Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Here's an excerpt from "Extraordinary Comebacks 2" -- available January, 2009:

Montero, Gabriela

When it comes to the love of music, music teachers are often more effective at quenching it than stoking it. So it was with Gabriela Montero. The young Venezuelan debuted at five, and performed with the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra 'Simon Bolivar' conducted by Jose Antonio Abreu at eight.

By eleven, young Gabriela Montero was at a crossroads: already a big fish in a small musical pond. Her parents decided to bring her to the U.S. to study.

She said they thought it their responsibility to provide everything they could for her development.

The family found a home in Miami. Montero’s talent was profiled on local television. She was a star to the world, but inwardly she was doubting. Her teacher questioned her talent, and belittled her improvisation.

Improvisation has a long and fabled history within the greater story of music history. It was once considered de rigeur that an artist could and would improvise from a provided melody. Immortals like J.S. Bach were famous for their ability to improvise. So, too, Beethoven, Mozart, countless other masters.

But Montero’s teacher knew better. It was nothing special, certainly not worth cultivating, or so he said.

The teacher, however, was quenching the very gift for which she would become most famous. Not only that, it was the love of her life, expression through improvisation.

There is nothing like a music teacher to kill the love of music. No one does it better.

She kept playing, but the meaning and enthusiasm was ebbing away. Eventually, there was no impetus to play at all. As a twentysomething, she stayed away from the keyboard for two years.

She took some lessons, played some concerts, married (twice), had children (two). But piano? It wasn’t really going anywhere.

Then, at thirty-one (2001), she sought out a guru to help her sort her conflicting feelings, one who had been there herself: superstar pianist Martha Argerich. One night, after a few too many drinks, Montero played for the famed pianist, Beethoven, plus improvisations.

Argerich saw something of herself in the player and playing. Praising her, she provided Montero the validation she had sought her entire life.

Montero moved to the classical capital of the world, New York, and reinvigorated, went about renewing her career, this time for keeps.

Critics love the spontaneity she brings to her improv-tinged playing, and even better, her CDs sell. Gabriela Montero is now one of the most sought after names on both the classical, and jazz stages.

Making a glorious comeback to the keyboard she had left alone for two years a decade before, she said she had found her sense of purpose. What could be greater? Or a greater comeback?

No comments: