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Chilly Gonzales brings passion and humour to his craft

Time:2018-10-24 03:00Shoes websites Click:

craft humour brings PASSION Chilly

Chilly Gonzales brings passion and humour to his craft

Chilly Gonzales (Alexandre Isard photo)

Canadian-born, German-based, Grammy-award winning Chilly Gonzales, who is playing two shows at Toronto’s Koerner Hall this week, is talking to me from Cologne. He is on a park bench with a view of one of the city’s few synagogues that survived the Second World War.

“I always found myself attracted to Jewish culture – its musicians, comedians, writers,” Gonzales says. As for the city where he has chosen to settle for the last 10 years, Gonzales adds, “I truly feel most at home here.”

These realizations came gradually to the internationally renowned musician, as did the creation of his most ambitious project to date, The Gonzervatory, an eight-day residential music performance workshop where seven musicians (chosen from a pool of 800 international applicants) join him for an unparalleled sort of education.

The first Gonzervatory took place in Paris last spring, an epic undertaking that is a key subject in this fall’s new CBC arts show, In the Making about visionary artists at the height of their powers.

Gonzales grew up in Toronto as Jason Beck, the son of what he calls “parents, who, like many others at the time, were overly-assimilated” Ashkenazic Jews forced to flee Hungary. The household celebrated Christmas and Gonzales never had a bar mitzvah. His older brother Christopher is now one of Hollywood’s most renowned composers.

He began to learn about music at age three when his grandfather sat him at the family piano and showed him how to play. Still, as he explains, “I had a lot of teachers but no mentors.” While simultaneously studying classical piano, and dreaming of being part of the 1980s MuchMusic scene, Gonzales couldn’t find anyone to help him combine these visions – something he set out to do on his own.

After completing a degree in composition and jazz piano music at McGill University in Montreal, Gonzales tried to establish a musical career in Toronto but couldn’t achieve lift-off. In 1999, he left for Berlin where he took on the name of what he describes as a music “super villain” and began creating albums that combined punk, rap and electro-pop. “Maybe Canada wasn’t ready for me, but maybe I wasn’t ready for Canada,” he says, looking back on his decision to make the change.

Chilly Gonzales brings passion and humour to his craft

Chilly Gonzales (Alexandre Isard photo)

“Only in hindsight,” he explains, “can I say it was the right move.” Starting in 2005, Gonzales began earning international renown for his collaborations with artists including Feist, Drake, Jane Birkin, and Daft Punk. As well, he released a trilogy of critically acclaimed piano albums: Solo Piano, Solo Piano II, Solo Piano III.

Yet Gonzales is by no means a conventional rock star. Genre-defying and audacious, in 2009 he successfully set out to break the world record for the longest-ever continuous solo concert (27 hours, three minutes and 44 seconds).

While the world’s greatest classical concert halls commission him to compose and premiere works in their spaces, he shows up for his performances in a uniform of bathrobe and slippers (an attire he also donned when playing at the opening of the 2015 Pan American Games).

“I stick out like a sore thumb in what can be a very conventional world,” he says, “especially when I bring the audience to their feet in an orgiastic finale. It is a subversive but positive experience.”

Such an unpredictable but explosive outcome is what Gonzales aims to teach his students. “Today the studio gives musicians an illusion of control. But for centuries performance was what music was about before recording erased the spontaneity of it,” he says.

Gonzales wants the musicians he trains to erase the line between composing and performance so that they are forced to rely upon their instincts – an approach and sensibility he developed over time.

Gonzales, 46, says that his decision to create a music school was a function of age. “At the very least I can pass on what I have learned so someone can benefit from it.”

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