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Pianist with chemistry

Miguela Gonzalez

Story and Photo: FRANKA PHILIP

At the grand finale of the 24th National Music Festival, 23-year-old pianist Miguela Gonzalez blew the Queen's Hall audience away with her composition "The Eleventh Hour".

In this piece, which won her the Arnold Chatoor Cup for composition, Gonzalez played from her heart as she clapped, screamed and pounded the piano.

"It's an experimental piece which shows that we're all living in the 11th hour, the first half is calm and complacent, then the last half becomes rushed and crazy," she said.

She dedicated the piece to the memory of Chesterton Ali, a passionate musician who influenced a lot of the young musicians he taught.

"Once Chester scolded me and said 'You pianists think you can just stick yourself behind the piano and hide, but you're not just playing, you're performing."

Her emphasis on performance was obvious when she did the tempestuous Wolf piece "Der Feurereiter" with Raymond Edwards in the Lieder Class, which they won for the third consecutive time. Although Lieder is performed in duet, it has to be approached by the two performers like a solo. The piano has a character and is an integral part of the song.

As Edwards's voice boomed through the hall, Gonzalez's fervent, frenzied playing seemed to push the singer to plumb greater depths of emotion.

"Even if we didn't win I'd be glad, because we gave the audience our best in that performance." Ironically, with all her accomplishments in music (she plays the piano, violin and the tenor pan), Gonzalez has no intention of making music her career.

The 1995 National Scholarship winner is currently in the final stages of an undergraduate degree in chemistry with minors in maths and drama at the prestigious Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.

When she graduates later this year, she will take up a Watson fellowship which will take her to Ghana and the Gambia on a project where she will transcribe folk songs. Next year, she hopes to move on to New York University for a MA/PhD in Performance Studies. She is inspired by the talent she has seen in young people here and wants to come back home and work.

"I am always amazed when I come back home for the Festival," she said. "Some of the musicians I've heard here are better than some of those I work with in the States."

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