She's the purest and most incorruptible human being alive. Of course she's also impossible, crazy and capricious, but these things are part of her purity. There is no more loved person in the whole musical world.
So said Fou Ts'ong
on his fellow pianist
I have only once been at a live concert of hers, at the Royal Festival Hall, some years ago. The adulation in the applause when she ended was unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was not the overwhelmed enthusiasm that can greet many great performances; it was not a hysterical devotion that a pop artist commands. It was love, a respect overflowing into some very personal identification. I knew I liked her before seeing that concert, but I'm not a piano fan, and had no expectation of being so caught up in it.
She is, my god, she's 60 now, but she has always been a very good-looking woman, but it doesn't radiate the way, say, Anne-Sophie Mutter's beauty does. You can't pin the adoration on that. You also can't rank artists as best, second-best, third-best, but she's unquestionably one of the greatest pianists alive, however you cut it. Argerich, Brendel, Pollini, Ashkenazy... but we don't feel for them quite that way. She is passionate in her playing, but it's not a wild romantic abandon. I simply can't find a reason why Martha Argerich attracts such utter devotion. But she does. We love her.
Her life has been extremely stormy. She sounds, overall, like a nice person, unless you get in the way of her quest for perfection. Even then it's not a screaming diva's temper that's unleashed, but the agonies of a deeply insecure person. She's been married to the composer Robert Chen, the conductor Charles Dutoit, and twice to the pianist Stephen Kovacevic. She has three daughters by them; she's had famous lovers in the music world. She is not happy.
As a child (born 5 June 1941 in Buenos Aires) she hated being squeezed into music lessons and prodigy show-off status; as a young woman she gave it up entirely for several years, unable to cope; she was parted as an unfit mother from her daughter by Chen (her daughter is now a grown-up musician - the violist Lyda Chen, with whom she's been reunited and has worked professionally); and in recent years the cancer she feared so much finally got her. She has fought it off, given up smoking, and is still active.
As I type this, her intense passionate account of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3 is playing behind me, live from The Proms. Her former husband and still close friend Charles Dutoit conducts. - No, it's ended. A crazy whirlwind of sound, a furious passion that's precise and clear, never muted, never bogged, the passion never impinging on the exquisite technical mastery.
She débuted in 1946. As a child she was taken to perform before President Juan Perón. He asked her what she wanted: she said to study under the great Friedrich Gulda. Perón waved his wand and the Argerich family got good jobs in Argentina's mission in Vienna. Gulda was fascinated by her and taught her things of unbelievable difficulty. Martha Argerich learnt them quickly and easily because she didn't know they were supposed to be difficult. She won the Busoni and Geneva competitions in 1957, her first recording came in 1961, and she was world-renowned as a great new star.
Then it fell apart: the marriage with Chen blew up. She moved to Geneva, lost custody of Lyda. After a while she recovered. She won the 1965 Warsaw Chopin Competition. She moved to London. She now lives in Brussels, with cats, and open house for her daughters and her protégé pianists. In Argentina there is a piano competition named for her.
Famous for unreliability, it's not temperament: she cancels concerts if she doesn't feel she can do justice in the performance. She is nervous; she fears Beethoven, Scarlatti, Mozart.
One of her most regular co-performers is the violinist Gidon Kremer. I've been playing their Schumann violin sonatas 1 and 2 today in preparation for this. Another is the cellist Mischa Maisky.
When on stage I always felt alone, and I found this hard to bear. This may also come from the fact that as a child I never went to school. No one understood how much I suffered, having to practise for hours, not being able to share with children of my own age. On stage I had that strange feeling of being separated, stranded. For me the audience is not company. I have a great need for company when I am on the platform, and making music for other people gives me that feeling.
Much of the personal detail for this node comes from today's Independent; that says the article (by Michael Church) is a shorter form of one in the BBC Music Magazine.