– Come in!
We’re going to see a ”wonder kid”, and who we meet is a cheerful young guy with curly rasta hair, dressed in baggy hiphop jeans. His inviting openness is felt as soon as we enter into the labyrinthical apartment ten floors up from Malecón, with the ocean and the open horizon on one side, and the city – surprisingly white from above – on the other.
Aldo López-Gavilán Junco, a classical pianist and a great musician to be on Christmas leave from Trinity College of Music in London, receives us with a big smile and a plain ”quieren café”? He looks as if he has lived his life on a skateboard, or in a pair of fast rollerblades, his eyes are laughing, his face relaxed, soft and young. But this is a Caribbean Mozart, or Keith Jarreth, who sang before he could speak, who composed his first piece for the piano at the age of five, who made his debut as a soloist with the 13th piano concert by Mozart at twelve and interpreted Prokofjev´s 3rd concert for piano and orchestra with Cuba’s leading Symphony Orchestra at the age of 17.
Scarcely eleven, at a huge UNICEF-concert in The Hague with young talents from all over the world, he suddenly realised that the piece he had prepared was too long, so instead he started to improvise freely from all the music he had lived with and played up to then. Terrified to begin with, but becoming more secure with each new idea and impulse. At the end of his performance the audience were standing up, shouting with joy!
– I mixed classical pieces and música popular, jazz, pop, rock folklore – anything that came into my mind, he says, still filled with wonder, as if it had just happened, and without words he invites us even closer to himself. Finally I began to sing too, ritual Yoruba sounds from my memory, without knowing their meaning or where I was going to land. And in the midst of it all, when the fear left me and I heard the ovations from the audience, I knew that this was me, my way of playing, my music! Like finally being born. It is still one of the happiest moments in my life.
The intense midday sun and the reflections from the sea are softly filtered through the dark wooden blinds of the living room. Islands of green plants are dimly shimmering in the corners, like floating chords that lingered behind. Surrounded by Cuban contemporary art, awards and trophies: The grand piano. Aldos´s playmate, friend and companion through life.
– Unfortunately it’s being repaired, otherwise I would have loved to play something for you instead of just talking about my music.
His tone enviably free and without reserve, as if talking and playing were only two, just as easily reachable, sides of the same coin. His hair is moving, everything is moving, he laughs and shares himself without anything to defend, instantly ready to meet whatever is arising and brought to life. Yet there is an unusual stillness around him, as if we had always been friends, as if he had already found his way home. Perhaps he has never left paradise.
His mother a pianist, a famous piano tutor and his first teacher, his father a famous conductor and composer, his elder brother a virtuoso on the violin – there was never any doubt that Aldo too would start with the great masters, the fundamentals and the technique. His talent was obvious to everyone.
– A life outside music, classical music, just wasn’t there. Never was, not even the thought of it, he says in his smiling voice, resting comfortably in himself.
Ever since Aldo composed his first piece he has continued to create his own music. Titles like ”To my beautiful young brother”, ”The story about the little girl who gave time back to time”, show an unchanged love for the childhood landscape, and for life, just like the music itself. In ”About castles, princesses and…” the young teenager is glimpsed in the playful changes of moods. With exquisite balance, ever since the transforming concert in The Hague, his music has been enriched with the full spectra of rhythms, forms and colours that Cuba is infused with – from colonial habaneas and contra danza to bolero, salsa, Yoruba rhythms and son, everything that reaches an inner point in him and demands to come alive, which makes his music just as Creole and born out of encounters as the food, the architecture and the Cubans themselves.
– In Cuba our music is a natural part of living, impossible to separate from the rest of life, he says, while scratching his sleepy, tousled little dog on its tummy. It always surrounds me here, like an ever-present nourishment. Even if you adore Chopin you dance to Los Van Van and Issac Delgado. It’s true that I grew up with classical music, but in our family we have always listened just as much to our great soneros and dance-music as to Beethoven and Tjajkovskij.
During a visit to Spain Aldo finally and fully discovered flamenco, which led him on to Arabian and Indian music, New Age and World music, which also nestles into his music that seems to come dancing out on its own accord when he is playing, with his voice as an extra spice on top. Or inside. And of course the unavoidable gods Bach and Mozart as well. Although it is the Russians that are closest to him, Stravinskij and Rachmaninov, with their intensity and richness of emotions, he says. And Ravel, his silences and sudden steps. While he himself comes closest to who he really is when he is playing.
– I always come back to myself at the piano. There I know I can express what I have inside. I give myself the same freedom as a jazz musician to improvise and mix in the spur of the moment, but the foundation is always the classics. At my concerts the audience comes from both sides – some to hear me play classical music, others to hear jazz. Both groups have to open up to something they would have otherwise missed, and that’s exactly what I want.
He is silent for a while, making himself available, waiting for what is to come, like someone who is eager, but still taking his time. An unusual ”wonder boy”, and an extraordinary 20 year old. Who is he by the way? He seeks, searches, and his laughter makes his rasta curls fly around him again.
– Who I am… hmm, I don’t know really… I think I am a rather peaceful person, creative, and a thinker, he starts a little tentatively. I can’t really say what I’m thinking about , but I think a lot! That I know for sure. And I have lots of love inside of me.
He stops for a moment, a little embarrassed. Picks up the rhythm again and continues:
– I want to convey something beautiful to others. As a musician one is like an instrument, a channel between the earth and the unlimited, some call it music, others call it God. My dream is to make people feel something of that boundlessness I experience myself when I’m playing, when the music disappears and something else is there. Just like when I watch the sunset and all the colours over the ocean from our living room window. That too is music.
He puts on his first CD. A small sample before we leave, filled with rhythms, openings and surprises, of both skateboard and God. And this silky stillness from the piano that comes and goes like the afternoon breeze from the sea through the wooden blinds. Aldo closes his eyes and disappears into his own tunes, and once more he invites us without words to come along. We travel in gentle, unexpected circles, through different worlds and fields of stars, while the afternoon sun is gilding the rooftops of Havana and dusk is approaching. We return reluctantly, and leave the labyrinthical apartment with something we didn’t have when we arrived. Perhaps a dream on it’s way to be fulfilled. Or a reminder of it.