Martha Argerich is cool. That’s not a descriptor that gets used too often alongside a world class musician. Renowned, iconic, legendary. Those are words more commonly associated with an artist of Argerich's caliber. There is a sense of high society or high art that coincides with describing a classical musician. And in some respects, rightfully so. These artists practice hours upon hours, day after day. They perform all over the world, and many speak several different languages. So one could say they have earned their highfalutin praise.
But Martha Argerich is cool.
Don’t get me wrong. She is all of the other things too, but she just has an air about her playing that sets her aside from the rest of the pack. If it weren’t for the large concert halls, sixty piece orchestras and the guy waving the baton, one might confuse her with musicians of a different ilk, like Baez, Mitchell, or Carpenter. A singer-songwriter up on stage all alone, just her, her music and her instrument. Still, her band is a bit bigger than most rock and folk performers. Once she flips her gorgeously thick hair, purses her lips into her trademark pout, and sets her fingers dancing over the ivories of the grand piano, it may as well be just her up there. Argerich takes over the concert with ease and an inherent musical sensuality, seemingly unfazed by the task that lay ahead, be it Chopin, Rachmaninoff, or Beethoven.
Argerich was barely three years old when she began a kindergarten program in her native Argentina. In a 1979 interview with Clavier Magazine, Argerich tells Dean Elder that when she was a child, she was challenged to play the piano by an older boy, so she did.
“I immediately got up, went to the piano, and started playing a tune that the teacher was playing all the time,” she explained to Elder. “I played the tune by ear and perfectly. The teacher immediately called my mother, and they started making a fuss.”
Argerich had a photographic memory and was something of a natural musician, but she hated to practice. She tells Elder she didn’t even want to be a pianist at first but would have preferred to be a doctor.
In a way, Argerich has always been running from the profession of being a classical musician. One might even say Argerich has had a bit of a tumultuous relationship with playing piano as a career. She has always been prone to cancelling concerts, so much so that she often refuses to sign a contract, says Anne Midgette of the Washington Post. It is up to the the presenter to take the chance that she will indeed perform.
When she was 20 years old Argerich actually gave up playing the piano for nearly three years. She considered becoming a secretary instead. Luckily for us she was drawn back to playing in 1964, and just six months after her return, Argerich won the seventh annual International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1965 at the age of 24.
Since then it’s been her connection to the music and to the great composers of the past that have kept her going. She tells Midgette that Beethoven is the love of her life. “That’s a long-lasting love. I mean, I love him more than anything.” She also refers to Prokofiev and Ravel as “best friends” and says that Schumann reaches her personally.
As for the cool factor.... in December of 2016 Argerich took the stage alongside Al Pacino, James Taylor, Norman Lear, Don Henley and many others to receive her latest accolade from then President Barrack Obama as a Kennedy Center Honoree. While Argerich is not someone who puts a whole lot of stock in awards, she told Midgette that she was very honored to receive it, but she continued, “I don’t understand because I think I haven’t done much in America.” Cool and funny till the end.
Enjoy these selections from our Artist Of The Week, Martha Argerich all week long on Morning Classical, between 7-9 a.m.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Variations on an Aria by Mozart (“Bei Mannern” from Die Zauberflote)
Frederic Chopin: Mazurka No. 2, Op. 59
Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 3
Maurice Ravel: Jeux D’eau (Water Games)
Chopin: Barcarolle Op. 60
Beethoven: Variations on a Theme by Mozart (Ein Madchen Oder Weibchen from Die Zauberflote)
Camille Saint-Saens: Carnival of the Animals: “Aquarium”
Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A: Movement 1, Allegro affettuoso
Johannes Brahms: Rhapsody Op 79/2
Franz Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1