MUSIC Offstage, pianist Kimball Gallagher brings an entrepreneurial sensibility to his music; onstage, it’s fireworks
Pianist Kimball Gallagher keeps his laptop close: even at his concert recently, the laptop sat on one side of the grand piano. As he talks in between pieces, with sure-footed clarity describing the motifs and themes in a classical work, you get the sense he’s making a business presentation.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing: Kimball brings an ‘entrepreneurial’ approach to his music that means he, as an artist, is in control of his work, start-to-finish. For instance, he felt the need to revive ‘salon concerts’ – the intimate, home concerts that aren’t very common. So he set up the ‘88-Key Concert Tour’, which will see him play in at least 88 different venues (the number indicates the total number of keys on a modern piano).
“With all the record companies, the middlemen – it’s too hard to distinguish yourself today. This is the age of the entrepreneurial musician,” he says. “I love having a small audience. A lot of western classical music is written for small audiences.”
At home concerts, the pianist finds that he is in greater control of the atmosphere, instead of relying on a large, imposing concert hall to set the mood. “I like the idea of artists controlling these factors – instead of somebody else taking care of the ‘dirty business’, we just go and do the art.”
The cut-off image of the musician who is completely divorced from the process of concerts is an idealistic way of thinking about music, says Kimball. Art doesn’t exist in a vacuum; once you acknowledge that, the next step is to “tie the economics to the art.”
In India, his concert tour has seen him partner with organisations for waste pickers, such as Hasiru Dala in Bangalore and Chintan in Delhi. He has an ongoing passion for associating music with “humanitarian causes” — he has visited Afghanistan and Tunisia to play and teach music to the locals. In India, the connection he has made between western classical music and the work of waste pickers is that of “economy of means” — making every material useful. “That’s what waste pickers do and that’s what composers do, to some extent. You compose a piece of music with a small idea and take those notes to create an entire piece.” For instance, Beethoven’s famous ‘Moonlight Sonata’ has three notes repeated 268 times, he says.
In Bangalore, Kimball held a “workshop” - more like a “meet-and-greet”, he says – in which he interacted with a few waste pickers; they sang some of their songs, and Kimball introduced them to the piano.