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Tuesday, May 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Two years later, Montero has arrived

Originally set to perform with symphony in 2009, pianist finally finds her way to Spokane

By Travis Rivers Correspondent

Gabriela Montero was scheduled to play with the Spokane Symphony in January 2009. But the pianist asked to be released from her contract to join Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Anthony McGill to perform at President Barack Obama’s Inauguration.

Promising to return in a later season, Montero was released from her contract.

That “later season” has come, and Montero will perform Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor with the orchestra at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox this weekend.

Saturday’s and Sunday’s program also includes Leos Janacek’s Sinfonietta and Claude Debussy’s “La Mer.” Music director Eckart Preu will conduct.

Montero was born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1970. Her parents were not musicians, but her grandmother gave her a toy piano when she was 7 months old.

“Since my mother, like all South American mothers, sang me to sleep, I began picking out those tunes on my little two-octave piano, my favorite toy,” Montero has told inteviewers. “The neighbors didn’t believe I could do it, and that made my parents mad.”

When she was 3, Montero’s parents bought her a real piano. She began lessons, convinced the neighbors, and at age 8 made her orchestral debut, playing Haydn’s Concerto in D.

Picking out those songs as a toddler turned into something that has become a trademark of Montero’s career. She can not only come up with the tunes suggested by audience members but can turn them into elaborate improvisations in the style of Bach or Rachmaninoff.

On CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Montero made “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” into a tango. 

In Seattle in 2009, after an excellent performance of Mozart’s Concerto No. 21, she invited suggestions from the audience. A gray-haired gentleman near the front called out, “On Top of Old Smoky.”

Puzzled, Montero invited him to sing it, and he bravely did so. “Oh, that’s what you call it here,” she said. She then converted the song into a flashy Lisztian fantasy followed by stormy applause.

In addition to her recital and concert performances on the world’s major stages, Montero has recorded four solo CDs for the EMI label. Each contains some of her improvisations, as well as a disc of music for cello and piano with French cellist Gautier Capuçon, who performed with the Spokane Symphony last season.

This weekend Montero will play Schumann’s Concerto in A minor, which originated as a one-movement improvisational fantasy the composer later turned into a three-movement concerto.

Orchestral works on the program include Janacek’s Sinfonietta, completed as a tribute to his Moravian hometown, Brno, now a part of the Czech Republic; and Debussy’s  “La Mer,” his musical pictures of three moods of the sea. 

Preu and Montero, who lives near Boston with her two daughters, will discuss the selections in pre-concert talks one hour before each performance.

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