The Mirror
NOISEMAKERS 2006

In a minor key

Teen piano prodigy Giancarlo Scalia performs, composes and records—and
still finds time for The Simpsons

 

by RUPERT BOTTENBERG

A simple little electronic keyboard is a nice enough Christmas gift for any 10-year-old, but the one piano prodigy Giancarlo Scalia received five years ago set him squarely on his path in life—and he’s been charging down that path ever since, full steam ahead.

This past year was an important one for the St-Leonard teenager. For starters, he released his first independent CD, Sogno d’Amore (Liebestraum), assembling three years’ worth of work. It’s evidence of Scalia’s dual capability in the classical-music arena. In the performance department, teen prodigies aren’t infrequent. But rare is the adolescent with composition skills, rarer still one who can craft pieces—be they solo piano works or, more recently, orchestral—of such complexity, nuance and emotional substance.

“These pieces always started as improvisations,” explains the soft-spoken Scalia, “so what comes out is natural emotion. It’s not that I’m trying to put a lot of emotion in it, it just comes out.”

The title is a nod to Franz Liszt—“The melody doesn’t compare to the Liszt piece, they’re completely different, yet they’re kind of the same from an emotional standpoint.”

Scalia’s real hero, however, is Fryderyk Chopin, the first composer to write exclusively for the piano (and rewrite the rules of melody in the process). “He had his own style, one that had never been heard before, between classical harmony and Italian bel canto.”

Next to Beethoven, Hadyn and of course Liszt, Chopin looms large in Scalia’s repertoire—only two other composers feature as prominently. One is Ennio Morricone, the odd contemporary figure among the aforementioned old-schoolers. “I see him as a complete musician. Today, he’s one of the only film composers to actually use complete orchestras in the traditional way.”

The other composer is Scalia himself. “This year, I gave quite a few concerts around. There was one in August at which I played a few of my pieces on stage for the first time. When you perform, you’re always excited to show the works to the audience, but there’s an extra enthusiasm when it’s your own creations that you’re playing.”

Last year also saw Scalia admitted to the Piano Society, a global Internet showcase for both classical composition and performance on the instrument (Scalia of course pops up in both categories), and establish his own Web site (www.giancarloscalia.com).

The coming year promises Scalia’s first foray into soundtrack work, thanks to the media department of his high school, Laurier-MacDonald. “Every year they release a book, and this year, accompanying the book, Ripples in Time, is an hour-long documentary. It’s based on four stories from the book—students from the school, they found old photographs and retold the stories of the people in the photos, their ancestors, their grandfathers, to discover their own heritage.”

An impressive set of accomplishments for a 15-year-old, no doubt, but what about regular teenage matters? “Most of my friends do music too, though, just not classical—rock and so on,” Scalia explains, defusing concerns about wedgies in the high-school hallways, and he also confirms that The Simpsons are given their due prominence in his hectic schedule.

“It’s a balance. I practise quite a lot, around 30 hours a week, but I still keep a balance with my social and academic lives. It works out fine.”