Pianist George Lopez talks of interpreting compositions and listening

LEWISTON – Inside the music, single notes and chords form ideas and images.

That’s where George Lopez goes.

Sitting at the piano, he eases into Rachmaninoff, playing gently as he leans forward and turns an ear to the open lid of the Steinway.

“I’m listening to what the notes are trying to get at,” the pianist said moments later.

When it really works, he can see around the notes, through them and perceive the spaces in between.

“It’s like walking into this church,” he said, gazing across the stained glass hall of Lewiston’s Franco-American Heritage Center.

“A passive listener might see this from the outside,” he said. Seeing only the exterior, one might appreciate the architecture and the stone facade.

But they miss the richer experience.

Music’s the same way, the 37-year-old pianist said.

“Most people are passive listeners,” Lopez said. They listen in their cars. They hum along.

But often, their attention is elsewhere.

Experiencing music live helps someone engage.

“I’ve had profound experiences listening to a CD at home, alone,” Lopez said. “But it’s in the abstract. You don’t feel the room. You don’t see the performer.”

Attend a live performance, he said. Maybe, the brain processes it differently when its happening close by.

“It attacks more of the senses,” he said. Just look at the faces of people who attend a concert. They are absorbed in a way they never will be in a car.

The next step is what Lopez does.

He listens while he plays.

“It’s taken me 20 years to listen this way,” he said. “I started relatively late.”

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Belize and Texas, Lopez began playing music at age 11. He won his first competition just three years later.

He has performed across the United States and Europe and teaches in New Hampshire at the Manchester Community School of Music and Philips Exeter Academy.

His best performances happen when he knows the music so well that he can forget the technical gymnastics needed to play a composition and become immersed in the emotion the composer intended.

Lopez finished the Rachmaninoff quietly, much as he began. When he was done, he paused as the sound rang through the hall.

“Did I make mistakes? Yes,” he said. “But I didn’t make the biggest one, which is not to listen.”