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Chilly Gonzales. Photo: Alexandre Isard.

Interview: Chilly Gonzales offers “transcendence of the boredom of regular life” in his solo piano show—01.18.20 at the NAC

By David Currie on January 16, 2020




Chilly Gonzales is first among piano players in performance. Combining the showmanship of Victor Borge, Liberace, and other popular piano performers; accompanied with the discipline and genius of a modern Mozart, a Yo-Yo Ma on the piano strings. The research for this interview was conducted over several months prior to my concussion and the interview was delayed due to my own personal injury. People of Ottawa are now fortunate to welcome once again, this amazing human to our city. The process, the results, and the anticipation of the concert has brought me tremendous joy as, I hope, my small and jubilant work in anticipation of his gregarious and bombastic performance brings you. Without further ado, here is my interview with Chilly Gonzales.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

APT613: Everyone from scholars to lay people have called you a “genius.” What is your relationship with that word?

Chilly Gonzales: I called myself a musical genius before any journalist or scholar did. It was pre-emptive and an attempt to influence people’s perceptions. Some have resisted playing along, using the loophole of calling me a “self-described musical genius.” But I’ve always believed that to be a performing artist is to live out a fantasy, which is actually a quite intimate thing to share publicly. I wish I were a musical genius, but my true master stroke may have been to simply announce it.

In your recorded Pianovision concert, you emphasized your love of the Minor Key. When many piano students learn about the minor key, they are told it’s for “sad songs,” however on Solo Piano I, II, and III you do something different. How do you view minor key and songs written minor?

Powerful music has to present complex emotional states. Most people experience feelings that are contradictory and nuanced, it’s rare that we’re only sad—so it’s too reductive to say a song is sad if it’s a minor key. Chord progressions are especially potent in telling an emotional story of tension and resolution, or of dashed hopes, or of surprise and change.

What advice do you have for new piano players, or players like myself who try for a while and give up for a decade at a time?

Buy my book Reintroduction Etudes. Play with friends, try to improvise and don’t judge your slow progress as futile.

Chilly Gonzales returns to the NAC on January 18th. Photo: M. Woerz.

How do you balance the dulcet and melodic nature of your music, with the ecstasy; sublime, and gregarious nature of your performances?

The dulcet tones are for my albums, the gregariousness for my concerts. Two different situations.

Chilly Gonzales performs at Dominion Chalmers United Church as part of Music and Beyond 2015. Photo by Jared Epp.

What relationship do you strive to have with your audience? Where are your boundaries?

I want to create intense emotions of any kind. Positive energy is preferable but I’ll take negative energy if it’s the only option.

The only boundaries are not getting naked and always pleading the gods of music.

On Other People’s Pieces, you elevate the cover into something intimate and personal. How do you interact with musicians you admire? How do you feel about the rise in poplularity of Karaoke?

I love it when music brings people together so karaoke is wonderful. I often play the piano at house parties, leading an epic singalong of classic 80s and 90s hits. I want to be musically useful.

Photo : Alexandre Isard

The reason we were unable to do this interview on the phone is that on December 11th I suffered a severe concussion that, up until this week, left me cognitively impaired. That was my greatest fear. What is yours? How do you overcome fear?

I can only speak of overcoming the fear of performance—you have to give in to it, not overcome it. Put yourself in the fear of humiliation, the audience will identify and find you heroic.

What does live performance give you and what do you believe you give your audience?

Transcendence of the boredom of regular life in polite western society. Boom!

Chilly Gonzales is performing at the National Arts Centre’s Southam Hall (1 Elgin St) at 8pm on Saturday January 18, 2020. Tickets cost $45–81 online and at the box office.