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About the album

European Form, Latin Soul

Gabriela Montero underlines her role as pianist-composer, paying homage to inextinguishable spirit of South America’s people with the world premiere recording of her Piano Concerto No.1, ‘Latin’ Concerto.

The new Orchid Classics album, complete with Ravel’s jazz-inspired Piano Concerto in G major, celebrates the musical creativity of the Americas.

‘Gabriela Montero [is] a marvellous pianist, a force of nature as an improviser and, as a composer, maybe a new hope for the piano concerto form in itself. That is what her first contribution to this genre suggests’, Leipziger Volkszeitung, review of premiere performance of ‘Latin’ Concerto, Leipzig Gewandhaus, March 2016

Gabriela Montero’s latest composition, Piano Concerto No.1, ‘Latin’ Concerto, trains the spotlight on the entire South American continent to reveal a world of relentless energy, exquisite beauty and profound tension. She takes the solo part in its world premiere recording, set for international release on Orchid Classics on 20th September 2019. Her chosen companion piece, Ravel’s jazz-inspired Piano Concerto No.1 in G major, offers another cosmopolitan composer’s reflections on America. The pan-American Orchestra of the Americas under its Mexican Music Director, Carlos Miguel Prieto, joins Montero in her celebrating the musical folklore of the Americas, both north and south.

The ‘Latin’Concerto encompasses the breathtaking diversity and psychological complexity of South America. The thirty-minute composition rises from a place where cultures collide, often merge and generate fresh forms of artistic expression. Montero’s score includes the rhythms of mambo, milonga, salsa, pajarillo, tango, soaring melodies and pungent harmonies. Above all, it portrays Latin America as much more than the world’s party destination, the unfeasibly happy home to fiesta and carnival. The work’s solo introduction sets the tone for what follows, embracing darkness and light, introspection and exuberance. An undertow of danger runs through the music, often swallowing a joyful theme or changing the atmosphere in an instant.

“When most people think of Latin America, they imagine a place where life, like the music, is full of rhythm, sensuality and primitive energy,” comments Gabriela Montero. “I know it’s appealing to market Latin America as a bubbly, fun paradise. But there are dark shadows over it all that can stop us from seeing clearly. These are the shadows of violence and corruption that have prevented some Latin American countries from reaching their full potential. This is the story I wanted to tell; this is why my ‘Latin’Concerto shows the complexities of South American life. I don’t want the common perception of Latin Americans to obscure the daily reality of what’s happening in some South American nations. They are not always agents of their own destiny.”

After a lifetime of experience improvising at the keyboard, often on themes suggested by audience members, Gabriela Montero turned to formal composition in 2011. Her first work for piano and orchestra, the polemical tone poem Ex Patria, was written to protest her native Venezuela’s descent into political chaos, economic ruin and social despair. “Ex Patria and my ‘Latin’ Concerto are very different works,” observes Montero. “Ex Patria was a political statement that I needed to make at a time when few were talking about the crisis in Venezuela. But, from a musical point of view, I wanted to use my voice to communicate a very different message in the ‘Latin’ Concerto, about the musical traditions of Latin America and Europe that have shaped me equally as an artist. It is a portrait of a modern, complex, diverse continent, painted on the canvas of European formalism.”

Maurice Ravel travelled to North America for a four-month concert tour in 1928. He arrived in the United States with a strong interest in jazz and blues, and absorbed lessons about both during his time there. The composer’s Piano Concerto No.1 in G major, written between 1929 and 1931, stands as an irresistible marriage of American jazz rhythms, blues harmonies, neo-classicism, Basque folk melodies and Spanish tunes. Its first movement echoes a theme from George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, a generous tribute given that Ravel had rejected the young American as a pupil in the mid-1920s.

Ravel’s Concerto in G major fits very well with my ‘Latin’ Concerto,” says Gabriela Montero. “They are both about music migrating and evolving through the cross-pollination and cultural osmosis of globalization. The two pieces belong to different times but they both explore folk idioms taken from several places and cultures. I’ve grafted the Latin American musical language onto the three-movement, European, concerto form.” The ‘Latin’ Concerto’s finale contains what Montero describes as a ‘slightly camouflaged’ reference to ‘Pajarillo’, a famous Venezuelan folksong. “Every Venezuelan will recognize it. This album is about Latin America in all its wonderfulness but it’s also about learning from one another. Ravel went to New York and learned from Gershwin and jazz musicians; I’m a girl from Venezuela who went to school in the United States, studied in London, has lived in Canada and Holland, and travels the world. I’ve picked up all these ideas, these creative ‘passport stamps’ along the way, just as so many other musicians have done before me. The ideas should always travel freely around the world.”

Freedom of movement has arguably never been more topical than it is today. It has been a decade since Gabriela Montero visited her home country, feeling it unsafe to do so. An Honorary Consul of Amnesty International since 2015, she understands from personal experience the causes and consequences of exile. “The ‘Latin’ Concerto is most definitely not a political statement, unlike Ex Patria, but nor is it a naïve vision of a carnival continent. It is a profoundly personal expression of the continent in which I was born, a continent whose entire gamut of colors has, in one way or another, touched my life.”