In Bach and Beyond, her second recording for EMI Classics, Gabriela Montero lends her remarkable improvisational skills to the work of Johann Sebastian Bach. Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Sheep May Safely Graze, Air on a G String and themes from the Italian Concerto, Goldberg Variations, Brandenburg Concertos, from an invention, toccata and keyboard concerto are the bases upon which Montero weaves intricately formed “spontaneous compositions” in a wide variety of musical styles.
Following her enthusiastically received debut disc for EMI, a full Rachmaninov, Chopin and Liszt recital and a bonus disc of improvisations, BBC Music Magazine described Montero as “a ferocious young talent” and stated that, “no matter how jaw-dropping her miraculously clean-fingered negotiation of such as Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz, it’s what happens between the notes, the way she grippingly characterizes everything she plays, that constantly arrests the listener’s attention… Not since George Cziffra’s hey-day have such white-hot, volcanic eruptions of pianistic derring-do been captured on disc.”
For Gabriela Montero, who maintains a busy schedule of recital and concerto appearances in the major halls and at the major music festivals in Europe, Asia and the Americas, improvisation is not a sideline or a party trick. “Because improvisation is such a huge part of who I am,” she has said, “it is the most natural and spontaneous way I can express myself. I have been improvising since my hands first touched the keyboard when I was just eight months old, but for many years I kept this aspect of my playing secret. Then Martha Argerich overheard me improvising one day and was ecstatic. In fact, it was Martha who persuaded me that it was possible to combine my career as a serious ‘classical’ artist with the side of me that is rather unique. Improvisation is so natural for me that it was something of a relief to be able to finally ‘come out of the closet’.”
These days, after she performs a concerto, Montero often invites the audience to suggest a melody for improvisation by way of an encore. They ask for themes from a Haydn symphony to Star Wars or they come to the stage to play a melody on the piano that she may or may not know. “When improvising,” Montero says, “I connect with my audience in a completely unique way – and they connect with me.”
While one can improvise on the work of any composer, Gabriela Montero feels that “in Bach’s case, there is a kind of perfection that makes it adapt particularly well. There is something simple about his music and yet beneath the surface it is incredibly complex. … Making the album was such fun for me. Each track really took on a life of its own when we recorded it. In a sense, even the way we put the album together was ‘improvised’ as the themes had not been chosen prior to the recording sessions.”
Gabriela Montero was born in Caracas, Venezuela, where she made her concerto debut at the age of eight. She subsequently studied in the United States and at the Royal Academy of Music in London. She has recently appeared at Wigmore Hall, London, the Kennedy Center for the Arts, Washington, D.C., the National Arts Center, Ottawa, Orchard Hall, Tokyo, the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires, the Herkulessaal, Munich, Musikhalle, Hamburg and Konzerthaus, Berlin. She is an annual participant in the Progetto Martha Argerich in Lugano and at Martha Argerich’s Buenos Aires Festival.
Gabriela Montero performed Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Philharmonia Orchestra/Gustavo Dudamel in the UK in February 2006. In March 2006, she appears with the New York Philharmonic/Loren Maazel at Avery Fisher Hall in Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.