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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Monday, July 09, 2007

The Deacon Interviews Stephan Moccio!

Good day everyone. It's a great joy to be here, and for once, I've decided to step out of character, and forego the arcane Deaconic argot in favour of the English language.
A couple of months ago I heard a snippet of rather compelling solo piano music on CFMX, and although I did not catch the performer's name, I did hear that his recording was available at L'atelier Grigorian, my favourite record shop, nestled amidst the upscale boutiques of Yorkville. I made a mental note to check it out, and forgot about it for a few weeks. Then I happened to be in Oakville and remembered there was a L'atelier Grigorian there too. I explained that I was looking for this pensive and beautiful piano music that I'd heard on CFMX. The only other information I was able to provide, was that the pianist was male and Canadian. The musicologist smiled and said he knew exactly what I was looking for, and digging through the racks of CDs, produced a copy of Exposure by Stephan Moccio.
As soon as I put it on in the car, I knew I had found something I'd been searching for. For at least 15 years, I had longed for a solo piano recording that was deep, quiet, and beautifully haunting in its emotional depth. In my quest, I'd listened to Keith Jarrett and Vladimir Ashkenazy, among others, always seeking that "book on a rainy day" kind of recording, but never quite finding it. For a long time, the closest I got was Philip Glass playing his beautiful soundtrack for The Hours. Then I discovered Alain Lefevre playing his Homage a Andre Mathieu (Canada's Mozart) and that served me well for a while. But in Stephan Moccio's music, nothing was missing for me. It was all there, from the beautiful simplicity of these gorgeous miniatures, to the consistent melancholy theme running through the entire disc. There was never a sudden upbeat shift that distracted from the overall mood.
I became obsessed with the recording and told everyone I could about it. Those who listened to it, invariably loved it. I played it again and again and again, and never tired of it. It was the perfect music to get lost in on a quiet evening, or as the background to great conversation or a fabulous dinner.
I contacted a good friend by the name of Wayne Ferguson. Wayne is a virtuoso piano tuner and has been profiled on Bravo TV's Arts and Minds. If anyone knew more about Stephan Moccio, it would be Wayne, so I emailed him and asked if he'd heard of this young Canadian prodigy. Wayne emailed back and directed me to the liner notes of the CD. Not only did Wayne know Stephan, he tuned for him. And then, through a remarkable series of events and synchronicities, last week I found myself in a studio in downtown Toronto, interviewing Stephan Moccio.
"It's melancholic, but there's hope there" he explained, describing his music and articulating the way it struck the chords of the human heart.
As the conversation progressed, Stephan jumped up from time to time and illustrated a musical point on his gleaming black concert grand piano that dominated the ultra-modern recording studio, and that Yamaha had built especially for him. I was the only audience member, and remember thinking: When this man's a superstar, nobody's going to believe this...
Stephan’s musical life began with piano lessons at the age of 4. After an award-winning career through adolescence, he went on to complete an honours degree in composition and piano performance at the University of Western Ontario. He was offered a scholarship to the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston, but instead chose to focus on developing his professional career, signing a publishing deal with Sony/ATV Music Publishing at the age of 22. As a composer, he wrote for such luminaries as Sarah Brightman, Celine Dion, Hayley Westenra, Randy Bachman, The Philosopher Kings, and Olivia Newton John. But Exposure is something he's written for himself. In these beautiful and subtle piano compositions, Stephan brings his classical and pop background together and we're the ones who benefit.
Moccio is an easy interview. He's stylish and expressive, and his passion for music is never far from the surface. The energy in the room was at a high level, and we constantly interrupted each other in our collective zeal for great music and great wine. I threw out names and random pieces of information to get his response...
Glenn Gould...
Stephan: I GET Glenn Gould! Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! Glenn did it his way. I've read at least 6 of his biographies and loved them. Especially the one by his psychotherapist. You must read that one...
Favourite Conductor...
Stephan: Leonard Bernstein, without a doubt. Lenny was a Renaissance man, a complete man. He could do it all. He's a fascinating person. In fact... (reaching for a DVD) you can borrow this. You'll love it.
Who else fascinates you?
Oh wow...there are so many...I love Jim Morrison...Edith many...
I comment that it's funny to hear the Lizard King and the Little Sparrow mentioned in the same sentence.
Yeah...they're both buried in the same cemetery too! Pere-Lachaise in Paris. I stood there at age 13. It was a very interesting emotional experience.
Our conversation progresses to Michelangelo, Oscar Wylde, Existentialism, the Beat Poets, and of course, wine. (Stephan is a huge fan of big reds; the Cabernets, Barolos, etc. Listen to "Red" from his CD with a glass of Cabernet Franc in hand.) We keep returning to the CD and its beautiful, effortless flow. It carries one along like a sequence of subway stops; the urban and urbane feel is echoed in the liner notes which Stephan wrote. We talk about synesthesia, the overlap of the senses.
Do you see music?
Oh God yes! For me, piano is a complete sensory experience. For me every key is a different colour. For me, the year 1972 is a very brown, yellow, green colour that corresponds to the D minor chord...
We wrapped up the interview that began with a snippet of haunting piano music on the radio, a few months earlier. Stephan tells me to be sure to "Go to Tuscany. I'm French and Italian. Trust me. You must go to Tuscany."
I walk to my car and put on Exposure yet again. The music of composer and pianist Stephan Moccio fills the car with effortless, seemless depth.
Buy this beautiful, soul enriching CD.
Better yet, buy several of them. It's a gift you can give to anyone.
Deacon Dr. Fresh
Listening to far more than just AC/DC

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