Harold López-Nussa sits down to the piano and, aftera few warm-up scales, goes to work. Whereas a few minutes earlier he was relaxed. chatting easily, joking with members of his audience, he suddenly appears transformed, both mentally and physically. His concentration is total, his virtuosity confirmedagain and again with flawless runs up and down the keyboard. His head and shoulders tilt toward his instrument, not with strain but with the humility ofa knight bowing to his sovereign. His audible breathing and intermittent mumbling make him seem like a less troubled version of Glenn Gould.
Harold plays Keith Jarrett’s "Memories of Tomorrow" then follows with one of his own compositions. This brief performance is enough to demonstrate the breadth of his musical inspiration as well as his mastery of modern jazz, indigenous Cuban rumba and just about anything in between. When he has finished playing, the applause is as intense and sustained as it was at the Montreux Jazz Festival, where Harold won first prize in the solo piano competition in 2005 and where he was invited for a return performance the following year.
For a moment you could forget that, on this particular evening, you are in Harold’s kitchen, surrounded by no more than 10 people, most of them members of Harold’s own family. They’ve been listening to Harold play this same living-room piano since he was old enough to walk. Of course, they haven’t been merely listening. Harold’s mother is a piano teacher. His father and brother are celebrated drummers. His uncle Ernán López-Nussa is a pianist and one of the giants of Cuban jazz. They all had a hand in helping Harold become the 23-year-old phenomenon he is today.
As the applause finally dies down, Harold stands, smiles shyly, then takes five steps over to the kitchen to see what’s for dinner. For all his triumphs abroad (in addition to Montreux, he has played in competitions in France, Spain and Italy), he seems in no hurry to leave this little apartment in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. He clearly thrives on his family’s encouragement, which in the end may be worth more than all the first-place prizes in the world.