Close-up: Gabriela Montero

The Venezuelan queen of the keyboard is taking Beethoven for a tango
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The Independent Online

She's been playing piano since before she could talk and made her debut with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra aged eight. She can play "La Cucuracha" in the style of a Chopin Polonaise, Beethoven's Fifth as a Piazzolla tango. But it wasn't until a late-night conversation with the Argentine pianist Martha Argerich in 2001 that Gabriela Montero felt she could improvise on stage "without feeling I was doing something wrong".

At 18, Montero considered a career in psychology before taking a place at the Royal Academy of Music, London. When she met Argerich, she had all but given up again, despite winning the Bronze Medal in the 1995 Chopin Competition.

Now 38 and based in Massachusetts, the Venezuelan is at last "very much at peace". With a series of EMI discs, and an international concert schedule, she is on a roll, playing programmes in which one half is core classical and the other improvised. "The first half I get into who Chopin was, who Schumann was," she says,"while the second half is really my world. I have no plan, no road-map."

Montero is aware of being labelled as a crossover artist and points out that Bach, Mozart and Liszt all improvised. She has "maybe two recordings each of Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett and Dave Brubeck", but jazz is not something she has studied. In fact, she rarely listens to music because she has "a 24-hour radio station in my head", playing anything from Beethoven to "doodles on the sound of a tap". It sounds exhausting. "I concertise and it's straight home and I'm a full-time mom," she says. "But I'm a strong person and so far, so good."

Gabriela Montero plays the Edinburgh International Festival (0131 473 2000) on Tuesday

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