“Count Up is three-and-a-half minutes long. It starts with 10 cymbal strokes and counts down with two other themes explored by the orchestra,” Goodyear explains. “It’s my way of saying happy anniversary and many years of triumph for the CSO, for Maestro Jarvi and WGUC.”
Goodyear might be making his CSO debut as a composer but the acclaimed pianist has been writing music since he was an 8-year-old student at a choral school in his native Toronto. He continues to write for vocal ensembles and his works include acclaimed solo pieces for piano (Variations on “Eleanor Rigby”), orchestral works and a concerto for piano and orchestra (with another currently being composed). There are several clips of his compositions on YouTube (alas, none of the “Eleanor Rigby” variations).
Each work is sonically unique but an important influence is present in every composition.
“My heritage is half Trinidadian and half British,” Goodyear says, “and the Trinidadian influence is in all my works.”
Goodyear grew up in Toronto, where Glenn Gould, the iconic (and eccentric) piano virtuoso still casts a long shadow nearly 30 years after his death. A 10-year-old Goodyear played his own compositions on Glenn Gould’s legendary Steinway CD318, an experience he now calls “great and very humbling.” Whenever Goodyear plays Bach, as he does this weekend, Gould’s legacy is very much in evidence.
“Glenn Gould had a clear sense of how he wanted to interpret different works, especially Bach,” he says.
“For me and for future pianists, it inspires us to find our own voices.”
The program takes a 180, with Goodyear as piano soloist in Olivier Messiaen’s massive Turangalila-Symphonie, which also features Cynthia Millar playing the ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument used by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and in film and TV scores. The title of the piece is taken from two Sanskrit words — “turanga,” meaning the speed of a galloping horse, and “lila,” meaning play. An outsized sonic experience, Goodyear describes it as “tender, frightening, intimate, bombastic. It encompasses so many avenues of expressions of love and death.”
Turangalila is in 10 parts, scored for an orchestra of over 100 musicians. This will be Goodyear’s second performance of the work, which he loves.
“I was captivated when I first heard it at Julliard,” he says. “The combination of the piano and some of the percussion instruments is very otherworldly and a potent combination.”
Lyrical passages mash up against crashing dissonances, concluding with a soaring finale described as “a musical high.” Beyond that, he’s reluctant to say more than “be prepared to be taken to a place you didn’t expect. I like to take the journey and I feel the same way about concerts.”
Goodyear made his Cincinnati Pops debut at the age of 14, recording Gershwin’s Second Rhapsody on the Pops’ American Piano Classics album in 1992. His career never flagged while he earned a bachelor’s degree from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and a master’s from Julliard in 2000. Now 33, Goodyear’s extraordinary technique and breadth of repertoire (ranging from Bach to contemporary works) and his equally impressive improvisational skills account for a schedule booked years in advance. A recording of the complete Beethoven sonatas was recently released, following Goodyear’s ecstatically received performance of the cycle in Toronto. The commissions keep coming in and, one day, Goodyear hopes to compose an opera.
Many of his compositions achieved the enviable status of repeat performances, which Goodyear sees as opportunities to connect with audiences.
“There has been a great demand for performers interpreting the standard rep. and that’s fine,” he says. “Each one has their own ideas and their personality shines through. But it’s always an exciting thing to witness the composer interpreting his or her own music.
“I think a lot of composers performed, because they were so in tune with the audiences. Bartok, Stravinsky, Gershwin all performed their own works — it was a powerful thing to experience. That’s why I love performing my own music, as well as the classics.
STEWART GOODYEAR performs Friday and Saturday with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at Music Hall. For more info, visit cincinnatisymphony.org. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.