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A reader’s view on Gabriela Montero concert

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UPDATE 3/13: Another passionate response has come in from a classical-musical fan in response to Gabriela Montero’s recent concert. Thomas Sawyer writes that “after sitting [through] the first half I had to get out!!!” You can read more on the jump.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Pianist Gabriela Montero packed the house Friday night for the latest installment of the Keyboard Concerts series at Fresno State. This accomplished musician — who recently gained fame as a member of the quartet that played a new adaptation of “Simple Gifts” at President Obama’s inauguration — scrapped her announced concert program and opted to play an entirely improvised concert. (She’s become quite well known for her strong improvisational abilities.) Here’s how it worked: Members of the audience volunteered musical themes by singing a tune for her. She then proceeded to play a five-minute-plus piece based upon that theme, totally impromptu.

Sound impressive? It was. (I was there working on a general feature story on Keyboard Concerts and its artistic director, Andreas Werz, and I thought it was remarkable how smooth and fluently Montero conjured her improvisations.) Not everyone was pleased at the change in program, however. Local classical pianist Shirley Kirsten offers this view:

After noting that Montero had originally programmed Baroque and Romantic period works from the mainstream piano repertoire as part one of her concert, I was disappointed that she served our audience only a portion of what was promised. It was an evening of only impromptu offerings and not a complete and satisfying sharing of the artist’s towering talent.

By comparison, Montero had recently appeared in Indiana and other cities having bestowed upon her audience more than a sample of her inspired classical interpretations. Even before she officially started the bistro like evening with the dimming of lights, she told our audience that this would be restricted to an hour long event with so many improvs to be expected. And right smack in the middle of her musical inventions, she asked for a time check. (as if to say she was in a hurry to finish, or that perhaps we as Fresnans were undeserving or not musically sophisticated enough for a more complete and substantive recital.)

I had watched the Kolner 2007 concert beamed at the official website (Montero “live” link) and was overwhelmed by the performer’s awe inspiring musicality and technical prowess, particularly as revealed in her readings of Chopin and Ginastera, but here in Fresno, we were given short shrift. A few of my colleagues and older students expressed the same dismay with variations on the same theme. Which brings to mind that some of Montero’s creations utilized micro motifs of classical themes sung out from the audience so that their treatment was abstract and hard to follow. I must also confess that Bach did not need his Aria from the Goldberg Variations improvised upon any further than what he had created as a work of pure genius. In a way when you take such a theme and try to change history, it just doesn’t fly.

On the other hand, improvs on “Besseme Mucho,” and on “A Clear Day,” seemed more pleasurable as the artist made sure to state the theme in more totality at the outset and then played in a musical vernacular that was more easily understood. But still, the very experience of listening to an all improvised program brings a certain unsettled feeling, where the artist is not sure what is going to happen along with the audience members, keeping everyone teetering on the brink.

I hope Montero comes back and gives Fresnans a well deserved credit for at least 45 minutes of Chopin and the great masters.

An interesting take, Shirley. Though I wasn’t disappointed at not hearing any works by the masters, I did sense that the concert felt somehow abbreviated and incomplete — almost perfunctory. Anyone else who was at the concert willing to chime in?

UPDATED: Here’s Sawyer’s view:

After reading your column in the Bee about this gal I couldn’t wait to see and hear. Then after exactly a week without any critic review I wonder if they too are ashamed??!!! Sorry had to write. After sitting the first half I had to get out!!! I listen to classical piano music and got garbage!! I never heard a loud, bombastic, trills of both hands up and down the keyboard, no lingering melody of the requested song from the audience, asw she improvised “something” the piano blared loudly with no effort to vary pasages, instead held to a resounding, irritating banging to the ear drums!!

Top it off as usual the microphone she used barely was heard and the audience meekly smiled and respectively giggled or gave muted laughs.

The back of the program lists her so-called appearances, credits,s etc. If she pulls this stuff in Berlin, NY, Japan, Italy, Moscow, the audience will be the younger set that goes for this “stuff” MOst others will get up and leave as I witnessed several Friday night. Comments out side I heard were unprintable here!

This lady has the talent as witnessed on the keyboard. The young dexterity is there OK, but to fills halls and enjoy good classical music of the piano, she must change her delivery. Mr. Werz better check her program before engaging her again here.
I regret missing the second half and wonder if she did perform some fine classical music??? I know no one that did!!!! Comments???

Responses to "A reader’s view on Gabriela Montero concert"

Connor says:

CJ was fascinated by the Montero’s improvisational skills, however, he would have much rather been exposed to her Bach and Chopin ditties.

Maria Schubert says:

Before you make any more ridiculous comments about Montero, check out all her amazing classical performances and improv cds. Who are you to make such judgements? Can you improvise? Are you a renowned classical artist? Give me a break. I was there and loved it.No one has the guts to do what she does, and whether that was her best night or not, is a matter of opinion.But she is an original. Most of you who write such degrading comments can’t even play an instrument properly. Go and release your frustration in a different way.

Sorry to disagree with you Ms. Schubert. Montero insulted our musical intelligence as well as herself. This is an artist who basically winged it on March 6, attenuated her appearance and expected classical music lovers to settle for less than a complete program that was originally planned and then tossed aside at her whim. If this musical menu had been served up in NYC, for example, in Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center, abrogating a promise to play the standard repertoire, Montero would have been panned by music critics. I have listened to her NYC radio interviews and she insists that she COMBINES classical music progamming with improvisations. Her appearances in major cities her in the US and all over the world have been a testimonial to this resolve. We should not have been a PUB stop along the way. She already did a pub appearance somewhere in Brooklyn in 2006 without classical selections, but the ambiance was qualitatively different and the press releases indicated improvs only. Montero is a brilliant, virtuoso pianist who shortchanged our audience, and that has nothing to do with
any commentator’s ability to perform. I know some of the greatest music critics who can’t play themselves but are highly respected. So please do not get mean and tangential.
Montero needs to come back and finish her recital, and not leave Fresno classical music lovers in the lurch. We deserved better. We should be raising standards and not lowering them.

Fujie Robesky says:

First we had Eat and Run now we have Play and Run.

I am not an accomplished pianist, but Ms Montero’s concert was not satisfying. I had anticipated a recital that was planned and well rehearsed but was very disappointed by the sudden program change. What happened to the great masterworks of Bach, Brahms and Rachmaninoff?

The evening’s fare included only off the cuff selections. It was like paying for a complete dinner, but just getting the appetizer.

I also felt that each improvisation of a classical theme was an unfulfilling mixture of styles. To make a comparison, would most art lovers appreciate mixing a Picasso painting with an Impressionist work? It would be very disconcerting. Because I am used to hearing classical music in it original form composed at the highest level of genius, it’s hard for me to welcome its reinvention as a hodgepodge of styles.

Maybe this pianist can come back to Fresno and give us the main course that we had originally expected.

FR