Stars when they were young (7): Gabriela Montero, 11

Stars when they were young (7): Gabriela Montero, 11


norman lebrecht

September 10, 2020

Playing the Grieg concerto.




  • Marg says:

    I love her playing and she was clearly a very talented kid.

  • Dieter says:

    Wunderbar! A young girl with the musical understanding and sound of an adult, man or woman. The room shakes in the cadenza! She has a presence far beyond her years. No surprise this child grew up to defy the dictatorship of Venezuela. She knows exactly who she is in this performance.

  • Alex S says:

    I remember her concerts in Miami long ago. She was a student of Dr. Rosalina Sackstein. Gaby’s improvisational skills are astonishing. She’s now a great pianist in a very crowded, hyper-competitive environment. I hope she is happy, safe, and successful.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Gabriela Montero keeps alive the practice of improvising at the pino in public, sometimes on themes suggested by the public. I’ve found her recorded examples of tese of only passing interest, but she does it, like few others … Cyprien Katsaris, and Robert Levin who improvises impressive cadenzas to Mozart and Beethoven concertos and the Choral Fantasy.

  • Who Really Listens Any More? says:

    With respect, if Montero’s spontaneous compositions provide only “passing interest”, I would genuinely love to know if you have really listened to her work. (That is not a facetious question. Many people have opinions on things they have not experienced directly). If so, what does stop you in your tracks?

    Luckily there are recordings. The following random example, to me, is not only an interest-grabber, but an indication that the classical world has missed decades of opportunity to commission new works from her. (Like other composer-virtuosos before her, she has obviously been trapped on the performance carousel, and not given time or space to compose). She has been doing this since she was a small child, after all, and if this is not evidence of a serious composing mind, I’m really not sure what is.
    (It only makes sense if you listen to the complete piece, of course.)

    Or this one, by contrast, from the same session (it is documented that she recorded 21 complete works in three hours, without a single edit).

    These remarks and examples are not intended as an artificial promotion of Ms. Montero’s work in any way, even if they have that effect. She hardly needs that, at this stage of her life. The recordings speak for themselves, and you will hear what you hear. They are intended as a genuine enquiry into what people like yourself consider a bona fide composing mind to look like. It is easy to cut and paste random abstract contemporary motifs and textures, without any structure or narrative (atmospheric rumbling base notes, followed by contrasting bell tinkles at the top, followed by some crazy arpeggio work, for example). But that is not improvising. It is sound effects. It is no more an indication of a composer than most of abstract art today is an indication of a painter. To me, what Ms. Montero does – over and over again – is real composition in real time. And it is purely instinctual and timeless, not conforming to any fleeting zeitgeist. Her written works are simply an extension of that natural ear and instinct. What a great shame and pity that there are so few of them, while so much “constructed” work passes as composition. We have it all backwards.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Fai question. You defend her well, but i spoke of improvisations, not compositions, as being of passing interest, of ourse, to me. Who else should I spek for? But I’ve been in this business a long time, professionally and otherwise. Who listens any more? I do, especily as I am now blind, and have always relied heaily on recordings, which fascinate me and opened doors to the greater world.

    What stops me in my tracks? Well, the improviser I mentioned, together with Alec Templeton, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Cziffra, Cortot, Moiseiwitsch, Horowitz usually, Sofronitzki, Wanda Landowska, Vladimir Sofronitzki, Ervin Nyirigyhazi, Elly Ney.

    Or just among those born in Venezuela, Teresa Carreno, Sergio Tiempo (although nominally Argentine), Dudamel not so much, although I’ve seen him; and Reynaldo Hahn.

    These things are highly subective and influenced y individual experience, but I think your question deserves an honest answer. Keep listening, as will I. And grow accustomed to differing opinions.

    other things that impress me: the cadenzas Edwin Fischer plays for Mozart and Beethoven concertos, written by him; and especially one that Carl Reinecke wrote for Beethoven’s third concerto, and that both Wilhelm Backhaus and Benno Moiseiwitsch play in their recordings. lHappy future, with respect!

    • Who Really Listens...etc says:

      It’s great that you are listening, Edgar, and you list great artists above, of course. But, speaking specifically of improvisation, my question, with great respect, was whether you had really given Montero’s improvisations your complete attention, because I find it hard that anyone with an educated ear such as yours would find them of only “fleeting interest”. Try her “Take1” series on YouTube, for example. There are nearly five hours of recordings in the 5-album series so far, each complete album recorded in one single take and without edits, according to the accompanying notes, and entirely improvised. I consider it to be a nugget of creative gold buried deep in the digital landscape. Forgive me if I try to unearth it. Happy listening, with respect! Best wishes…

  • Edgar Self says:

    Thanks Who Really Listens,. Sorry about all the typos; my seeing-eye peope were off. With your encouragement, I’ll try again and keep an open ear. Perseverance always pays. Well, sometimes it does. With every good wish and increased respect.