Events & exhibitions

What Choice Do I Have? Gabriela Montero Discusses Classical Improvisation, Composition, and Creative Dissent

  • Monday, January 27, 2020
    4:15 PM ET
  • Knafel Center
    10 Garden Street
    Cambridge, MA 02138
A woman sits in a chair on stage listening to an audience question.
Photo by Kevin Grady

In a program designed around a musically illustrated discussion, the internationally renowned pianist Gabriela Montero will discuss her evolution as an improvisational artist and creative dissenter. Her growth as an artist and leader has been greatly informed by the human rights and political crises in her home country of Venezuela.

Montero will consider fundamental questions about improvisation: What is it, to a classical musician? She will explore how improvisation works on a bio-neurological basis, presenting fMRI studies done on her own brain. And why improvise? She will consider how musicians can choose to use the immediacy of improvisation as a reactive and informational device—and even as a tool of protest and dissent.

In the context of the crisis in Venezuela, Montero will address her role as a “musical journalist.” She will ask how moral choices affect the decision to compose and whether composition can effect any significant and enduring social change. Do artists have an amplified duty to engage in pressing sociopolitical matters, or should they enjoy immunity from doing so, by virtue of the transcendency of art alone?

Born in Venezuela, Gabriela Montero started her piano studies at age four and made her concerto debut at age eight in her hometown of Caracas. This led to a scholarship from the government to study privately in the United States and then at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Montero’s performances and compositions have garnered her international critical acclaim. She is a recipient of the prestigious 2018 Heidelberger Frühling Music Prize, a 2015 Latin Grammy for best classical album, and two Echo Klassik awards: the 2006 Instrumentalist/Instrumentalistin des Jahres and 2007 Klassik-ohne-Grenzen.

Celebrated for her exceptional musicality and ability to improvise, Montero has performed with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the Dresden, Netherlands Radio, ORF Vienna Radio, Oslo, Rotterdam, and Royal Liverpool philharmonic orchestras; the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover, NDR Sinfonieorchester Hamburg, and Zürcher Kammerorchester; the Atlanta, Baltimore, Barcelona, City of Birmingham, Detroit, Houston, Lucerne, Pittsburgh, Sydney, Toronto, and Vienna symphony orchestras; the Belgian National Orchestra; and the Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn.

The winner of the 4th International Beethoven Prize, Montero is a committed advocate for human rights, whose voice regularly reaches beyond the concert hall. She was named an honorary consul by Amnesty International in 2015 and recognized by the Human Rights Foundation for her ongoing commitment to human rights advocacy in Venezuela. She was invited to participate in the 2013 Women of the World Festival at London’s Southbank Centre and has spoken and performed twice at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters. She was also a featured performer at Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential Inauguration. Montero is the artist-in-residence for the 2019–2020 season with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Event Video

A woman plays piano on stage.


Sam McElroy, baritone and producer


Gabriela Montero, improvisational artist and creative dissenter

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