“Montero Plays Mozart” Music of the Baroque

By Julia Rath, Around the Town Chicago
January 24, 2023

In a world-class performance on Sunday evening, Venezuelan-born Gabriella Montero enthralled the audience at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts as she commanded the piano, accompanied by the Music of the Baroque orchestra. Montero’s fingers flitted across the keyboard fluidly, like a butterfly flapping its beautiful but strong wings. She played Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467 effortlessly and exquisitely, and immediately after that, she provided a spontaneous demonstration of her improvisational skills. What an astonishing talent! How happy I was to be in the audience!

The program started out with Joseph Bologne’s Symphony No. 1 in G Major, op. 11, in a smooth, easy, and lovingly done performance. This is a composition where precedence is given to stringed instruments. Note that Bologne’s biography is of particular interest. The son of a French plantation owner and an enslaved woman of Senegalese origin, he was as amazing as a horseman and fencing master as he was as a trained musician and violinist extraordinaire. He was once the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, and last year in February, MOB devoted an entire concert to his life and his music in 18th century France. Also note that a new movie is coming out soon about his biography.

Next, Montero took the stage to play Mozart’s piano concerto in three movements, the middle of which (the andante) is perhaps the most familiar. This is where several phrases are played crosshand, namely, where the right hand crosses over the left to play the bass notes. Most remarkable was how Montero improvised the credenzas in the first and third movements. These were elegantly fashioned and, as I was told afterwards, they were apparently different from those she played the night before at the Harris Theater. “This is not unprecedented…. But it is rare, and clearly this was impacted by Montero’s comfort level in improvising.”

I had perhaps the best seat in the house, where I not only could watch over Montero’s exposition on the keyboard but additionally had a direct view of the conductor Dame Jane Glover from Montero’s perspective, so I could see the body language between them: particularly when Montero coursed through her credenzas. It was such a joy to be privy to their interaction and to watch Dame Glover cue the orchestra accordingly. Needless to say, this is something that you cannot witness in a recording! You also can’t see just how big of a hug—several hugs actually—that the two women gave each other at the end!

After playing Mozart, Montero felt comfortable enough to take the microphone and announce to the audience that she would like someone to call out and sing a well-known melody that everybody would know and then she would do an improvisation of it. “It will be one-of-a-kind,” she said. “The music will just come out. It’s like opening up a tap…. and as quickly as it comes, it will be forgotten.” Then after some hesitation, some concertgoer sang out several bars of “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess.” Montero commented, “Since it’s cold outside, how appropriate!” Her voice belied her mesmerizing charm, and she took to the keys again.
She played the theme a couple of times and then embellished and expounded on it. Variations included ragtime, a scherzo, a tango, and so on and so forth. Time faded as she twirled around the melody into various arrangements. Her spontaneity was unbelievable and her talent, impressive to the nth degree!

After a break, the orchestra resumed with Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543. The adagio-allegro segment was vibrant; the andante con moto segment was steady; the menuetto-trio featured a wonderful clarinet solo; and the finale-allegro was distinguished by the overall theme that rotated throughout the orchestra. At the end, Dame Glover made it a special point to acknowledge the entire woodwind section.

This is one of the best live musical performances that I have ever seen. Montero’s rendition stirred me to tears. It was delightfully divine, and it has been many years since I was so moved by a piece of music. In contrast, my guest came away from the concert singing. I asked her, “Are you humming Mozart?”, and her response was, “I’m so happy: I’m singing like a bird!” The rest of the audience was equally impressed. “It’s amazing what people can do!” said one man as we strolled into the aisle at the close of the performance.

This was an event of a lifetime!

“Montero Plays Mozart” took place at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, in Skokie, on Sunday, January 22, 2023, at 7:30 p.m. (Note that a similar performance took place the previous evening at the Harris Theater, in Millennium Park, 205 W. Randolph Drive, in Chicago.)

For more information about this and future performances of Music of the Baroque, including times, dates, and locations, please go to: https://www.baroque.org/.

Music of the Baroque is a resident company of the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. To learn more about the venue, their future offerings, and ticket prices, visit: https://northshorecenter.org/.

To learn more about the Harris Theater, their future offerings, and ticket prices, go to: https://www.harristheaterchicago.org/.

At this time, masks are optional and proof of vaccination is not being required, but this advice could change at any moment. For further information about COVID protocols at the various venues, visit: https://www.baroque.org/2022faq.