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Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Classical Idol

Did you have a melody in mind? I know I certainly didn’t. I was in too much of a state of awe and amazement to think anything but “how does she do it?”

For those who had the privilege of seeing Gabriela Montero perform with your ESO last night at the Winspear, you were probably thinking along the same lines as I was. What’s her secret? Where does this brilliant musical gift come from? And how do I get a jukebox of melodies floating around in my head?

Gabriela, who I understand quite literally hears music 24/7, even in a room that is completely silent, invited the audience to participate in her improvisational solo recital. With a Chopin melody suggested here, and a John Denver tune hinted there, Gabriela was effortlessly provoked and delved into a completely unique world, all her own. Something called improvisation. Something quite uncommon in the classical world today, especially in a concert setting. Few artists have the natural innate ability to create something extraordinary on the spot, with no preconceived thought or intention going into that particular creation ahead of time. Simply put, it’s astonishing to see, hear, and experience first hand.

Despite spending 15 of my childhood years in piano lessons, attempting to master the perfect tone and degree of emotion in which a piece should be performed (i.e. how the examiner wants to hear it, as they afterall, have all the power to decide your pass / fail fate), I can’t remember very many occasions that I was freely encouraged to add my own little tidbit of interpretation to the music I was playing. That said, the entire concept of simply sitting down at a piano, with no notes on the music rack to read, and just allowing your fingers to move across the ivory keys to create an impeccably harmonic series of sounds is completely foreign and unbelievable to me, and I’m sure many others.

Every time I visit my parents home, I make an effort to play the lonely baby grand that these days sits as simply a beautiful piece of art in the front den. I gather the next time I visit and open up the piano, my inspired mind will transcribe a brilliantly crafted fugue and my fingers will go wild on the keyboard. Ummm… hardly. Who am I kidding? I suppose I can start with the basics and improvise my own unique Hanon, one that will warm up my fingers for an eventual and masterful act of improvisation. Yes, that would be a good start. Consider it semitone steps. Melodies are now being accepted.

Gabriela Montero improvising at Koln Philharmonie

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