Sugar and spice and metronome-breaking tempi. Happy birthday, Martha!
“Argerich brings to bear qualities that are seldom contained in one person: she is a pianist of brainteasing technical agility; she is a charismatic woman with an enigmatic reputation; she is an unaffected interpreter whose native language is music. This last may be the quality that sets her apart. A lot of pianists play huge double octaves; a lot of pianists photograph well. But few have the unerring naturalness of phrasing that allows them to embody the music rather than interpret it.”
– Alex Ross, “Madame X: Martha Argerich,” The New Yorker (Nov. 2001)
Martha Argerich playing a Chopin mazurka in the 1965 Chopin Competition, the year she won.
The preliminaries for the 17th International Chopin Competition in Warsaw are currently underway. Held every five years, this competition has jump-started the careers of superstar pianists like Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich, Garrick Ohlsson, and Krystian Zimerman. It is also infamous for a kerfuffle among the jury in 1980, when Martha Argerich resigned from the jury to protest the elimination of highly provocative and controversial young pianist Ivo Pogorelić.
You can access live streams of the preliminaries on the Chopin Competition’s Youtube channel, as well as recordings of previous days’ competitors. Every day, competitors play from 10:00am till 8:00 or 9:00pm Warsaw time (except Sunday, which starts at 5:00pm Warsaw time). For those of us on the other side of the Atlantic, that’s 1:00am till 11:00am or 12:00pm Pacific Standard Time.
The video that made me realize how incredible this lady is.
The hair. The humor. The no-nonsense attitude. Above all, the unflinching artistry. Happy birthday, Martha!
“I think interpretation is trying to liberate what one is unconscious about. When one can let go some things one doesn’t know are there – the unexpected things and the surprises in the performance – that’s when its worthwhile. This is also what I appreciate in other performers. When they are masters of their means of expression, this does not exactly interest me. That interests me in a teacher, but in a performer I am interested in what happens behind or in spite of the things the performer consciously wants to do. Maybe I am a little bit of a voyeur, you know, that way. But this is what I love.”
– Martha Argerich, in a 1979 interview