Gabriela Montero concert

December 4, 2009 — Tags: , , , , ,

I went to see Gabriela Montero perform at the Perimeter Institute on December 3, 2009. The concert was fantastic. She played some pieces by Brahms and a piano sonata by Alberto Ginastera, an Argentinian composer, in the first half of the concert, and these were quite beautiful, but what really made the concert special was the second half, when she did something different from any other classical music concert that I’ve attended.

After intermission, Ms. Montero asked for members of the audience to sing to her a theme, one that other members of the audience would recognize. Then, she played the theme on the piano, and improvised using it as a starting point. Some of the tunes the audience requested were “America” from West Side Story, Happy Birthday, Summertime from Porgy and Bess by Gershwin, the entrance of Papageno in Mozart’s Magic Flute, the Theme from The Simpsons, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. She said that classical music has a history of improvisation, and that it’s too bad that modern day classical performances so seldom include it. The improvised pieces she played used patterns of music similar to those found in classical pieces. I definitely felt like I was listening to a world-class classical musician improvise in the style of classical music, not jazz or another style of music, although there were small sectionss of the music here and there that were reminiscent of jazz.

After the concert, as she was signing CDs, I asked her how she learned to improvise. She said it is something that she has always done, and that she wouldn’t know how to analyze or teach it. It is instinctive and mystical, mysterious even to her. She said she plays from a mindset of no judgment and that she feels very relaxed and at home when improvising.

Gabriela Montero has been taking requests for improvisations over the internet, and releasing the results as MP3 files, since December 2007. I think that’s a fantastic idea, and I’m looking forward to listening to the results, if I figure out how to, since the website says the MP3s are available only for 3 days after the performance, and the link to subscribe to her email list appears to go to a domain squatter. She did appear on NPR’s Sing It and Wing It, and you can hear some of those segments, including an improvisation based on the song “You Are My Sunshine.” There are also some clips of her on Youtube, improvising various songs in various venues, including at President Barack Obama’s Inauguration.

All in all, I’m delighted that I’ve been introduced to her music. Thank you Perimeter Institute.

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