Stewart Goodyear Brings Trinidadian Callaloo Flavor to Jordan Hall

Stewart Goodyear. // Photo courtesy of Anita Zvonar.

WHRB recently spoke with Stewart Goodyear, a Canadian pianist and composer known for his ten hour performances of all 32 of Beethoven's piano sonatas, as well as his piano transcription of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony are just a few of the many prominent orchestras he has performed with in the past. On March 22nd at Jordan Hall, he will perform his very own piece, Callaloo – Caribbean suite for piano and orchestra, with the Chineke! Orchestra. Chineke! is a British orchestra created by double-bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku CBE with the goal of highlighting ethnically diverse classical musicians. The upcoming concert at Jordan Hall is presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston and is part of Chineke!'s North American tour, which is taking place from March 16th to March 25th.

Click here for ticket information for the March 22nd 8pm Jordan Hall performance.

The transcript below has been edited for conciseness and clarity.

WHRB: Thank you so much for joining me for this interview! Just to start off, may you please briefly introduce yourself?

Stewart Goodyear: Okay. Stewart Goodyear, just turned 45, half Trinidadian, half British, born and raised in Toronto, classical musician, pianist, composer.

WHRB: So, how did you get into classical music?

Stewart: I got into classical music when I was around three or four. I came from a very eclectic musical background. Being half Trinidadian, Calypso was a part of my musical background, as well as rock and roll. I knew my father, who died of cancer a month before I was born, through his LP collection. And he had records of Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. I was listening to those artists and not understanding exactly what the words were, but I loved the beat, and was really taken by the music as well as the music of Calypso. And then my dad also had two box sets, each devoted to the symphonies of a composer. So the first box set was the ninth symphony and the second box set was the sixth symphony of Tchaikovsky. And after listening to those LPs, I knew that classical music was my heartbeat, and it was almost a form of rebellion. I thought that classical was even wilder than rock and roll, and I loved the fact that tracks could be four minutes long or could be 20 minutes long, and there wasn’t a limit to what could be expressed. So I loved classical music right away. I always wanted it to be part of my life somehow. I loved playing the piano; piano was very natural to me. I was self-taught before I was formally trained. So anytime our neighbors would have a piano, I was always playing on it, and just playing by ear. Whatever I heard, either on vinyl or on television. And I was collecting audience members, you know, people my age, or their parents. They’d ask me, “All right, play the theme for Star Wars,” or “play the theme for Super Mario Brothers,” and I’d just do intuitively what they liked, and I enjoyed performing. And this is before I went to my first classical concert when I was around 6. It was André Watts performing an all-Chopin program. That environment of the concert hall and the piano music that I heard, and the audience–everything about that experience moved me. That was when I knew I wanted to be a classical pianist, and my journey began from there.

WHRB: Growing up as a classical musician and composer of color, what was your experience like? Did you have a diverse community of fellow classical musicians?

Stewart: It was interesting. I never thought of color being a hindrance to my dream. Being born and raised in Toronto, I went to schools that were racially diverse. My friends were all from different ethnic backgrounds. When I went to a choir school in Toronto, there were a lot of people who were just really into music. Either playing the organ, or singing. We all loved listening to music, we all loved creating music, and we were always playing for each other. So, you know, it was a great environment. Especially because they came from different backgrounds; they were all bringing their background to whatever they were playing. So I thought that was fantastic.

WHRB: I looked up “callaloo” and saw that it's a Caribbean dish. Why did you choose “Callaloo as your title to represent the Caribbean?

Stewart: So in Trinidad the community is composed of various spices, ethnic spices. There’s Hispanic, African, French, Creole backgrounds in one melting pot that is Trinidad. And the community of Trinidad, they call themselves “the Callaloo” because of that, so I was very much inspired by that definition of “callaloo” and how that word is used in that context. And plus, this piece is like a musical callaloo because it is very Calypso-inspired, but it's also a classical work. The instrumentation is very close to the orchestra of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, the large symphonic version. So all of these influences are in this one melting pot.

WHRB: What was your biggest challenge while writing Callaloo?

Stewart: Oh, my goodness, that's a very good question. I think, to me, my goal in writing Callaloo was the fact that it was like a postcard to my last visit in Trinidad, staying at my uncle’s house with my mom and going to Carnival, and just soaking up the atmosphere. I wanted to capture that. And I guess the challenge was always keeping in mind that this is a work where I wanted listeners not only to listen with their ears and their heads, but also with their bodies.

Chineke! Orchestra. // Photo courtesy of Mark Allan.

WHRB: You performed Callaloo on tour with the Chineke! Orchestra in 2019, and now you're playing it in 2023. Has your experience performing this piece or maybe your approach to performing it changed over time?

