The story of two pianists on the Rock
A 14 year old boy sat in the newly opened John Mackintosh Hall, a new theatre, listening to an American concert pianist performing a solo concert. That moment would prove to be a turning point in his life and one which would influence and inspire this young boy to dedicate himself to music and become a pianist himself. The year was 1966. The boy was Gibraltarian John Bruzon.
Now let’s fast forward to 2018. Never in a million year could the boy ever have imagined that the reverse would happen just over 40 years later not at the John Mackintosh Hall but at the Gibraltar Garrison Library. That very same pianist, Tasker Polk, sitting in the intimate setting of the Garrison Library listening to pianist John Bruzon performing a solo concert, would soon find out that he had literally been one of the instruments all those years ago that had influenced a young Bruzon to dedicate his life to music.
But the surprise was to come at the end of the concert when Tasker approached John and the boy in him instantly replied “I was there in the audience in 1966, and the following year in 1967, when you performed with the Gibraltar Symphony Orchestra.”
John performed at the Gibraltar Garrison Library last Tuesday night for the first time in two years.
Their meeting would see John and Tasker hit it off immediately. They reminisced about the concerts for very different reasons. They had not met before but there was instant communication and neither could believe their luck or the coincidence.
Over the years Gibraltar has become a special place for Tasker as he got to know people here such as guitarist William Gomez, Bishops’ Devlin and Caruana, Sir Alfred Vasquez and many others. He is now a frequent visitor with his wife Katherine.
As for John his has a distinguished career in the UK as a performer, accompanist and teacher and he still performs on a regular basis.
Tasker first arrived here in 1966, a chance encounter in Morocco, when visiting a friend who quickly arranged a concert for him on the Rock. There was no looking back after that.
At the time Tasker was one of America’s young leading pianists and had won the International Bach Festival in Washington. Tasker who was born in Carolina was soloist with the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra.
Described as “an outstanding master of the keyboard” he had already performed on many occasions in America and around Europe where he was a pupil of the Basil Conservatory of Music then working under the direction of the world famous Paul Bumgartner. By the time he was 25 he had lived and performed in three continents for the next 40 years he would remain in Europe. Not bad for a young man who hailed from a small town of just 800 people in North Carolina but then he also has a great link to history as his is a great great nephew of the eleventh president of the US James Knox Polk.
His concert on the Rock in 1966 was in aid of the then Gibraltar Childrens’ Welfare Guild. Organised by the Gibraltar Musical Society Committee it was sponsored by the Gibraltar Tourist Board under the patronage of the then Governor Sir Gerald Lathbury and Lady Lathbury. That concert was held on Saturday May 28 and included works by Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Mendelssohn and Copland. The following year he would again perform at the John Mackintosh Hall on April 14. It was a concert by the Gibraltar Symphony Orchestra with Tasker Polk at the piano and John Bado on clarinet. The conductor was Willie Edwards and the Leader Marjorie Discombe. The works included Rossini, Stamitz and Tasker played Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major by Beethoven.
“Playing with the Gibraltar orchestra was a wonderful occasion,” he says. The Gibraltar Symphony Orchestra then had some 30 musicians.
“I had a delightful experience and they were a joy to work with,” he recalls.
By then John had turned 15 and he sat listening intently to the Beethoven piece, hopeful, that he would also perform one of his own favourite pieces by Liszt. But he had to wait until the encore.
“Marjorie Discombe at the time was teaching me theory of music and was helping me with general musicianship asked Tasker if he could play the concert study ‘Un suspiro’ by Liszt as an encore. It was meant for me and he played it and at the time I just could not believe it,” he added.
“It played a huge part in my development and my inspiration.”
John came to the piano a bit late starting to learn at the age of 12. Tasker himself began at the age of 10.
“Those concerts in the sixties were to me so special because there were no concerts in Gibraltar at that time, or very little. So every piano recital I would be the first one there. Tasker I remember very vividly and I remember the programme of music. He was a great inspiration as was another pianist Margaret Woolf who I kept in touch with living in London,” he said.
“But listening and watching them inspired me so much to want to be a concert pianist.”
Getting together after the concert last week both men spoke about their music, their likes and dislikes, performing and of course performing in Gibraltar.
For John having seen Tasker perform at the John Mackintosh Hall had been such a great influence that meeting him after 40 years was like recapturing that one moment in time.
When meeting up with him after the concert John repeated several times: “Tasker I can’t believe the coincidence… strange but almost as if it was meant to be. It is wonderful but a bit spooky at the same time.”
The night before, when they met for the first time after the concert, Tasker had written his name on a card, and John instantly said to him “… as soon as you wrote Tasker, I said Polk, and it was incredible.”
As for Tasker, learning that he had influenced John at such a young age for him was simply a remarkable story.
“He is a fine concert pianist, a fine performer, he takes time and I am very grateful to hear I influenced him – it is very moving for me and I am very happy and glad that we have met again,” Tasker added.
As for last Tuesday evening, he said, “I have heard a lot of music along the way but John’s music impressed me in that he never seemed to be in a hurry and he seemed very relaxed. He makes the piano sing and his legato is marvellous and it does not surprise me because he studied with some superb people.”
Funny how life turns out… sometimes, how one can say or do things that could live on for years…
Pics by Johnny Bugeja