Gabriela Montero is to perform at City Hall Theatre on Sunday at 4:30pm. *Photo supplied
Gabriela Montero is to perform at City Hall Theatre on Sunday at 4:30pm. *Photo supplied

FRIDAY, JAN. 27: “Thrilling and uplifting” was how classical pianist Gabriela Montero described performing at US President Barak Obama’s Inauguration.

The Venezuelan-born musician says that while the momentous event was not the most significant performance of her career professionally, it certainly was personally.

Montero, who is to perform at City Hall Theatre this Sunday at 4:30pm as part of the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts, told the Sun: “It was exhilarating because of the historic significance and the whole atmosphere was of complete joy and healing.

“We were so honoured to take part in that moment. I didn’t meet Obama — everything was to the second timing. I was invited to the parade afterwards where I might have met him but at that point we were all so cold I decided to take it easy. I think I had frost bite!

“Personally it was wonderful to see the integration and the joy shared by everyone of every colour and ethnicity. It was a momentous occasion because of that. It wasn’t one of the greatest events of my career but as a person, yes.”

Regardless of performing at one of the most widely publicised parties of the year, Montero says it had virtually no bearing on her concert career.

“The significance of that day it was not that it effected in any way my classical career — they are two very different worlds. You don’t end up performing in concert halls because of something like this, you perform in concert halls because you have a history and a following. People know you from the classical career.”

This classical pianist and master of improvisation has certainly earned her place in the world of music.

She has gained a reputation for her flawless classical playing of such greats as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Moreover, she has been hailed a genius for her ability to create music on the spot taking requests from audience members from everything from pop and rock to jazz and blues — recreating them in a totally different genre.

In traditionally classical circles, Montero is perhaps seen as a bit of a maverick because of what she describes as “my playground” of musical improvisation.

Some traditionalists often fault the practice of meddling with centuries-old arrangements.

“I am a classical concert pianist which means I play the big repertoire with orchestra and solo recitals — that’s my world. But, since I was a child, I have also improvised. It used to be very common amongst composers and performers in the 18th and 19th century and even the beginning of the 20th century. Then somehow people stopped improvising in the classical world and nowadays there are very, very few of us, it is very rare.

“The improvisation, in my case, is spontaneous composition and what happens is that I sit down and ask the audience to suggest a song and I take that and play it a few times and then I go off into a classical improvisation.

“It’s all completely unknown and impossible to repeat.

“It’s wonderful because there’s nothing before and nothing after — it is just that moment.”

Many of Montero’s improvisations are done in a Baroque style — a song by The Beatles could become a six- or seven-minute fugue at her fingertips or one of the areas of a great operas might betransformed into a tango.

Montero was born into a non-musical family but it was clear from a very young age what she was to become.

Her mom put a two-octave piano in her crib which she started tinkering on at the age of just seven months. By the time she was 17 months old she was reciting songs her mom would sing to her. She was concertizing by the age of five and won a scholarship to study music in the US aged 11 and her career has snowballed since then.

“Mom would sing me to sleep with like lullabies and the National Anthem of Venezuela. I was playing all these songs by ear — exactly as they were sung to me. My path was pretty clear — I have always been a concert pianist.”

Performance information:
Where: City Hall Theatre
When: Sunday, January 29
Time: 4:30pm
Tickets: $65 or $25. Visit www.bermudafestival.org