Bach, Britney Spears, Nirvana and more - pianist Chilly Gonzales provides the best Norfolk and Norwich Festival Show I’ve ever seen

Chilly Gonzales. Picture: Martina Woerz

Chilly Gonzales. Picture: Martina Woerz - Credit: Martina Woerz

The Norfolk and Norwich Festival has a knack of bringing some of the world's greatest modern day pianists to the city.A few years ago it was the epic Olafur Arnalds (Broadchurch soundtrack), last year the supremely brilliant Ben Folds and this time Grammy-award winner Chilly Gonzales.

And I always seem to be fortunate enough to be present when they come.

Norwich Theatre Royal was the venue for a thrilling two-hour Wednesday night show from the Canadian musician that was genuinely the best thing I have witnessed during many years of attending festival events. Well done to those who booked him!

The evening began with a highly entertaining 30 minute set from singer-songwriter Sarah McCoy whose very personal tales of sleeping rough, depression and parental dysfunction are backed by some tender piano playing and a soulful voice with echoes of Amy Winehouse and Adele.

Gonzales then follows with a performance packed full of energy, humour, soul, tenderness and extreme levels of talent.

He begins with a trio of more classically influenced songs, all of them poignant and all of them beautiful. Wearing a dressing gown over his suit, with a lone light shining down on him, it feels wonderfully intimate, like you've stumbled upon him in the middle of the night.

It's all very pleasant but you do feel that two hours of this might not quite work.

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But there was no need to worry as the show soon takes a completely unexpected turn as Gonzales ramps the songs up a notch and introduces a cellist and drummer (who he delights in telling us is from Ipswich) onto the stage.

What follows is pulsating and at times jaw-dropping as Gonzales takes us on a history tour of classical music, thrills with his tales and audience interaction, introduces his own vocals onto some of the songs and plays the piano as if it's the last time he'll ever get the chance.

We're even treated to a superb mash up of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit and Britney Spears' Hit Me Baby One More time, played in the style of Bach. Sounds awful doesn't it? But my word it was so, so good.

At first I'm not sure the Norwich crowd (and what a shame the venue was only two-thirds full to see this) knows how to react, but soon each song is rapturously received and in the end I count at least five standing ovations for Gonzales and his performers.

Other highlights include The Tourist, The Grudge and main set closer Knight Moves during which the sweat flies off the pianists' body as the song builds and builds to a momentous climax.

I've told people about this show today, but words cannot do it justice. You really had to see it to believe it.

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