Pianist shares her gift for improv with Cleveland, Jan. 23

January 15, 2014

On Thursday, January 23, Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero takes the stage as part of CIM’s signature Mixon Hall Masters Series: Return of the Composer Virtuoso providing you with a unique opportunity to experience the creation of classical music as it happens AND to be part of the process, too!

A master of standard and multi-cultural classical keyboard repertoire, Montero will begin the evening by playing Brahms’ Three Intermezzos, Op. 117 (1892) and Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17. Then, taking musical suggestions from the audience, she will improvise new works.

Gabriela Montero | Mixon Hall Masters Series, January 23, 2014

Montero’s story begins before she could speak. At the insistence of her grandmother, a toy piano was placed in her playpen and the toddler began picking out tunes.  Even at 15 months old, the story goes, Montero never banged with her fists as most children do but picked out notes with one finger—including a tune her mother used to sing her to sleep.

Once she was walking and talking, she began piano lessons and made her first public appearance at just 5 years old. Her concerto debut took place at the ripe age of 8–performing the Haydn D Major Piano Concerto with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, conducted by El Sistema founder Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu (CIM’s 2013 honorary doctorate recipient).  She pursued piano studies, earning a government scholarship at the age of 10 to study in the U.S., but her teacher lacked what Montero truly needed.

“Those were 10 traumatic years. At the end of that time, I gave up the piano completely for two and a half years. I just closed the lid,” she told a reporter at The Independent in 2010. “I was confident, I could play, but I was missing my reasons for it: I felt that these studies had had everything to do with ego and small-mindedness, nothing to do with making music, and I lost all desire to become a musician.”

Thankfully, the lid did not remain closed. Montero moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music with the pianist Hamish Milne, and began to find her voice.

Throughout her studies and years of playing as a teenager, Montero demonstrated an innate and extraordinary gift for improvisation, a relative rarity in our modern era of classical music, and a talent she kept to herself.

It wasn’t until piano legend Martha Argerich persuaded the young artist to stop hiding her gift that she took a risk and was well-rewarded for it.

Today, she plays standard and multi-cultural classical repertoire–such as the Brahms and Schumann that she’ll be playing as part of her recital at CIM–as well as improvising in concert. The latter Montero describes as flowing out of her from a place of collective consciousness ala the Jung.

“It’s almost as if I’m in a different state of consciousness when I improvise. It’s not a formulaic or mental exercise at all,” she said in The Independent interview. “And it’s not really something that I control. I find that very beautiful, because there are so many things we don’t know about the brain and about creative energy.”

Often Montero calls upon her audience for musical cue to begin her improvising; a member of the crowd may call for her to play a variation on an historic composer such as Bach or Mozart or a young guest may hum part of the soundtrack to Harry Potter. She has said that she feels that it really connects her to her audience in a unique way.

You, too, can be part of this magical musical process. Experience this unique artist for yourself on Thursday, January 23, in the charming, intimate and acoustically opulent Mixon Hall. Tickets start at $28 with discounted student tickets priced at just $14 (with valid ID).

Visit or call the CIM Box Office at 216.795.3211 to purchase your tickets today!

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