Q&A with Pianist Gabriela Montero

Gabriela Montero, piano

Gabriela Montero, piano

Venezuelan pianist, improviser and composer Gabriela Montero has won over Houston Symphony audiences many times. Aside from her performances as part of our Classical Subscription Series, she has also helped us celebrate special occasions with her awe-inspiring talent: she was the guest soloist for our 2014 ¡Bienvenido Andrés! concert, which began Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s tenure as Houston Symphony Music Director, and she also appeared as guest soloist for our Fiesta Sinfónica concert later that fall.

We are very excited to welcome her back to Houston to perform Grieg’s Piano Concerto. In addition to her acclaimed interpretations of the standard repertoire, she is also world famous for her astonishing ability to improvise and has recently released a recording of one of her original compositions, Ex Patria (audience members at the concerts this weekend will have the opportunity to purchase this CD and have it autographed by Gabriela). I recently got the chance to ask this amazing pianist, improviser and composer a few questions about her upcoming concerts and career.

Calvin Dotsey: How would you describe Grieg’s Piano Concerto to someone who has never heard it before?

Edvard Grieg ca. 1870, two years after he composed his Piano Concerto.

Edvard Grieg ca. 1870, two years after he composed his Piano Concerto.

Gabriela Montero: The Grieg Concerto is a piece perfectly balanced with virtuosity, melancholy and innocence. Its power lies in its nobility—never showing off and always introspective.

CD: What do you think about when you are preparing and performing this piece?

GM: As with every other piece, I try to live every note, every metaphor and every emotion. It is a physical experience—a symbiosis with the composer.

CD: Do you have any favorite passages you would like to highlight for the audience? What do you personally love about this piece?

GM: The cadenza is very powerful. The mysterious build up to the climax is extremely moving and always gives me shivers. I love the naïveté of the concerto but also the Nordic masculinity of it. The contrasts, the tenderness…

CD: You are famous throughout the world for your astonishing improvisations. When and how did you learn to improvise?

GM: I have always improvised. The first thing I would do as a very young girl, was sit down at the piano and improvise stories. I never learned to improvise (I don’t believe you can—that is an oxymoron in my opinion. How can you learn something that by definition, should not exist?) and I also don’t believe you can practice it. When I improvise, it is always in the moment and I have no plan, no structure and no awareness of what is happening or will happening. I find that the most liberating experience in my life.

Gabriela's latest recording captures several of her improvisations and features an original work she composed for piano and orchestra, Ex Patria. Copies of this CD will be available for purchase at the concert, where she will sign CDs.

Gabriela’s latest recording captures several of her improvisations and features an original work she composed for piano and orchestra, Ex Patria.

CD: Do you think improvisation should be better integrated into music education than it is today? How does improvisation affect the way you interpret works that have been written down?

GM: I think everyone should find a way to improvise—the results don’t really matter (especially in private!) but the process is invaluable to bringing you to a different intimacy in your relationship with your instrument. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong. Of course there are many different levels of it, but the essential goal should be to find your voice as a communicator—not a performer. What I am interested in is artists who LIVE music, not perform it.

CD: Are you working on any new compositions?

GM: I am going to try to find some time to write some piano solo repertoire and perhaps a clarinet and piano sonata. If only I had a clone, a nanny, a cook and a teleporting machine!

Don’t miss Gabriela Montero performing Grieg’s Piano Concerto May 21 & 22 at Jones Hall! Click here for tickets and more information.

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