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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

Concert review: Pianist Gabriela Montero's improvisations trump interpretations

By John Terauds on February 12, 2013

Gabriela Montero solicits musical ideas for her improvisations from her audience at the Jane Mallett Theatre on Tuesday night (John Terauads iPhone photo).
Gabriela Montero solicits musical ideas for her improvisations from her audience at the Jane Mallett Theatre on Tuesday night (John Terauads iPhone photo).

There is no doubt that Gabriela Montero is an extraordinary artist. She can also be a bit of a confusing artist, as at her solo recital for Music Toronto at the Jane Mallett Theatre on Tuesday night.

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.

During her performance, divided evenly between published music and improvisation, Montero made a much more powerful, confident statement when freed from the shackles of interpretation. It was when she let her imagination and fingers have free rein over the keyboard that her musicianship glowed with the most brilliant colours and pulsed with the most energy.

Even Montero herself appeared to come out of her shell, growing in stature and animation on the bench.

It made me wonder if perhaps it isn’t time for this pianist to take a risk and present recitals made entirely of her own creations rather than reply on the compositions of others. But perhaps it would be hard to sell a traditional classical audience on this concept.

Montero has the combination of prodigious technique as well as a quicksilver imagination that can create remarkably sophisticated music on the fly. To see her in action is a revelation even for someone who has seen and heard her do this several times before.

Tuesday night’s audience supplied the melodies for Montero to improvise on, including “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “Lara’s Theme.” She managed to weave something fresh and unexpected, yet still tinged with the familiar pianistic fireworks of Romantic and late-Romantic music.

Her interpreted music came from friends Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann, but these pieces — Three Op. 117 Intermezzi by the former, the C Major Fantasie by the latter — didn’t possess the coherence of the improvised music.

Rather, the pianist approached this music as if it were springing from her fingers in the moment. Instead of a large-scale shape, Montero provided sharply contrasting detail and dynamics. But I kept wishing for a larger view of the music that would show a stronger act of interpretation.

But, then again, Montero is more of a creator than interpreter, and she clearly knows how to play to these strengths.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
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