Martha Argerich and Charles Dutoit
Portrait of Musicians

A journalist watches the effects of the disaster from her window. She should be reporting on something else. Supposedly, the important issue is not the horror but the story of her parents. She is Martha Argerich and Charles Dutoit's daughter, both of whom will again perform together this month at Carnegie Hall. The journalist, therefore, tells her parents' story and the story of the devastation.

       ANNIE DUTOIT,  from New York, for Revista Clásica

I saw everything from the 16th floor of a building on the Upper West Side. I recall the events that took place in New York on September 11. Facing these, the fact that my mother will not be playing Ginastera's Piano Concerto at Carnegie Hall during the 'Tribute to Argentina', seems trivial. I now ask myself if she will ever return to  New York to play. With the collapse of the twin towers questions have been raised on the course of the world and the fundamental value of human life.

The attack revealed to me personally, that my parents  -Charles Dutoit and Martha Argerich-  truly behaved as such. As any parent of someone living in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, perceived that the world, for some minutes or hours, had reached its end.

As the smoke of the burning towers billowed up into the sky and the caustic smell invaded the streets and corners of the city, my parents were each on opposite sides of the globe. As most telephone lines were interrupted, my father, who was on tour in Australia, expressed his nervous state via e-mail: "Annie, I've just seen the horror of the attack on television. Answer urgently, I can't sleep" - he wrote. I answered immediately, while I tried to phone my mother in Brussels from a mobile phone. After approximately 60 tries, I managed to get through and, to my surprise, she, who never answers a call unless she knows where it is coming from, picked up the phone on the first ring  -and I must confess this is exceptional-.

Since the disaster, they have called me on a daily basis  -which, in my family, is even more exceptional still-. When human beings confront their own historic reality and their condition of frailty, existential issues naturally arise - one of them being what the purpose of each individual in the world is. What does it mean to be a classical musician in a disintegrating world? This is one of the questions my father faced as news of the attack reached him: "I'm about to go to a rehearsal and I wonder what for. All this is so insignificant now" - he wrote.

My mother, who has always questioned the nature of her profession, only increased her doubts.  "The only professionals of any use now are doctors  -a career she would have liked to pursue if she had not been sat at the piano aged 3-    and firemen". They are the ones who can materially save lives.

I believe that it is at this precise moment, when the most elementary human values are challenged, that classical music and any other type of artistic and intellectual expression, should strive to defend human greatness. But my mother doesn't think so. "I don't know what I can change by touring and giving concerts. I don't think this is of much use" - she told me a couple of hours ago. She is very upset by the events. And her mistrust towards the media and governments has increased. "There is a lot of hypocrisy in the world of politics"  -she said over the phone. "Governments and mass media are always willing to fight for ideals of peace and justice, but there is always something dirty behind. This is all a great façade".

She believes that we are living through chaotic times, of miscommunication, in which it is not only impossible to find one's place, but one does not know how to behave or who to trust. "I only know one thing, I know I can trust my own strength and try to be tolerant and supportive of my fellow human beings". These are the values she always tried to instill in her children. A society sustained by individuals, not by abstract principles, so we must start looking towards our inner selves and try to enact the principles in which we believe.

But the world has not stopped yet and apart from emerging existential issues, especially in the light of the terrorist attack and the likely possibility that the conflict may materially expand throughout the world, we must continue with our everyday existence. My father will return to Montreal, where he lives the greatest part of the year, and my mother plans to fly to Montreal and New York to play with him.  And I hope they do so in New York, for there is nothing more important to me than having the family gathered round, even if only for a few hours.

For my parents, playing together means much more than being on stage, for they share far more than a daughter. They share forty years of friendship and musical partnership. They met in the early fifties in Geneva [Original Spanish text  reads "Genoa, Italy"], where my father had just received his diploma as conductor and my mother was enjoying the success of her second international competition.

The first time they set eyes on each other, he made her laugh all night  -he was apparently a tireless clown-. He was doing his own show until he finally fell asleep, fully dressed, underneath the piano. My mother never understood how he could always fall asleep wherever he was, always fully dressed, and managed to look fresh and clean the next morning  -without a crease in his suit-.  As their friendship grew, he asked her if she would be the soloist at his first professional engagement.  For that venue, she learnt Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major  -and she was learning it until the last minute-. The night prior to the concert, my father took her on a scooter to Lausanne, where his parents lived. The concert was to be broadcast. They had dinner and my mother, pretending to be tired, left the table and went to her bedroom. She later explained the reason for her abrupt departure. Knowing that my father was particularly nervous at his professional début, she tried to conceal the fact that she had not yet studied the second movement. So she locked herself up in her room, spent the night studying it and playing it on a virtual piano. The recording of this first concert together must still exist in the archives of the Lausanne radio  - the first of many, which spanned across forty years of friendship and collaboration.

The story of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, which my mother will play with my father at Carnegie Hall, is also interesting. In 1970, just after I was born, my father had a car accident. He had to go into hospital for back surgery, whilst I, only six weeks old, underwent surgery for removal of a hernia. My parents had agreed to record  the Tchaikovsky Concerto, which my mother had just learnt, but given the circumstances, she didn't want to go ahead. My father, for whom his professional life has always predominated above all other circumstances, refused to cancel the concert. So they went ahead and made the recording -their first together-  under these conditions.

On a video of one of their performances  -at the Victoria Hall in Genf- [nr. Geneva - 24 October, 1973 - Orchestre de la Suisse Romande], I think-  my father is wearing a corset and you can see my mother smothering back tears. She was not happy with her performance and she later confided in me that the events surrounding that concert marked the beginning of the end of her marriage to my father.

And this leads me to return to what I hastily omitted at the beginning of this article, when I referred to how trivial the program for a concert can be. There has been a change in the repertoire that my parents will perform at Carnegie Hall.  Possibly the reader is asking himself whether my mother will play Ginastera's Piano Concerto on the evening dedicated to Argentine music. The answer is simple: she didn't have time to learn it. Over the past  years, my mother's musical and administrative activities have increased  -her International Competition [La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina for 2001/2]** (cancelled as a result of the terrorist attack), the Festivals in Buenos Aires and Japan, are just a few-.

But the following must remain clear:  she won't feel very comfortable playing Tchaikovsky in a "Tribute to Argentina". However, the options were to cancel the concert or play the Tchaikovsky, something she has never played in New York before. Finally, my father states, the theme evoked by the title for the concert is justified by her presence. After all, she is Argentine.   

“The only professionals of any use now are doctors and firemen”,
  remarks Martha Argerich.


Free Translation by Maria Elena Hartung.

Translator's Notes: * Insert is mine;  ** Italics are mine just to illustrate where this 2nd. International Competition will take place. Future ones are to be determined. Please note that the Spanish always refers to *Génova*, which is in Italy. This is an oversight by the Editorial Staff, as a result of a misunderstanding in knowledge of events, places and dates.

 Reformatted with paragraph breaks by Andrys for computer screens

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