Hailed locally as a "child prodigy" - a description which he dislikes - Aaron Monteverde's career as a successful concert pianist was sparked by an aunt's Christmas gift of a miniature electronic keyboard when he was four. He proved, even then to have an exceptional musical ‘ear' and quickly picked out on the keyboard tunes that he heard in the radio or in the street in what could be described as an early form of improvisation. And this, too, has shaped a significant part of the pianist's musical make-up.
"It was Aaron's verve and improvisation of popular tunes and songs that drew a tremendous response from the audience at this years Gibraltar Song Festival," says Lili Olivero, a long-time friend of Monteverde and convener/organiser of the concert he is to give on Tuesday in the Holy Trinity Church. "He had been working with the National Choir, and when he performed on his own drew a huge reaction, with the audience clamouring for more. Tuesday's concert is a result of this popular response."
AN IBERIAN LINK
The Gibraltar-born pianist and composer, who today is probably better known in international musical circles than he is on the Rock, will also be working closely with local musicians to stage a musical "Tango" for which he has written the music and libretto. And though he is keeping the story-line secret "for the time being", the title and the close influence of some Spanish music on his playing and composition points to an Iberian link.
The musical and its staging will be, in part, a gift from Monteverde to Gibraltar and its people and an attempt on his part "to prevent music going further down the hill" as it is replaced in people's interest, both here and elsewhere, by what the pianists describes as "Big Brother type programmes."
"We have no conservatoire of music here...We don't even have piano teachers listed in the Yellow Pages, so that mother's who want their children to learn to play a keyboard instrument have to ask around and find out who and what is available by word of mouth, yet our young musicians of the future deserve better than that," he says with the patent sincerity that pervades his approach to his music.
And he speaks for personal experience, for although he was "fortunate in the teachers I had in Gibraltar when I was beginning to become a musician," in Britain where he went to study , he had to explain to the colleges where he studied that "I come from a Rock where we have no conservatoire."
"Don't get me wrong," his long pianist's fingers drum nervously on the coffee table in front of him as though plying chords, "I love this place. I am a concert pianist who longs to teach and would like nothing better than to open a school of music here - then there would be no need for parents to thumb futilely through the Yellow Pages, look around to try and find somewhere their children can be taught.
"I would be delighted to run a conservatoire if we had one, but equally I would be just as happy merely to teach."
He stresses that the fault for our lack doesn't rest solely on the shoulders of Government, pointing out that at one stage funds were provided for the church to arrange better musical facilities for students and others, but these had been "frittered away with nothing to show and, understandably, the Government lost interest.
Monteverde's musical ear was obvious from those first days of tinkling on the Christmas-present keyboard and he soon amazed - as well as entertained - family members and their friends with his ability to play "things I had heard on the radio"...both more popular songs and others such as "Fur Elise" with classical pretensions. By the following Christmas he had added a range of carols to his repertoire and soon afterwards, at the age of five, began to take formal piano lessons - though not before a traumatic upset that might have ended his concert career even before it have even begun.
"New to school, I went to my first music class and though the other children sat down patiently to wait for the teacher, I went to the front of the classroom to look at the upright piano. It was the first piano I has ever seen and, after the miniature on which I had learnt to play, the keyboard seemed huge. I was curious and tapped the keys to hear the sound and, as I did, the music teacher came in.
"He was offended by my behaviour, obviously thought I was being naughty, and swore there and then that he would never teach me music. As a five-year-old that was pretty awful and it nearly put me off," Monteverde recalls his sense of aggrieved bitterness still apparent. "My mother, though sympathetic couldn't understand what had happened and thought that I must have been doing something wrong to have provoked such a punitive reaction from an adult.
"Yet, in a sense. I owe my career to that man and what he did, for even as a five-year-old if someone tried to stop me doing something I had set my heart on doing, I went ahead and did it. But it cost me...I lost two years when I could have been learning piano for I had to persuade my parents to find a teacher."
He still couldn't do a ‘C seven' (the stretch of fingers that reaches from the middle C note on the piano across the seven notes above it on the keyboard) and believes he was lucky in the teachers his mother found for him -these he recalls, and lists, with affection: Joy Burton, Helen Chiappe and Charles Chiappe. His musical education progressed, and within a few years he was performing regularly at the youth concerts held twice a year at the Caleta Hotel - public appearances (though to an audience mainly of parents and family friends of the young musicians) that earned him the "child prodigy" label which he so dislikes.
He was 12 when, in 1995, he entered a Gibraltar talent contest organized by Sonia Golt and won the first prize - ("I couldn't believe it") - and this in turn led to an invitation from Albert Hammond to appear with the already-established Gibraltar musician at that year's Miss Gibraltar finals. The "child prodigy" label was now firmly in place.
But while Moteverde's musical education was rising in a glissando of success, his progress at Bayside was flat, he admits. When he sat his GCSEs he passed only Spanish and music and for the next two years struggled to gain the passes in English mathematics, science and other subjects that would give his access to tertiary education and colleges of music in Britain. There were pressures to join his father's transport business instead, but "with a lot of help from Mr Gabay [Joshua Gabay, the former teacher and Minister] I eventually managed to pass everything," he says, with a rueful smile and a shake of the head at those past academic inadequacies.
He was accepted to study music at the Bognor arm of Chichester University where soon after he had started he was called before the panel of the teaching staff in the college of music where the professors told him that he was "a very special student." He had already reached the musical performance level of many of his teachers and it would be best for his career if he were to study "with a professor in London."
That professor was the brilliant South African concert pianist Jonty Solomon and for the next four years Monteverde made the two-hour train journey up to London where Solomon taught his at his home - a distinct hallmark of the teacher's respect for his pupil's talents.
"He taught me my inspiration of music...and also made me play blindfolded," he says. "And when I moved from Chichester to Trinity College at Greenwich, Jonty continued to teach me. He is brilliant and I owe him so much..."
Monteverde insists that he is "still learning", but as a fully-fledged concert pianist he has already performed professionally in Spain and at other concerts in Europe - including a concert in France at Disneyland, where he played his own compositions as well as improvisations. "People can get a different taste of your skills and your music from your compositions, if you can improvise," he stresses.
His compositions - influenced by the Spanish composer Felipe Camposano, who is one of Monteverde's musical ‘heroes' - and improvisations were enthusiastically received at a concert he gave to an audience of several thousand at the National Museum in Taipei last year.
What is his favourite musical work, VOX asked as we ended the interview.
"Undoubtedly Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, it's the most beautiful piece of music ever written."
And his favourite composer? He pauses, thinks.
"There are several. Felipe Camposano as my roots, Mozart for the classics, Beethoven for the weather, Rachmaninov for his motifs, and Debussy for colours...They're all so different, but all so great..." And there's a wistful look in his eye.