By Heather Phenix
Last Friday, in the dimly lit Shaw Gallery, a small group of Queen Westers stood huddled together surrounding a tall, lanky piano man, whose midnight set marked his first Toronto performance of 2010. Looming over ivory and ebony, exposed strings in the backdrop, hands floated over keys, tickled with the kind of precision that comes as second nature to a musical genius.

Classical piano/pop mash-ups are the result of Toronto based composer/producer/pianist Todor Kobakov’s unrelenting focus and gift for creating outstanding concoctions of genre and talent.

The Bulgaria-born artist arrived in Toronto 15 years ago, and is known for his collaborations and string arrangements with the likes of Emily Haines (Metric), Jason Collett and Sam Goldberg (Broken Social Scene), Tunde Adebimpe (TV on the Radio), Stars and others. International success of late has put him on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and in Sydney at VIVID LIVE with Emily Haines, performing their hit song All Yours from The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

Friday’s intimate setting, the shiny baby grand and room acoustics were right on point, as one note melted into the next – structured and fluid all at once. The highlight of the 45-minute set came with a performance of Toronto Stories, accompanied by Jaron Albertin’s haunting music video, projected on the wall: a piece “about the people who came to this city looking for something and ended up staying for something else,” explained the pianist. Sounds familiar, no?

Triggered by the brilliance in these unique musical moments, inspiration flows and nostalgic refuge runs deep. Delivered through delicate pianissimos escalating seamlessly into thrilling fortes, Kobakov’s latest album, Pop Music, is a stimulating mélange – a modern and inimitable marriage of pop and classical piano, including emotionally charged lyrical pieces sung by Haines and Adebimpe. Based on personal experiences vaguely acknowledged before each piece composed and performed by the soft -spoken artist, the premise is set, but the possibilities for interpretation are endless. Composed around themes of struggle, splendor, intimacy and goodbyes, the notes alone speak tender volumes, conveyed in a special, understated language we can all relate to.

Sample here:

You may find it soothes wiry spirits and calms moments of panic.