Classic case

Stewart Goodyear knows music

When Stewart Goodyear was 3 years old, he could hear a nursery rhyme and play it on a toy piano without looking at the keys. That, friends, is the stuff of prodigies.

"Music just made sense to me," says the now 28-year-old classical pianist, who will perform in a program of Romantic masterworks with the Florida Orchestra. "I could hear the song, and transcribe it directly to the piano."

Goodyear, who grew up in Toronto, was neither to the manor nor the academy born. His non-musician parents were more attuned to rock and calypso. But it wasn't long before he fell into the thrall of symphonies, concertos and such. "I kind of converted my family to classical," he says. "Classical music was a form of rebellion for me. No one in my home or neighborhood knew about it. When I heard symphonies, I was fascinated. There were no limitations on the emotions that could be expressed. The pieces were not limited to four minutes, and the emotions were not dictated by words."

Soon his parents bought him an upright piano. By his early teens, Goodyear was performing with orchestras. He has been in a constant career ascendancy since. In a recent review, the Honolulu Advertiser wrote of Goodyear, "He proved to be a terrific, exciting pianist, playing with crisp, blazing technique, distinctive character and a strong sense of overall structure."

As early as 1999, The National Post, a Canadian national newspaper, said, "He's already an artist of inspiring individuality."

Classical pianists, especially younger ones, tend to specialize in periods, styles or a handful of composers. Goodyear is more of a generalist, eager to conquer as much of the classical repertory as possible. "I've made it really difficult on people trying to market me," he says, "because I'm not an expert on one particular style of music. I know all different styles, and I become an expert on whatever composer I'm performing."

Much of Goodyear's preparation is akin to an actor doing research. When tackling a new piece, he delves deeply into the writer's history as well as the place and time in which it was penned. He absorbs all the information, and uses it to inform his interpretation of the piece.

For instance, he'll perform Prokofiev's Concerto No. 5 with the Orchestra (on a program that also includes Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and works by Honegger and Webern). He's come recently to Prokofiev; through research, he found that the composer was the enfant terrible of the Moscow Conservatory in the early 1900s. Prokofiev actually had the temerity to perform his own piece at a piano competition — and win. In later years, the composer fell into disfavor with the Stalin regime and was essentially blackballed.

Goodyear recounts this info with zest, as if he finds it more interesting than the musical notes themselves (then again, he's talking to a classical music neophyte). As far as how this knowledge of Prokofiev and his times impacts his playing of Concerto No. 5, Goodyear explains, "The more intimate I am with the composer, I just find it gives the music more of a life and allows me to enjoy the moment [of performing it] more."