Venezuelan-born pianist laments oppression in homeland

Venezuelan-born pianist laments oppression in homeland

Gabriela Montero
Gabriela Montero

At his inauguration ceremony on Feb. 2, 1999, newly elected president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez boldly declared: “I swear before my people that upon this moribund constitution I will drive forth the necessary democratic transformations so that the new republic will have a Magna Carta befitting these new times.”

Fourteen years later, Chavez’s words ring hollow in the world community, as well as in his oil-rich nation, where corruption, lawlessness, mass incarcerations and other human rights violations are rampant.

He is widely regarded as an iron-fisted dictator with zero tolerance for dissent, and more than 19,000 Venezuelan deaths have been attributed to Chavez’s regime in 2011 alone.

One of those most outraged by the political turn of events is world-renowned classical pianist Gabriela Montero.

A Venezuelan by birth who now lives in Massachusetts, Montero composed a 15-minute piano concerto titled “Ex-Patria” in 2011 in memory of the victims of Chavez’s vendetta against his opponents. She scored both the main piano piece and the orchestral accompaniment.

Montero will perform “Ex-Patria” with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra on Friday at the First Baptist Church, Kenner, at 7:30 p.m. Also on the Kenner bill: Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2. LPO Music Director Carlos Miguel Prieto will conduct.

“I wrote this piece because, as a human being, I am saddened and outraged at the levels of violence, devastation and corruption in my country,” Montero said in a telephone interview Friday. “I wanted to give Venezuelans a voice to explain our sadness.

“Ex-Patria is a metaphorical portrayal of a country barely recognizable from that of my youth. In this piece you will hear the discord, the violence, the brutality, the conflicts, the sadness and the collapse of a country that is beautiful and where music is a natural part of existence.”

By her own admission, Montero has never performed for or even met Chavez, “and I never will,” she hastened to add.

Montero also will lead a discussion of “Ex-Patria” and a performance of the piece with the LPO on Thursday at 3 p.m., in Tulane University’s Dixon Hall. Admission to the Dixon Hall event is free and open to the public.

Montero will perform on Saturday at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts in New Orleans at 8 p.m. “Ex-Patria” is not on the program at the Mahalia Jackson.

LPO Music Director Carlos Miguel Prieto will conduct both performances.

Montero will perform Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in Kenner and at the Mahalia Jackson. Also on the program for the Kenner performance are Bizet’s Selections from Carmen Suite and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio espagnol.”

The New Orleans concert will showcase the premiere of Stephen Dankner’s Symphony No. 10 “In Memoriam Klauspeter Seibel” (honoring the late former LPO Music Director) and will also feature Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2.

Montero’s many prestigious international credits include appearances on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” a Grammy Award nomination and the honor of performing at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Montero premiered “Ex-Patria” at the 2012 Martha Argerich Festival in Lugano, Switzerland, where she is an annual featured performer.

That performance, backed by the Radio Svizzera Italiana Orchestra, was filmed for a 25-minute documentary by producer/director Sam McElroy. This summer she will record the piece, along with the Rachmaninov Symphony No. 2, with the Youth Orchestra of the Americas in Costa Rica under the baton of Maestro Prieto.

Unlike most classical pianists, Montero is not above improvising on the printed score when the mood and occasion may lead her to do so.

“I connect to my audience in a completely unique way — and they connect with me,” Montero said. “Because improvisation is such a huge part of who I am, it is the most natural and spontaneous way I can express myself.”

Tickets for the Kenner and New Orleans performances start at $20, and can be purchased online at www.lpomusic.com or by calling the LPO box office at 504-523-6530. Tickets can be purchased at the door one hour prior to the performances if seats are still available.