You don’t have to be able to read music to love it. Take Toronto pianist Stewart Goodyear, for example. There is no time to lose in this conversation with the 2016 Schubert competition runner-up. He arrives in the conservatory, soon to hear Bach, Schubert and Webern perform and observes that “the percussionists are going to be playing all of their big percussion pieces, and I don’t want to appear eccentric or be passed off as weird.”
A pianist with genre-bending tastes is all it takes to earn the respect of music teachers, as Goodyear showed during a scholastic career that took him to Perthshire, Scotland, and New York and California, before taking his first break in London’s Fulham Road, in east London, where he honed his art at music school and later – uninvited – as a street musician.
In Toronto, where he has won the top prizes in three major competitions, he has won a new status as an official Canada 150 ambassador. To mark the event, he played at the weather, the 19th-century home of Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia, and this week will return to Britain for performances with the conservatory and with his friend, Gregory Davies, musical director of Opera North.
He is relishing being back on home soil. “I feel reborn,” he says. “The music and culture here are so much better.” Even his interests seem to have taken on a new direction: “I’m now doing Bach’s Goldberg Variations with a brass quintet, and I’m writing cantatas.” You will hear none of that in this programme. The Rogers household will be dominated by all things bel canto, with a baroque double bill from Handel and Puccini – and some serious oldies with Sir Ralph Vaughan Williams.
‘There is no time to lose in this conversation’: Stewart Goodyear at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto. Photograph: David Bell/FORPESS
Goodyear doesn’t speak in huffy or pedantic terms, but there are certainly some in it for him. The conservatory, with its soaring domes and woodsy atmosphere, has been the pride of the city for over 150 years. Its educator, Ross Oliver, was the inspiration for TS Eliot’s modern epic The Waste Land, and has collected the greats, from Igor Stravinsky and Rachmaninov to Hubert Parry and Franz Liszt. “He’s one of the greatest people in the world,” says Goodyear. “All of his masterpieces are here. It’s like being on holiday.”
He concedes, however, that he is something of a newcomer to the Canadian music world. That might be why he makes little attempt to offer some summary of Canadian musical history – his musical references are as varied as the polyglot backgrounds of the country’s multicultural population.
Growing up, Goodyear and his family moved often and though his musical development was influenced by piano lessons and the piano banjo on his father’s side, his world didn’t become entirely abstract.
As a seven-year-old he joined his school’s British club, which gave him an opportunity to hear Bach and the English baroque, English and Scots folk music, and enjoyed by “other kids just discovering Bach and Mozart”. “Orlando, the Orange man, was also a lot of fun and my guitar teacher gave me a nylon-stringed Parry Saxophone,” he recalls.
After the younger Goodyear did the Barbican at the age of six, his teacher, Michael MacNeil, encouraged him to “go to India, Japan, whatever, and study music.”
Moving to Cornwall in his teens, and then Scotland where he remembers knocking out Baroque string quartets with a rock band, his music education was far from narrow. “It was a really liberal approach.”
Living in China and Malaysia for a while brought him to classical music’s other end of the world. He studied opera and wind ensemble and began to give private lessons at a recital hall in Kuala Lumpur. The music business was experiencing dramatic change