2015, the culmination of a competition Julian created to ‘talent search’ for students to play a cello and piano piece with him, extended to all United States music conservatories, “it’s like America’s Got Talent meets Carnegie Hall”.
In 2016, Julian will embark on a return tour of Europe, Asia and the United States.
Julian will return to Noosa for the 2016 Noosa Long Weekend Festival from 15-24 July. For more information and to book your tickets visit www.noosalongweekend.com