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7 Questions More than music

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Italian-born, New York-based pianist Julian Lawrence Gargiulo excited a crowd with his interactive humour and adulterated classical piano pieces at a charity concert for Japan’s tsunami orphans at Intercontinental hotel last weekend. The unconventional pianist stood out for his larger than life, tangled hair that bounced freely as he ran on and off stage and his humour: “Sit back, relax and let your imagination wander, kind of like your tuk tuk driver does”. His inspirational, quick-fingered piano numbers brought a playful energy to classical pieces. He told 7Days he felt more complimented when audiences praised his on-stage humour rather than his piano-playing skills.    

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Let’s talk about your hair…it’s very trademarky.
Yes, let’s talk about my hair. For the longest time I had a pony tail, for years. Ten years. I guess I got tired of it. The big difference I felt when I finally cut the hair was I was playing with my hair when I played the piano. All of a sudden my hair became part of the performance. Before, in the ponytail it was suffocated and now its like, liberated – that felt good. And then, you know, it’s always difficult to stand out but this is my hair, I don’t do anything to make it like this. It becomes so much easier to become recognisable, literally it’s like ‘Oh the hair’.  My girlfriend really likes it. I’ve made a few jokes about my hair, every now and then I get a bit worried cause I’m like “Did I use that joke here already?”

How did you feel about last Saturday’s performance?
I loved it. I was a little worried that not everyone would understand, because it’s not your regular concert with just music, but then I thought the audience was really responsive in different ways. There’s a whole expat community to the audience that got what I was saying in one way and then there were others who got me in a different way.

You admit your performances are uncommon, how did they become so different?
I started out doing straight classical concerts. But then … my personality is very much interested in people, in what they are thinking and doing, so it was a natural thing for me to become more interactive with the audience. I guess I started doing performances like that because I was playing in some places that were not standard concert halls, and they asked me if I could talk to the audience, so I did, and in the beginning it was more telling them the history about the music, but then I would like to ask the audience questions and they would answer, so that usually provides for more humorous stuff. Like in the performance [on Saturday night] I quizzed the audience about a piece I just played and a little girl, probably about five or six, shouted out “It was fast like the tsunami that hit Japan” its unpredictable stuff like that.

Do you prepare jokes or is your on-stage humour spontaneous?
Usually I wait till right before the concert to think about what I am going to say. But it’s not all completely off the top of my head, a lot of it I know more or less what I’m going to say, like if I’m talking about one of my compositions, but that’s like an outline of what I’m gonna say – I really have to rely on the audience to be with me and participate. There’s always stuff that comes up no matter what that’s gonna be funny, spontaneous and different otherwise it gets boring for me – it’s all about me really: me being entertained. I know the headline of this article is now going to be “Charity concert for tsunami orphans pianist says, ‘It’s all about me’.”

Why did you decide this was something you wanted to do?
I actually started my own charity, so it’s not strange for me to do this. I guess why is Yumi and I were talking about it. I did a concert in Singapore in front of 4,000 people. It was the biggest audience I’ve ever had. It was in May, so it was shortly after the tsunami. But once again it was promoted by the Polish and Thai embassies, which is interesting. The geneses of it isn’t cool, it’s a terrible, tragic tsunami but what happens as a result of it, I think, is intrinsic to human nature. Out of a terrible thing, people come together and that’s a metaphor for life, that’s what happens in life when there’s a tragedy, people come together.

When you play the piano on stage, your face just transforms and you can see every bit of emotion and vulnerability.

For sure, I guess that’s not something I’m aware of. It’s something that is a little bit strange, when I’m talking with the audience I’m completely normal just like I’m talking to you. Ideally, I would like to be relaxed. But when I play I’m in a different place I guess. Ideally, I would be a vehicle for the music to go through, and what that does to my face [laughter] you could probably tell me better than I can because you were watching it and I was living it. I guess I’m in a place of non-being, with something flowing through me. I to remove myself as much as possible from what’s going on, and just let the music go through. Is that always possible? No, cause thoughts can get in the way.

What is it like when you see yourself playing the piano on playback?
Oh it’s a weird experience but it’s obviously something that I do. I guess there are some things that I look at that I am more or less happy with. Actually I suppose as an example it would be like ... if you were to watch a video of yourself having sex, you might not be so happy, but you when your having sex your supposedly like, just naturally doing it, but when you watch the video you’re like ‘Oh my gosh, I did that? Ah no!’ But you know you can’t, you shouldn’t be affected by it. I think you are very naked on stage because you are really expressing yourself openly. Ideally you are in that state where you are not self-conscience and if you become self-conscious, then you’re getting in the way of the performance. Deborah Seccombe

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