Pianist Gabriela Montero

Gabriela Montero: From Brahms to Beatles at Glenn Gould Studio

Gabriela Montero's concert at the Glenn Gould Studio Wednesday night (as previewed previewed here on Tuesday) was a combination of exercised restraint and free association.

It was a treat to see Montero's fingers dance across the piano like water striders on the lake at the cottage.

She started off the program with "Six Piano Pieces, Op. 118" by Johannes Brahms and then moved on to Beethoven's Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53, "Waldstein." I much prefer Brahms' horn concertos to his piano works. Montero gave Beethoven's work a much more spirited performance. It was almost as if the Brahms was just her warm-up piece.

Montero paused ever-so-briefly between movements, barely giving anyone a chance to cough if necessary, let alone make the faux-pas of applauding. Maybe she was worried that her Toronto audience weren't all that versed in classical concert etiquette.

She held the last note of Brahms work, squeezing that extra little bit of resonance out of the foot pedal, as the crowd seemed to relish the fermata, patiently awaiting their opportunity to applaud.

But the real applause came after intermission, when she took requests from the audience, with the provision that if she wasn't familiar with the melody you'd have to sing a passage. This was what Montero referred to as her playground. She'd engage the audience to suggest a theme and she'd rehash the melody with her right hand, then add a few chords and pause as the lights dimmed and she'd go full speed ahead for about five minutes with her musical interpretation.

I wished I was sitting in the front few rows, as a majority of her requests came from. I really would have liked to hear her improvise on the melody from Spring Awakening, although I must admit, as much as I like to sing in public, I wasn't about to burst out with The Bitch of Living or worse.

It would've been fun to hear Montero improvise on the theme for Doctor Who but how do you sing that aloud? I guess I'll have to satisfy myself with the whomix selections already available.

A young man suggested the opening theme from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, which he proceeded to sing for us. But Montero didn't quite get the melody right, although her rendition was still beautiful to listen to.

Another suggestion was Hey Jude. Montero asked for the suggester to sing a bit of it to remind her how it goes and the audience started to sing along. Other requests were much more banal, such as Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and some older dude's suggestion of Albeniz' Tango in D. The evening ended with a riveting rendition based on La Bamba.

It's too bad we didn't have more imaginative suggestions, like perhaps Ma Na Ma Na from The Muppet Show, or the theme from Simon and the Land of Chalk Drawrings. That I'd have loved to hear Montero improvise.

The acoustics were superb at the Glenn Gould Studio. It must be a pianist's dream to play there. "I really love this hall, this piano and the people here," said Montero, before the second half of the night's music began.

I wonder what Gould himself would think of modern performances like this and that of Christopher O'Reilly were he still alive today.

Photo courtesy Gabriela Montero.

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