Gabriela Montero (born May 10, 1970, Caracas) is a Venezuelan-American pianist known in particular for her real-time improvisation of complex musical pieces made "on the fly" on themes suggested by her audience and other sources as well as for performances of standard classical repertoire.
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, of an American-born mother and a Venezuelan father, Gabriela Montero was barely a seven-month-old infant when her parents, at the insistence of her maternal grandmother, placed a toy piano in her playpen. It had been bought as a Christmas present for an older cousin. The baby immediately lifted her right index finger and went on to play individual notes, never once banging it with her fist, to the great surprise of her parents and grandmother. It became her favorite toy. She was put to sleep every night by her mother who sang to her the melody of the Venezuelan National Anthem, a tradition in the South American country. One day when she was fifteen months old, her parents noticed she was picking out a familiar tune on the little piano. Three months later, before she could even speak, she had picked out by herself the entire melody of the National Anthem. From then on she would repeat this process with whatever song she heard.
Montero began formal piano lessons at age four with Lyl Tiempo, an Argentinan piano teacher who resided in Caracas, and gave her first public performance at the age of five. Aged eight, she made her concerto debut at the National Theater in Caracas performing the complete Haydn D Major Piano Concerto with the Orquesta Nacional Juvenil de Venezuela (National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela), conducted by Jose Antonio Abreu. This was the original youth orchestra created by Abreu in 1976, which would much later evolve into the orchestra presently known as the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, an integral part of El Sistema, now known worldwide. At the age of nine, she was awarded a scholarship from the Venezuelan government to study in the USA. From 1990 until 1993, she studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Professor Hamish Milne.
From her first contact with a piano, Montero has always improvised and she decided to make it public at the behest of Martha Argerich, who told her not to be afraid whether people would find it improper or not.
In both recital and after performing a concerto, Montero often invites her audience to participate in asking for a melody for improvisations. At times, also the orchestra may suggest a theme. "When improvising," Montero says, "I connect to my audience in a completely unique way - and they connect with me. Because improvisation is such a huge part of who I am, it is the most natural and spontaneous way I can express myself. I have been improvising since my hands first touched the keyboard, 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."
Montero's future and recent engagements include her acclaimed performances with the New York Philharmonic debut with Lorin Maazel, Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, Rotterdam Philharmonisch Orkest at De Doelen and NDR Hanover at the Bergen Festival. In recital, her engagements include the Edinburgh Festival, Vienna Konzerthaus, Klavier-Festival Ruhr, Cologne Philharmonie, Tonhalle Düsseldorf, Konzerthaus Berlin, Alte Sendersaal Frankfurt, Kennedy Centre Washington, D.C., and at the 'Progetto Martha Argerich' Festival in Lugano where she is invited annually.
Montero performed John Williams' "Air and Simple Gifts" with Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, and Anthony McGill at the inauguration of U.S. president Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. Although the music played was a recording made two days prior due to concerns over the cold weather damaging the instruments.
Montero has a long-established duo partnership with the French cellist Gautier Capuçon and they appeared at the 2009 Salzburg Festival and toured Germany in 2009 including engagements in Munich, Bonn, Hamburg, Dortmund and Heidelberg in April 2009 as well as the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, in May 2009. Future duo engagements in 2010 include the Vienna Konzerthaus, Braunschweig Festival, Beethoven Bonn Festival and Opéra de Lille.
Awards for CD releases:
Montero's first CD release consisted of one disc of music by Rachmaninov, Chopin, and Liszt, and a second of improvisations. Her CD Bach and Beyond contains improvisations on Bach themes, and topped the charts for several months. In February 2008, her follow up recording of improvisations, Baroque, received 5-star reviews from BBC Music Magazine and Classic FM.
Montero's Bach and Beyond was given the "Choc de la musique de l'année" award in 2006 from the French magazine Le Monde de la Musique. She also received the Keyboard Instrumentalist of the Year award at the ECHO Preis Award in Munich. In 2007, ECHO Preis awarded her the Klassik-ohne-Grenzen Award for her Bach and Beyond CD. In 2009, her album Baroque was nominated for a Grammy Award in two categories (Best Crossover Category and Best Producer Category). She has also been profiled on CBS's 60 Minutes.