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by Daniel Hathaway

MONTERO-GabrielaProfessional organists carry the skill of improvisation around as an essential item in their tool belts because, like tailors, they routinely have to customize the musical fabric of church services. French organists especially have honed their abilities to the point where they can craft whole symphonies on demand, often on amusingly inappropriate tunes submitted by presenters or audience members — like college fight songs.

Pianists don’t often do this kind of thing in public, which made Venezuelan-born pianist Gabriela Montero’s appearance on the Mixon Masters Series at the Cleveland Institute of Music on January 23 such a remarkable event. On a series devoted this year to the composer / performer, Montero dedicated the second half of her program to six masterful and stylistically varied improvisations on themes or concepts suggested by audience members (she ended up playing seven). Read the rest of this entry »


by Daniel Hathaway

MONTERO-GabrielaGive a baby a toy piano and she’ll almost inevitably attack its keyboard with a fist. Not Gabriela Montero. When the Venezuelan-born pianist was seven months old, she used her fingers to caress the keys of the gift her grandmother had just given her.

That auspicious beginning led to piano lessons and, when she was eight, her concerto debut with José Antonio Abreu’s original National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, when she played Haydn’s D Major Concerto.

Montero will visit Cleveland to perform on the Mixon Hall Masters Series at the Cleveland Institute of Music on Thursday, January 23 at 8:00 pm, when she will play Brahms’s Three Intermezzos, op. 117, Schumann’s Fantasy in C, op. 17, and a series of classical improvisations on themes suggested by the audience. The concert is part of this season’s “Return of the Composer Virtuoso” series.

A talent for improvisation was among Montero’s earliest self discoveries. The pianist, who was not available for an interview, has written, “I have been improvising since my hands first touched the keyboard, but for many years I kept this aspect of my playing secret. Read the rest of this entry »

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