Stewart: It hasn't. I cannot answer the first part of the question yet because this will be the first time in four years that we will be performing together again. I still look forward to it. I'm so excited every time I get to work with these amazing musicians of Chineke!. We were supposed to tour back in 2020, and unfortunately the pandemic just changed the plan. I'm delighted to bring our program to Boston, to Toronto, and to Ottawa. I think every time I perform a work, it is always a different perspective, because the audience is different, and it's always an organic experience. So we have our interpretation in mind. But there are outside atmospheres that really play a part in how we interpret a work every single moment. So I'm really looking forward to that; I'm really looking forward to how inspired I will be playing for the audience of Jordan Hall, and the city of Boston, and soaking up Boston flavor, and seeing how that will play a part in how I interpret on the 22nd.

WHRB: What do you like most about playing with Chineke!?

Stewart: I just love how perceptive we all are. It feels like a family of musicians, and we are all there to just give it our very, very best. We are all very excited about, you know, living in the moment as musicians. Their energy is so contagious.

WHRB: This is more of a general question. What is the experience like performing your own compositions versus performing music by other composers?

Stewart: The challenge for that is to always think of myself as the interpreter. As a composer, I have this idea of what it sounds like, but I have to almost step back and think, “all right, I am playing a work of a composer,” and I'm always in interpreter mode. It’s up to the interpreter’s side to really bring the music out to the audience.

WHRB: Has it been challenging to get that message across to the orchestra? As a pianist, you have your ideas that you're putting into the music as you're performing, but you also want to make sure everyone else executes it. And then you're working with the conductor as well. Can you talk a little bit about what that's like?

Stewart: Yeah, it's interesting. Every time I work with a conductor in an orchestra we have maybe a day or two to really communicate telepathically about what we're going to be doing. Like if I was doing Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, for example, we all know the piece, we’re now coming together for the first time, and we're feeling each other out musically. There’s not much of a chance to talk. We know the dance, we know the steps, and it's just being in tune with one another to bring that dance to life. That's how I always think of collaboration. And I think for Callaloo, working with Andrew Grams and Chineke! will be a similar preparation.

Stewart Goodyear. // Photo courtesy of Anita Zvonar.

WHRB: You performed all 32 of Beethoven's piano sonatas in one day. That seems very challenging. I have two questions about that. First of all, why did you do that? And the second question is, what insights did you gain from that experience?

Stewart: When I was four years old, I went to this very iconic record store which, unfortunately, is no longer there in downtown Toronto, called Sam the Record Man. The classical section was the biggest section of the store. I was there any chance I got, exploring music. And I saw this golden box set of Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Beethoven, and first of all, I loved Ashkenazy’s Chopin LP (I was three when I heard it), and I thought, “Oh my goodness, it’s like an old friend! I’m going to purchase another record by this guy!” I loved Beethoven, and I only knew the Moonlight Sonata. I saw the 32 piano sonatas, which seemed mind-boggling to me, and I coaxed my mom into purchasing that box set. As soon as I came home, I unwrapped the box set, opened it up, and from the first vinyl to the seventeenth vinyI I was there, glued to the record player, playing every sonata. And by the time I finished, it was a one-day experience. So I had this idea of the 32 sonatas as this immense cycle, going through the journey of 25 years of Beethoven’s life. That was another day where I was really convinced that this was my life. I wanted to be a classical musician and pianist, and Beethoven, as well as that first recital experience I had, really centered my future. I wanted to perform Beethoven sonatas in recital, and I was always having trouble choosing which sonata I would showcase. Which side of Beethoven would I celebrate? Because we all know the Appassionata, we all know the Waldstein, the “heroic” Beethoven. But there's also the funny Beethoven, the intimate Beethoven, the vulnerable Beethoven–all of these could be heard in the concert hall. And I thought, “You know what, I'm just going to present it the way I heard it that time. And whoever wants to go to the concert, they'll experience what I experienced a long time ago.” My first “Beethoven Sonatathon” was in Toronto, and I've done it six more times in various places. It's been a wonderful experience, because audience members would always come towards me and say that there are so many sides of Beethoven that they were never exposed to until that day. It changed me as a pianist and my relationship with the audience. It's almost as if I became more of an organic player, being in tune with every member of the audience, honoring all the people that came and spent all day from ten o’clock in the morning to eleven o'clock at night. I was playing to each one of the members of the audience, and I wanted to know what their relationship with that music was, to know where they're coming from, what their factor is. As a performer, that dialogue is what I'm always thirsting for. That's why every performance is so exciting for me. Performing in different halls, there's always a new experience instead of the same old same old.

WHRB: Is there anything else that you'd like to add, whether it's inspiration for young musicians or about the upcoming performance at Jordan Hall?

Stewart: Well, everybody check it out. It's going to be a great experience, I think. And for young musicians, keep doing what you're doing. Always be inspired. Always be optimistic, and always believe in yourself. Believe in what you can do. Believe in your creativity, and always think outside the limit. Always explore all kinds of different possibilities. Listen to all different kinds of music, read every piece of literature, explore art, explore nature. Explore life, and just breathe it all in.

// Hillary Jean-Gilles '25 is a producer and staff writer for the Classical Music Department.