The Jungle Pianist – Seth Montfort
The crowd of nearly 40 sat waiting patiently for this once in a lifetime opportunity they were all anticipating. The pianist took his seat and was welcomed with the clap of geckos and a rush of wind. The audience relaxed in their seats overlooking acres upon acres of wild jungle, perched in a one of a kind luxurious tree house.
Google-ing “Piano Treehouse Costa Rica” had brought this pianist and ten hours of memorized European standards mixed with ten hours of classical composers to the Jungle and Latin America. The audience and the jungle itself would help decide which of these works to perform and tonight would be a night they would not soon forget.
Thirty years had passed since the prodigy at 16 had performed Ravel´s Concerto For The Left Hand with the Denver Symphony. Seth Montfort had won the Denver Symphony’s Young Musician’s Competition with just months after hearing his first concerto at a Denver Symphony concert. He had won his first contest at eleven playing ragtime by Scott Joplin but he had never learned a big classical work before and his teachers said that Ravel was far beyond his abilities. But, he won and kicked off his musical career with this masterpiece in which Ravel took the Concerto from, as if from the beginning of time through Jazz and the history of orchestration. Concerto for the Left Hand was originally written for a pianist who had lost his right arm in World War I.
Now, Montfort was returning to his childhood dream of becoming a naturalist in the jungle. He had forgotten this childhood dream once he reached the stage but years of subconsciously following his most natural musical inclinations led to his discovering of a new type of Jungle Recital and repertoire. A Google search for “Piano Treehouse Costa Rica” brought him to debut his new ideal of the treehouse stage in Guanacaste’s Pura Jungla Nature Reserve and to give his first tour of Latin America.
Performing in a gigantic treehouse, he found himself receiving his first instruction from the jungle itself. Most of Montfort’s lessons have been from the stage itself, where he has won prize after prize. He had stumbled into creating his own form of musical conservatory in the form of an orchestra full of disciplined professionals released from the bonds of formalism and determined to no longer “put each musician in their assigned place.” His idea was to simply say yes instead of the no that musicians persistently hear when part of a world class symphony. If the musician wanted to conduct, perform a concerto, or even a self-written solo with the orchestra behind him, the answer was yes. Replacing no with yes created the only long lasting orchestra of this type in the world. Now 23 years old, San Francisco Concerto Orchestra has 300 members, anywhere from 15 to 70 musicians per concert and a few have even been regular members here in the Yucatan Symphonic Orchestra.
But, all this is in the past now for Montfort, while he still maintains the San Francisco Orchestra, he decided one day to run away, to break free himself and follow the music of his dreams. Recurring night after night, old formal Spain would alternate with ancient tribal-jungle music, all cycling through his French-American mind. For twelve years he has returned to compose many Fandangos, a one hour Old World Piano Symphony and a three hour unfinished Aztec Piano Symphony. After first visiting Merida and Chichen Itza four years ago, the 90 minute now completed middle section of this work gradually become more virtuoso. The music falls out of the sky from another side to tell imagined stories of Ancient Pyramids. The work returns to the sky at the end, says Montfort. It offers the audience a complete journey into the musical world of imaginary Maya and a unique view of its New World influence and allows the hearer to recall the images of a time long ago.
However this particular piece, The Temple That Fell From The Sky, has yet to be heard as completed due to Montfort’s extensive concerts, composing residencies and his adventures of the last two years in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. The Temple That Fell From The Sky is reserved for what Montfort believes is one particular place, possibly the origin of the music itself, the Maya Templos of Yucatan.
Fate brought him to Merida, Yucatan. After three months of composing in a $400 a night guesthouses on Lake Atitlan sponsored by Antigua’s famous 5-star hotel, Meson Panza Verde in Guatemala, and an extensive tour of Belize presented by The National Institute of Culture and History, he couldn’t resist visiting Palenque. There his iPhone slipped out of his hand and he accidentally photographed something resembling a time warp. A few days later he had a bad fall and it became easier for him to recover in Merida than to take the daunting bus-to-boat-to-bus ride back to Antigua. This accident was not bad news for Montfort because he is in love with Merida and was quite happy to recover in the White City.
He is looking for just the right cities to base his tours performing his Spanish and Prehispanic Compositions along with Classical music from the Old and New World’s. Perhaps Merida will become a part time home.
The Story of Gershwin and all composers of the New World neglected for their ability to endure and communicate clearly with the public in an abstract age is a topic that Monfort has a hunch might resonate in Merida. Much of this music requires a completely different focus, education, and set of skills that a formally trained in the European classics could bring to life. Montfort tells the unknown story of the history behind Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as well as ragtime by famous classical composers from around the World and a huge body of Latin American Art and Dance music in a unique way that leaves life-long Gershwin fans awed and even more in love with the world-class composer. However, while in the jungle Seth adores playing composition´s like Shadow Puppets from the Java Suite by Godowsky and Villa-Lobos Brazilian Cycle.
Montfort’s Guatemala sponsors have bought him a piano, too heavy to ship to Merida. So, here he is a travelling Piano Man without a Piano, but he does manage to get in practice time at a friend´s house near to where he is staying in Merida. He hopes to be able to arrange a few concerts before he leaves to go back on tour in Belize, Costa Rica, and Guatemala in September.
Seth Montfort is available for contact by email at email@example.com
For more great reading about Montfort and the San Francisco Concerto Orchestra visit this link.