<strong>Venezuelan</strong> concert pianist Gabriela Montero perfomed a lively set at City Hall Theatre on Sunday afternoon. Montero became a household name after performing at Barak Obama&rsquo;s 2009 inauguration. <em>*Photo supplied</em>
Venezuelan concert pianist Gabriela Montero perfomed a lively set at City Hall Theatre on Sunday afternoon. Montero became a household name after performing at Barak Obama’s 2009 inauguration. *Photo supplied

TUESDAY, JAN. 31: Gabriela Montero’s playing was at times spellbinding and uplifting and at others severe and punishing.

The Venezuelan concert pianist cum master of improvisation, at first lulled her audience with the intimately performed arrangement of Johannes Brahms’ Three Intermezzos and then stunned them with the frantic strikes of Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor.

The lullaby-like tones of Three Intermezzos she played delicately with moments of solemnity.

With Sonata in B Minor she commenced with small, probing notes that gave way to a crashing cacophony — switching in an instant from harsh thrusts to playful trickles.

Montero demonstrated impeccable timing — your ears could barely keep up with the speed of her playing yet each note played was crisp and clean.

During one section in B Minor her fingertips teetered at lightning speed between two notes before tumbling down the length of the piano — right down to the doldrums of the lower octave — then ascending and again descending — all with power and vigour.

The contrasts between and within these pieces served to show us the tremendous range of ability and phenomenal dexterity that Montero has as a concert pianist.

Throughout the complex compositions, Montero did not need any sheet music, it is all fixed in her brain despite, she said, having not played one of the pieces for several years.

The show started out very much as you would expect a classical concert to be — no interaction from the musician aside from a bow between arrangements. It was clear in the second half that she couldn’t wait to chat with the audience, which for reasons unbeknown to me, is considered nonconformist during concert playing. What’s more she invited the audience to suggest songs for her to improvise in various genres and even sing to her the melodies of songs.

She joked: “I love interaction with the audience — it’s rare for a classical musician to talk to their audience and it’s even rarer for the audience to talk back!”

While it was like an escape to sit back and just listen to the sound of her music it was refreshing once the barriers were brought down and she could relax a little.

She explained the next part of the show as “nothing planned but completely spontaneous. It is a free, pure and natural way of making music. It is unique to that moment.”

She took requests from the audience and magically transformed them right there on the spot in to rich and varied classical arrangements. Granted she only took a part of the melody of each song and weaved it into a spontaneous arrangement. You couldn’t say these pieces were flawless, there would be the odd missed or slipped note, but what more could you expect from a composition that is literally being created in the moment?

Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was my favourite which she transformed from a classical-style composition to a ragtime rendition reminiscent of Scott Joplin. The crowd saw humour in the contrast, like when she unexpectedly infused a tango section into Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. She ended on Adele’s Rolling in the Deep but didn’t know the melody. She could only go on the tune made by a little girl in the centre of the auditorium who bravely sang her a verse. She can’t have heard her very well as the melody was all wrong. Still, her composition was a mini masterpiece in itself.

It would have been great to hear more of these but there just wasn’t time. Montero was given a standing ovation for her awesome talent.