I have been going through a music renaissance of sorts trying to seek out any classical music that I really want to listen to. In my mind exists this abstract idea of myself listening to 'classy' music when I'm older and cannot bear the weight of keeping up with cultural extremes and the like. I already have an appreciation for piano from the years of lessons I had taken by me as a kid (Thank You Mummy & Daddy!) but finding something that speaks to me personally in a genre that has been around since we discovered bows and arrows is like trying to come up with an appropriately cheesy metaphor to complete this sentence.
I've found our city library to be of great help on the subject yet, my lackidasical pursuit hadn't uncovered anything truly exciting. That is until a few weeks ago when I heard someone delightfully tackling the ivory keys on my sometimes favorite L.A. based radio station KCRW. Come to find it's a Venezuelan pianist by the name of Gabriela Montero.
Montero started improvising at the piano at age four; ...gave her first public performance at the age of five; three years later, she made her concerto debut with the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra Simon Bolivar. At age eight, she received a scholarship from the Venezuelan government to study in the United States and proceeded to win several youth competitons there. Ultimately, it was at London's Royal Academy of Music, where she studied in her twenties with Hamish Milne, that she received what she calls her "most important training."
...and her website biography reads:
Gabriela Montero’s first EMI/Angel CD consisted of one disc of music by Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Liszt and a second of her deeply-felt and technically brilliant improvisations. Standing alongside inspired performances of core repertoire, improvisation plays as important a part in Gabriela's life as it did for Bach and Mozart and, to show the link, her latest EMI/Angel CD Bach and Beyond is a full disc of improvisations on themes by Bach.
Gabriela has appeared with orchestras across the world from South America and the USA, Europe, to Japan and the Far East and she recently made her debut with the New York Philharmonic and Lorin Maazel. Anthony Tommasini writing in the New York Times commented that "Ms Montero's playing had everything: crackling rhythmic brio, subtle shadings, steely power in climactic moments, soulful lyricism in the ruminative passages and, best of all, unsentimental expressivity".
I found much of the prodigious acclaim to ring true as I now own two of her latest works, Gabriela Montero: Piano Recital and Bach and Beyond, both on EMI and couldn't be happier with her performances which are nothing short of awe inspiring. I think the improvisational spirit of her playing is what makes these sometimes stuffy (albeit brilliant) works feel like fresh and beautiful music to my oh so tired ears.
In addition to Montero, a few other artists/albums that I can recommend trying are, Gonzales "Solo Piano" (No Format/Universal), a record full of gentle, intricate and flowing "Satie-esque" piano instrumentals that could be the soundtrack to a forgotten silent film; Ludovico Einaudi & Ballaké Sissoko "Diario Mali" (Ponderosa), which features an intricate yet subtle fusion of piano and African strings and anything by the medieval minded Jordi Savall or French 'phonometrician' Eric Satie. All go perfectly with some intoxicating tea on a cloudy morning for moments of noble introspection.