With composers and artists being particularly sensitive and empathetic to the goings on in the world around them in normal times, it’s hardly surprising that the year of COVID lockdown has resulting in a wealth of incredible, inspiring songs, albums and other projects that were not only directly inspired by this challenging era in our history, but may never even have existed without them.
For prolific Barcelona based pianist, composer and producer Juan Sanchez, the past year and a half has been a particularly fertile creative period. Since releasing his critically acclaimed debut album Rebirth in September 2019, he has released a remarkable total of 17 singles featuring fresh and dynamic expressions driven by his trademark aesthetics of contemplative, deeply rhythmic solo piano or piano with strings – 11 since the COVID dividing line of March 2020. He gathered ten of these beautiful, heartfelt, sweeping and soul-transformative pieces to create his second collection Now The Silence.
While several of these were released prior to the lockdown, many dropped during, creating a fascinating emotional through line that charts and reflects the relative innocent age prior and then the very different world we came to face (and continue to deal with to this day). Even if some of the tracks were penned, produced and released before all the shifts took place, as a whole – and perfectly embodied by its compelling title – the album truly speaks to our universal experience.
“I started composing the first tracks before the pandemic and the rest were composed during,” Juan says, “so the way this affected the creative process was that I decided that the album would be about the importance of solitude and quiet time. I knew I wanted it to be a peaceful piano album like Rebirth, but I didn’t have a clear idea about the context of the album. Then the pandemic came and suddenly we were all locked at home and there was this strange silence in the entire world. Lots of people were saying that this was a time for reflection and I agree it was.”
Written in the early months of the lockdown, the title track is the one that perhaps best captures that overall appreciation for quiet time. A graceful piano solo which eases effortlessly from gentle and lyrical to hopeful and whimsical with an increasing sense of emotional force and cautiously cheerful high notes, “Now the Silence” was intended to be a soundtrack for the current situation when all the streets were empty and there was what he calls “a strange global silence inundating all the cities of the world.” Explaining the song’s spark of inspiration, he adds, “It was very strange for me to see all the streets of Barcelona empty from my balcony. So one day when I was improvising at the piano, this music came and I thought it was very appropriate for the situation we were living in, so the title made perfect sense.”
It would certainly be a no brainer to speak of Now The Silence as “Juan’s pandemic album,” but the truth is, it would be an epic, exquisite and timeless album showcasing his vast compositional and performance skills no matter when it was released. Many of the tracks, including the haunting, hypnotic melodic dances “Luz De Luna,” “Alma,” and “”Siempre,” feature lush, violin and cello string arrangements (of varying colors and intensities) which underscore the array of emotions and spiritual energies flooding forth. On the closing track “Blue Nights” – dedicated to the peace attainable when we walk alone in the streets of our city at night – Juan uses the magical strings as the soulful, dramatic lead voice, with his piano playing a supporting harmonic role. One can imagine a piece like this performed live as a dancing, conversational duet.
One of the pre-pandemic pieces worth the listener’s deeper focus is the thoughtful, softly swaying and sweetly melodic opening solo piano track with the unusual title “Very Young Old Man.” For Juan this is an important piece that musically illustrates the passing of a musical generational torch that invites us to understand the roots of his evolving artistry. It was inspired by the man who shaped his musicianship, Enric Torra Pòrtulas. He had attended music school before, but found it stale and formulaic, so he left in search of a teacher who could be a true inspiration.
“Under the tutelage of Pòrtulas, I received the musical education I so desperately needed,” Juan says. “I was so lucky to find him. I was 20 years old and he was 80 years old. I was amazed, as I’d never seen so much energy and enthusiasm in a person of his age. He loved teaching piano, anyone could see that immediately. During the five years we studied together, I learned the music of the great masters - Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, but the most important thing I took away from my lessons was my teacher’s undying love for music. Our lessons, scheduled to be sixty minutes long, would regularly go multiple hours, as we both were so absorbed by the music we were making together. During this time I truly discovered myself as a musician, finding my own individual voice as a composer.”
Listen to Now The Silence here: Spotify – Now the Silence