Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear joins the Brighton Festival fun

Stewart Goodyear
Stewart Goodyear

Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear comes to the Brighton Festival on May 23 at 7.30pm with conductor Wayne Marshall and Chineke! Orchestra, part of a foundation which provides career opportunities for young Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) musicians in the UK and Europe.

For Brighton Dome Concert Hall, they will be offering: Copland – Music for the Theatre; Ibert – Divertissement; Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue (jazz band version); Jessie Montgomery – Starburst; Weill – Suite from The Threepenny Opera; Copland – Old American Songs; and Gershwin – Songs from Porgy and Bess.

Stewart said: “I really wanted to work with Chineke! I read a lot about them and I love the fact that they are such a part of the community and are reaching out. They were embracing composers that would never have the opportunity to be programmed.”

For Stewart, a key early inspiration was André Watts: “He has got my complexion and seeing him perform just inspired me to follow my dream. He gave me permission to trust my gut feeling. His charisma and his playing, his reaching out to the public… I was a shy boy before playing, and playing the piano was how I used to socialise. I would go around asking for requests! Finally I got to meet André when I was 21 and we stayed in touch.”

Chineke! offered similar inspiration. Stewart was delighted to meet the founder Chi-chi Nwanoku and they talked about doing a project together: “Chineke! are about mixed race and including everyone. There is no wall with communicating with people. Classical music is for absolutely everyone, and Chineke! is all about making your dream a reality.”

It fitted perfectly with Stewart’s own thinking, and violinist Matthew Trusler, who founded the Orchid Classics label in 2005, put the next piece in place when he offered them the chance to record together: “There was a great feeling of love and mutual respect, and having a chance to talk to all of the members between recording sessions was a great joy.”

The disc features Gershwin’s masterpiece Rhapsody in Blue, together with two of Stewart’s own compositions: his Piano Sonata and Callaloo, a virtuoso tour de force for piano and orchestra which features driving jazz rhythms and colourful orchestration.

On some venues on the tour, including Brighton, they will be performing Rhapsody in Blue; at other venues, they will feature Stewart’s own piece, Callaloo which was heavily inspired by the Gerswhin.

Stewart’s love of Rhapsody in Blue and his composition of Callaloo are both rooted in his own background: “I am half English and half Trinidadian. My father was English but died one month before I was born. My father and mother met in Toronto and got married and I was raised in Toronto.

“And it is such a multicultural place. It is one of the great cultural melting pots. I listened to a lot of classical music because that’s what I felt an emotional attachment to. My journey started with Beethoven and then Tchaikovsky, and then Gershwin entered the fray. Rhapsody in Blue just blew me away. Coming from a Russian Jewish heritage in Brooklyn, Gerswhin was inspired by the music of New York. You hear jazz and klezmer and Broadway and romantic music from the past. It embraces the past and the future.”

In other words, a musical melting pot – and that’s what Stewart expresses in his own Callaloo, a word which has two definitions in Trinidad. Firstly, it is the food, a great flexible adaptable mix… again a melting pot. And by extension, it also means the Trinidadian people, again a great mix brought together by history.

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