Friday, August 23, 2013

Gabriela Montero at Ravinia

Gabriela Montero
Ravinia, Bennett-Gordon Hall
August 20, 2013. 6:00pm.

  • 3 Intermezzi, Op. 117
  • Fantasy in C, Op. 17

Improvisations on themes selected by the audience.

I first heard of Gabriela Montero in an interview on WFMT in 2007(?). I was on the road when I heard her improvise something absolutely astounding that I remember pulling off to the side of the road to pay closer attention. I don't remember what she was improvising off of, but it was glorious. After a magnificent dramatic pause, the interviewer (Kerry Frumkin?) resumed the questions and I remember her saying that she couldn't repeat what she just played, and had no idea what, exactly she just did. I was so stunned that I immediately went out and bought her most recent CD "Bach and Beyond" DESPITE: being, at that point in time, incredibly cheap, and having a working internet connection (...) and this was back in the day when the purchase of physical CDs was on its way out.

On Tuesday night, I saw her for the first time. (And paid full price)

This concert had two clearly divided halves. The first half felt a little long to me. Granted, I love the pieces, but I had this feeling that her whole heart wasn't in them. The Brahms was played admirably, but she didn't really plumb the depths with them. The Schumann is a masterful epistle of love, loss and life, but it's treatment wasn't rhetorical enough to really pull me into the story. That was all fine and forgiven however, because that's not what I came for.

I came for the second half.

She pulled out a microphone and, in a heartbreakingly earnest and sincere delivery, told us that she wanted to play several pieces based on melodies that everyone knew, and then one piece based on an abstract concept. The audience was to just shout out their ideas. A huge smile came to my face and stayed.

Here are my notes and clips for some of the unfamiliar pieces:

1. Bach's Passacaglia in C minor

2. "I'll be Seeing You (In All the Old Familiar Places)" She used neighbor tones like Rachmaninoff and figuration like Chopin.

3. "Do-Re-Mi" (Doe a Deer, a Fe-Male deer) from the Sound of Music
At some point, she had to admonish, in Spanish, a Spanish speaking fellow who wanted her to improvise on a theme that was highly popular in an hispanic nation, but not here. She has my respect for controlling the audience gracefully.

4. After she hears the theme from the audience, she repeats it on the piano fast and arhythmically. When she did this with "Mack the Knife" I was compelled to yell out "Don't forget the swing!"

She was kind enough to share that she is moving from Boston to L.A. very soon, and she's not regal, she just has a stiff neck from packing for 14 hours a day for 9 days. (Apparently she has a lot of stuff.)

5. On an abstract concept. "Moving from Boston to LA"
a. Boston
b. Boston winters (you can tell she finds Boston winters oppressive) b flat minor
c. L.A. (d flat major). Sunny.
6. "Over the Rainbow" Huge, huge close. A little vapid, but huge. The audience ate that up like chocolates. 

Gabriela Montero has a gift for improvisation, and is a splendid pianist, but that doesn't interest me. Since the first, what I've found most compelling was her sense of timing, and the freedom that she brings to her musical speech. In her improvisations especially, she is unequalled for emotional depth and expressiveness. She's a good pianist, but her improvisations belong to the class of Arthur Schnabel playing a Beethoven slow movement or Michelangeli playing Debussy. In the world of concert pianists alive today, for the sheer emotionality of her music making, she's peerless.

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