Interview by Nina Tjomsland
for Stavanger Aftenblad Norway
Published Wednesday 11 August 1999

"I was shy and confused"

Translation by Björn Östlund

Credit: Deutsche Grammophon

By Nina Tjomsland for Stavanger Aftenblad Norway. Published Wednesday 11 August 1999.

Translation and text layout by Björn Östlund, from the Norwegian original to Swedish and then to English.   The translator wishes to thank Hywel David, London, for his kind assistance.  The translation was revised in September 2007.  Special thanks to Anna Persson, Sundsvall.

I Was shy and confused


If you want to talk to Martha Argerich you have to be a night owl.
– Maybe after the evening concert, she said.  But after the concert, she had to practise for the piano concerto on Thursday.


Argerich and Truls Mørk get fortissimo applause for the Franck Sonata in the St Petri church on Tuesday evening.  But obviously she isn't happy with the position of the stage lights.  The reflections made the score and keyboard disappear into darkness.


Martha Argerich's body language glows.  Doesn’t she have anything to say then?  Oh, yes, she remembers the critics from the first time she played with the orchestra here.  She tries to place the concert in time.  It should have been 1964, not '63 because then she had her first daughter and didn't play, she says.


 – I think that is correct. When I arrived here, they told me that the orchestra was amateurish.  The musicians also drank a lot before the rehearsals but were expected to be OK at the performance. That was true.


Memorising in her sleep


Argerich learnt the Prokofiev third concerto in a slightly peculiar way.  Two female students shared a room in Geneva, just their beds and a piano.  One of these students was Martha Argerich.  Her roommate practised the Prokofiev third concerto constantly.  Before noon, while Martha was still asleep, she subconsciously absorbed the music, with her friend's wrong notes.


Martha Argerich was born in Buenos Aires, and a child prodigy.  At the age of fourteen, she left for Europe to study with several great names [Friedrich Gulda, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Nikita Magaloff...].   She won first prizes in two major competitions at the age of sixteen. What kind of childhood was that?


– I was shy and confused at the same time.  Argentines kiss and hug each other all the time.  The women use a lot of make-up and would smudge your face with lipstick.  I hated all that and tried to avoid people touching me.


The smile of a queen


I like to read a lot.  My brother was born when I was three – naturally he was a pest at first, a real crybaby but he got better. I spent most of my time with adults.  Too much, in fact. I had an extravagant piano teacher, a very temperamental one [Vincenzo Scaramuzza]. Sometimes he gave me lessons at midnight.  So you could say that I didn't have a European upbringing!


– Today I do not practise that much at all, half an hour to two hours a day, but always every day.


If you want to do something, then you do it properly?

She nods with the smile of a queen. Then she is distracted by the Chausson-quartet, which is being performed in the church:
– Listen. Isn't that beautiful!?


Hates to be alone


Why do you like playing chamber music so much?


– Because of the personal development and the beautiful repertoire of course, but most of all because it is so vivacious.  We pianists can be alone a lot of the time.  That is an awful situation.  I did that a great deal when I was young.  Then I discovered the possibilities of chamber music.


Argerich has several friends with whom she plays.  Among them is Itzakh Perlman, with whom she played for the first time last year.

– I like to alternate with many artists, she says.


You must like Truls Mørk, as you accepted to play with him here?


– He is very lyrical and has a rich imagination.  Instrumentally he is fabulous and I think he likes to play with me too.


On Monday evening she played the Shostakovich Trio in E minor with Arve Tellefsen and Truls Mørk.  It was a magical event for the audience.  She nods.
– Tellefsen was a new acquaintance, a splendid chamber musician.


Instinct and intuition


– The most interesting things can happen during a concert.  I like to be surprised by unexpected things coming from the subconscious, she says.


Instinct and intuition are strong factors in Argerich's music making. When she learns a new piece she asks for advice from everyone around her, even the cleaning lady.  And she is honest, she does mean it.  But deep inside she knows how she wants things.  According to Truls Mørk she is modest with her colleagues.  She knows to listen and to remain open to nuances and new twists from the others.


Generous rehearsing facilities


After two days in Stavanger, or rather two afternoons and two nights, she has only flattering things to say about the festival, with an exception of the podium lightning.  She likes Truls Mørk's programming, the atmosphere, and finds the rehearsing facilities in the conservatoire generous.  And she meets friends here ,,, [including] Stephen Kovacevich, the father of her youngest daughter.

Right now the question is where to practise. The piano part of the Prokofiev concerto won't be popular at the hotel after midnight.  Does she want to go to the conservatoire then?  Martha Argerich smiles.  When she played with the orchestra in Stavanger for the first time, they practised at night, something they had to do, half the orchestra were amateurs. 


– That suited me much better!  I like to start my day in the afternoon, says Martha Argerich.



(At the Stavanger festival in 1999 Martha Argerich played with Truls Mørk, Leila Josefowitz and the Stavanger SO.  Present at the festival were also Stephen Kovacevich and Lilya Zilberstein, among others.)

- End of interview translated by Björn Östlund

Last updated online on February 1, 2009

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