Saturday, September 11, 2010

Martha Argerich

On one of my last few days through France, my aunt (who plays the piano) lent me a book about Martha Argerich, Martha Argerich, l'Enfant et les Sortilèges, by Olivier Bellamy. I read it when I got home, and it started me on a little youtube-video-watching binge of her. Truly amazing. And the character, the woman, the musician. She played the piano for the first time in nursery school, when a little boy dared her to play the instrument, and she went up there and played one of the songs her teacher would play for them sometimes, perfectly, in rhythm, and then another one and then another. She can read a piece of music and instantly know it. She learned a Prokofiev concerto in her sleep: her roommate was practicing it while she was taking a nap. Insane, right? And then you listen to her and her playing is so clear, distinct, articulate. But also passionate and strong, like a roaring lion, or a race horse going full speed. Here's one of her performances for the Chopin International Competition in 1965 - she was 24 - that she eventually won:

I love watching the expression on her face when the camera is on it, and especially when the main theme returns, that young, amused sense of triumph. I feel like she could play any piece of music and really explain it to me, like she did with this Prokofiev Sonata. And watching her hands I could do for hours, here she is doing Ravel's Jeux d'Eaux:

I like it best when it's just her and the piano, but some of those concertos are worth her take on it too, like Schumann's Am or Prokofiev's No 3 (the one she learned in her sleep!).

All this made me long for a piano... even though I could never play like her, there is something about playing it that makes everything right for me, somehow. To console myself I resolved I would go and see Hélène Grimaud play with the Symphony when she's here in January. She's supposed to play Schumann's concerto, which she does beautifully too. And maybe I will want this for Christmas.

For now here's a little video of Martha Argerich in her home, when she lived with the Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit, her husband at the time.

And finally, if you can listen past the very crappy sound, another 1965 Chopin competition piece, Scherzo no. 3. I really like this one:


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