Chilly Gonzales is ready to thrill his Brighton Festival audience

Chilly Gonzales -Alexandre-Isard
Chilly Gonzales -Alexandre-Isard

Grammy-winning Canadian pianist and entertainer Chilly Gonzales is back in the UK for dates including the Brighton Festival.

His concert at Brighton Dome Concert Hall on Monday, May 13 at 8pm is his first in the city since 2001.

“I am really looking forward to coming back,” he says, from Germany where he has lived for most of his adult life.

“I love Germany for many reasons, most of which are personal. I love the fact that it is the birth place of classical music in many ways and that it is a wonderful combination of old and new; and I like the fact that in Germany there is here demonstrated some kind of resilience over the years, having transformed in many ways, having gone very deep into the darkness – and it has been interesting to see how it has rebounded after that.

“But I just love being here, and it is just happens to be a four or five-hour train ride from wherever I am going to go, whether it is London or Paris or Berlin.”

A first-generation Canadian, with a French citizen for a father and a Hungarian for a mother, Chilly is pleased to straddle the world with his music – while never straying too far from his music professor lifestyle in Germany.

“But I don’t like to be too long gone from the stage. The stage is truly where I express myself. I don’t really enjoy being in the studio. I feel like performance is what we do music for. It has always been functional, whether that was in the church or in court or expressing solidarity with the community around you. And that’s the thing about performance – rather than the aberration of recording!”

Chilly has even created a whole music school geared towards performance: “It’s about making sure that young performers don’t ever forget it, that they don’t just sit in the bedroom and put something on Soundcloud and think that they are reaching out successfully. I only feel myself transcendent when I am on stage in front of people.”

Which feels like what you’d want to hear from the one-time holder of the Guinness World Record for the longest solo concert at more than 27 hours. We are just coming up for the event’s tenth anniversary.

“It has since been broken multiple times as you would expect with records,” says Chilly, who isn’t remotely interested in reclaiming it for himself.

He has moved on to other things and other interests, but he retains his interest in the strong links, as he sees them, between music and athleticism; the fact that athleticism is about endurance and muscle memory, just as music is too: “For me, John McEnroe is someone in the same breath as Mozart, that ground-breaking bedevilling figure who changes the milieu around him forever; the fact that maybe we need a black swan from time to time, just like we needed a black swan in tennis just as we had needed a black swan in music with Mozart.”

Chilly looks back on earlier naivety in thinking that as a musician it is enough to perform, to give the audiences what you want to give them “without having to dirty your hands: that it is enough to do what you are doing.

“Instead you have to realise that you have to enjoy it and put a narrative around your art because if you don’t, the art world will put a narrative around you and it might not be the one you want.”

Hence, Chilly – born Jason Charles Beck – created and adopted the Chilly Gonzales persona.

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