Showing posts with label Gabriela Montero. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gabriela Montero. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Prime Minister engages with the musical community as never before

Apart from being remembered as the man who drove the UK over the cliff, Prime Minister David Cameron may also go down in history as the one who inspired the most music. All because he left his mic on after he made his speech on Monday saying he'd be leaving on Wednesday, and hummed a little tune as he walked inside - presumably singing a song as he waved us goodbye.

Since then the musical community has been very busy trying to identify the tune: The West Wing? Tannhäuser? It's difficult to tell, so instead, some exciting and creative musicians have been trying to turn it into something new, spurred on by a challenge from Classic FM.

Here's the pianist Gabriela Montero's splendid Bachian improvisation.

Composer Thomas Hewitt Jones has created an atmospheric cello lament, written and recorded between midnight and 2am on 12 July. He's had more than 140,000 hits already.

And last but by no means least, here's a clever piece of counterpoint, since Dave Cam is most definitely gone with the wind.

Our new Prime Minister, Theresa May
Is taking over later today,
Whatever happens, let her hum on her way... 

Ironically, the First Night of the Proms on Friday features one of the works she chose when she was on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs a couple of years ago: the Elgar Cello Concerto. Did they know something we didn't?

[A little update: the headline on this piece is in fact a joke. J. O. K. E. Irony and all that. One shouldn't have to point this out, but I guess we live in interesting times. One of the best ways to navigate through daily life in 'interesting times' is to try having a dark-hued belly-laugh at them. If it helps, good. If it doesn't, well, there it is.]

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How improvising can change your brain

Fascinating stuff, this. Above, Gabriela Montero improvises on the Goldberg Variations theme. I've always listened to her (and many others) and wondered "How does she do that?" Now Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, has released some information about what improvising can do for the brain, and vice-versa...

(Apologies for simply running the press release. Am short of time at present.)

To Change Your Brain: Improvise, Improvise, and Improvise Some More
With practice, specific brain circuits are strengthen and music flows

Brain circuits involved in musical improvisation are shaped by systematic training, suggest a new study presented at Neuroscience 2013, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

Researchers also found that more experienced improvisers show higher connectivity between three major regions of the brain’s frontal lobe while improvising. This suggests that the generation of meaningful music during improvisation can become highly automated —performed with little conscious attention, reported lead author Ana Pinho, MS, of the Karolinska Institutet.

“Our research explored whether the brain can be trained to achieve greater proficiency in improvisation,” Pinho said. “The lower activity in frontal brain regions that we saw in trained improvisers is interesting, and one could speculate that it is related to the feeling of ‘flow.’ This is the feeling that many musicians report feeling during improvisation – when music comes without conscious thought or effort.”

Improvisational training entails the acquisition of long-term stores of musical patterns and cognitive strategies to aid in their expressive, skillful combination. To test brain activity during improvisation, researchers worked with 39 pianists with a wide range of both classical piano training and training in jazz improvisation. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which images blood flow in different parts of the brain.

While the pianists improvised for brief periods on a 12-key MRI compatible piano keyboard, researchers tracked activity in the frontal lobe. More experienced improvisers showed a combination of higher connectivity and lower overall regional activity during improvisation. Higher connectivity also reflected extensive reorganization of functional connections within the regions of the frontal lobe that control motion.

According to the researchers, the extensive connectivity within the frontal lobe of experienced improvisers may allow the musicians to seamlessly generate meaningful re-combinations of music.

“This study raises interesting questions for future research, including how and to what extent creative behaviors can be learned and automated,” said Pinho.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Venezuela, El Sistema and the end of Chavez

Hugo Chavez is dead. What now for Venezuela - and for El Sistema, which has spread from the country to revolutionise the role of music in children's lives worldwide?

Opinions split. First of all, it would be a mistake to associate El Sistema too deeply with Chavez. It was founded in 1975 by Jose Antonio Abreu - long before Chavez came to power. It has been supported by the state, but it's Abreu's baby, not Chavez's. But some accuse Chavez, perhaps with good reason, of having used its popularity and influence as a whitewash to gild his image and that of the iniquities of his regime. Abreu and Venezuela's most celebrated musical figurehead, Gustavo Dudamel (left), meanwhile have both insisted that music is above politics.

This article from the New York Times, published just over a year ago, presents some arguments and opinions very well:
The situation evokes age-old questions about the intersection of art and politics: Should they remain separate? Should artists denounce politics they don’t agree with? At what cost should culture be kept alive?
The Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero has been extremely outspoken against the current state of Venezuela. This morning she has commented via Facebook:
Today, Chavez died. Venezuela needs a renewal. We don't need the emotional and social disease that has infiltrated our society. We need POSITIVE change for all. We don't need the attempts of the government to instill more paranoia. The "Imperialists" did not poison Chavez and cause his cancer. We need to work towards a Venezuela free of these toxic thoughts that defy logic and manipulate the emotions of the Venezuelan people. We need good people to lead. I congratulate the students in my country for being so brave and selfless. To all those people who are mourning the death of one man, please, mourn the 21,000 plus people who were murdered in Venezuela last year. Think about that very real figure. Who is mourning all those victims? Think about the social decay that Venezuelans live in, day in and day out. Let's keep the perspective of our recent history, and be conscious that a lot of work needs to be done.
So the end of Chavez means an opportunity for real and positive change in the country - if it can be brought about as Gabriela hopes.

But nobody is suggesting that that should mean the end of El Sistema. At least, I hope they're not. Art and politics become terribly intertwined, as you know, at all the wrong moments. Those opposed to "socialist" policies and to state support for culture in general tend to turn guns on El Sistema for their own ends. We'd like to think that the worth of music goes beyond that.

Besides, the fact is that El Sistema works. It's been proven to work - and it is even working on this island of ours. Here's Sistema Scotland. And here's In Harmony, the expanding English branch.

(If anyone is still confused about the loss of empirical fact as a core value under the slews of political opinion, I recommend Adam Curtis's latest fascinating blogpost.)

To condemn El Sistema because it has been supported by a dubious state would ultimately mean throwing out a lot of babies with the murky bathwater. Remember, there are many more than 50 shades of grey in this world. Let's maintain those matters that do most good for humanity as a whole, please. Music is one of those.

The positive influence of El Sistema will outlive Chavez. And Mahler will outlive us all. Here's the Simon Bolivar Orchestra with the Dude doing a spot of it at the Proms.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gabriela Montero improvises in memory of the 20 children

Sometimes there are simply no words to express our feelings. That's where music comes in. In memory of the 20 small children and six adults gunned down in a school in Newtown, Connecticut, the other day, Gabriela Montero has gone to her piano and improvised this.

In case anyone missed Obama's speech, here is the full text.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Gabriela Montero plays the Grieg Concerto - aged 11

Gabriela Montero has digitised and uploaded to Youtube a video of herself in her prodigy days in Venezuela, aged 11, playing the Grieg Piano Concerto. She says it's the first time it's been unearthed since its original broadcast. She was already a seasoned performer by then, of course, having made her concerto debut at the age of eight. It's wonderful to see and hear, especially if you know her remarkable artistry today, because her own sound is already there - a little like meeting a cute, fuzzy lion cub with the prescience indicated by very big paws. Here are the first two parts - she's going to upload the last movement shortly.