Pianist Gabriela Montero offers orchestras that engage her a list of 32 concertos, but her recital repertory is rather odd by traditional standards. Short pieces vastly outnumber the few large works she plays; by 2005, these included one sonata each by Beethoven, Chopin, and Schumann. Notably, though, she often plays her own improvisations, and it is as a classical improviser that she is gaining the most attention.
Montero started improvising at the piano at age four; her teacher in her native Venezuela brought her to the attention of Martha Argerich, who came to be an important influence in the young pianist's life. Montero gave her first public performance at the age of five; three years later, she made her concert debut with the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra Simon Bolivar. At age eight, she received a scholarship from the Venezuelan government to study in the United States and proceeded to win several youth competitons there. Ultimately, it was at London's Royal Academy of Music, where she studied in her twenties with Hamish Milne, that she received what she calls her "most important training." In 1995 she won the bronze medal at the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw.
She lists Rudolf Barshai, Michel Béroff, and Stanislav Skrowaczewski as mentors, and performs frequently with pianist Támás Vasáry and the Janácek Quartet. In solo concerts, she will often play a piece by Bach or Chopin or Scriabin and segue into an improvisation on that music, more often than not turning it into some sort of dance. Later, she will solicit from the audience themes on which to improvise, and even accepts jazz and pop melodies she's never heard before. She is a popular concerto soloist, and has played with orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Her 2006 CD Bach and Beyond, which includes both works by J.S. Bach and Montero's improvisations, won numerous awards. Other recordings include albums devoted to Chopin, the Baroque repertoire, and Solatino, a collection of music by South American composers as well as Montero's improvisations.