Legendary Martha Argerich to make a rare appearance

Martha Argerich, a modern-day piano legend, will be joining Greece’s Dora Bakopoulou and the Athens State Orchestra (conducted by Alexandre Rabinovich-Barakovsk) in one of her rare appearances this Sunday at the Athens Concert Hall. The eminent pianist will perform Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and, along with Bakopoulou, Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos. Argerich’s public persona and resume contain all the elements of a cult figure. Her explosive idiosyncrasies and diverse talents, the rarity of her public performances – always unique and memorable – and oft-canceled concerts, periods of hearing nothing from her at all and choices that often transcend the norm, help paint the portrait of a diva; a portrait that is confirmed by the public’s adoration. What is most important in Argerich’s case, however, is that none of these quirks are the product of marketing and imagemakers. Her tempestuous mental and emotional constitution cannot be kept in check: When serving on the panel of the 1980 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Argerich stormed out of the room in support of a young competitor, Ivo Pogorelich. Equally explosive was her playing of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, recorded in 1967 with the Berlin Philharmonic under the baton of Claudio Abbado. This was indeed the recording that won her international repute. There is something about the music of Prokofiev that seems especially to appeal to Argerich: It is that combination of intellect and emotion, technical prowess and tenderness that the pianist brings out with incredible ease and a precision equal to none. Argerich’s performances seem to be defined by this coupling of opposites, and also why her renderings of Mozart are of note. They are among those few pieces that so clearly present the many different facets of music: an overt elegance of melody, the inconspicuous perfection of structure and the riveting power of emotion. Her genius lies, on the one hand, in the elements she selects on which to focus and, on the other, in the very way she does so. A basic characteristic of Argerich’s persona is an artistic integrity that allows her to express herself only for something significant. In 1960, at the age of 16 after having swept the awards at numerous international competitions, she abruptly put her career on hold because she felt she was not yet artistically mature enough – a brave, if not previously unheard-of move by an artist who had just won two major international awards (the Geneva International Music Competition and the Busoni Competition) in the space of three weeks. Argerich retired to her home in Argentina and returned four years later, making her presence felt worldwide and winning, in 1965 – just a month after having given birth – another top international award, the Chopin Competition in Warsaw. She continues to function in this manner to this day. Disappearing for a spell and suddenly returning with fresh ideas and a new outlook. She admits, in one of the rare interviews she grants, that she goes through periods when she doesn’t touch the piano at all and that, as far as her professional responsibilities are concerned, while she loves playing the piano, she doesn’t like being a pianist. This selective approach however has frequently attracted harsh criticism: Recently her colleague Francois-Rene Duchable stated that Argerich had succeeded in becoming a legend by playing just four concertos. Argerich was a child wonder. She was born in Buenos Aires in 1941 and began playing the piano at the age of 3, making her first public appearance at 8 as a soloist. In contrast to her contemporary and compatriot Daniel Barenboim, Argerich remembers that she did not particularly enjoy this kind of publicity. Her mother, however, was of a different mind. Seeing her talent, she gave young Martha very little choice in the matter. The year 1955 was pivotal, as her father was appointed economic attache for Argentina in Vienna, opening the way for Martha to train under the top teachers of her time: Friedrich Gulda, Nikita Magaloff and Michelangeli, among others. Gulda was the best fit for her, however, probably because of his image as the non-conformist «enfant terrible.» Since 2002, Argerich has been involved in organizing a festival in the beautiful Swiss city of Lugano – at which she often plays herself – featuring established musicians who are friends alongside younger, up-and-coming artists. Martha Argerich will perform on Sunday at 8.30 p.m. in the Friends of Music Hall of the Athens Concert Hall, 1 Kokkali & Vas. Sofias, tel 210.728.2333. Landmark recordings Argerich does not often sit in the recording studio, but when she does, it results in landmark performances. Her most noteworthy recordings include Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3 and Ravel’s «Gaspard de la Nuit,» now available on one CD by DG recordings. Equally impressive are the Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano, where Argerich plays alongside inspired violinist Gidon Kremer (DG) and Mozart’s Double Concerto No. 10 with Alexandre Rabinovich (Teldec). From her collaboration with Charles Dutoit (with whom she played in Canada and New York with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra), the most noted recordings are the two Chopin concertos (EMI), while Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 3 and Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 under Kiril Kondrashin (Philips) are also of note. Last but not least, her chamber music recordings from the Lugano Festival (EMI) and the recent Beethoven concertos No. 2 and No. 3 under Claudio Abbado (DG) are also very enlightening.