Music professor Jonathan Gonder amazes in solo piano concert

Professor of music Jonathan Gonder (pictured above) is a professional pianist. He performed his own concert at Doty Recital Hall on Sunday Sept. 16. Gonder has been studying piano since his youth and has played several concerts over his lifetime (sophie yeomans/staff photographer).

Audience members chose their seats strategically at professor of music Jonathan Gonder’s solo piano recital on Sunday Sept.16. They hoped to find spots that would allow them to watch Gonder’s hands as he performed fast-paced pieces by masters like Bach, Debussy and Rachmaninoff.

Gonder, a Toronto native, began studying piano at the age of seven. Throughout his career, he has presented many different concerts, appeared on national television and radio in Canada as well as NPR in the U.S.

“A year ago this September I had to put in my application for sabbatical,” Gonder said. “I had been thinking about some pieces I wanted to play in a solo recital anyway. I hadn’t done a solo recital in 14 or 15 years. I’ve done a lot of playing, but no solo recitals, so I decided at that time I would do a sabbatical project… that would be a solo recital.”

Gonder played J.S. Bach’s “Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major, Book 2, Well-Tempered Clavier,” Brahms’s “Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel in B-flat Major, Op. 24,” James Walker’s “Prelude on a Bygone Popular Tune” and Toccata’s “Chorale Prelude on a Gregorian Hymn.” 

Despite all the pieces Gonder played, it wasn’t difficult for him to pick a favorite. 

“I’ve been wanting to do the Debussy preludes for a long time,” Gonder said. “Part of my sabbatical project was to learn all 24 of the Debussy preludes.” 

The three Debussy preludes Gonder chose were “The sounds and the perfumes turn in the evening air (Book 1, No. 4),” “The interrupted serenade (Book 1, No. 9)” and “Dead leaves (Book 2, No. 2).”

He also chose four preludes of Rachmaninoff’s from Op. 23 and Op. 32 which were “B-flat major: Maestoso,” “E-flat major: Andante,” “G-sharp minor: Allegro” and “D-flat major: Grave—meno mosso—piu mosso—grave.” 

Musical theater major sophomore Kelsey Roberts enjoyed the performance.

“It’s really impressive the amount that goes into one piece,” Roberts said. “Not even memorizing it but putting all the little details in it and being focused on that during the performance.”

Throughout Gonder’s performance, the physicality of playing music became very apparent to the audience as they watched how quickly Gonder had to move his hands to play each stroke on the piano. It became especially clear considering how long he had to maintain that level of rapid movement.

“Doing something like the Brahms—which is 30 minutes long—when you don’t get any time to pause, that is a real challenge,” Gonder said. “And then the endurance—that worked out pretty well, most of that’s due to eating a lot of chocolate while I’m between pieces.”

Gonder enraptured the audience with his masterful command of the piano. Musical theater major sophomore Kathryn Berton was wowed by Gonder’s piano skill.

“I think it was fantastic,” Berton said. “I think it’s mind blowing how he has all this memorized and can play it so flawlessly.”

At the end of his recital, the audience waited for an encore, which Gonder graciously gave. When the encore ended, the audience began singing “Happy Birthday” to Gonder. His personality quickly hit the stage as he jumped on the piano to accompany the audience.  

“I learned that I can still do it,” Gonder said when reflecting on his experience. “Not having done a solo recital in a long time, what I learned was that I can get close to my expectation level for a solo recital, so I think there are more solo recitals to come.”