Nights and days with Martha Argerich: a diarymain
It’s Martha’s birthday. She’s 74 today.
So the Cleveland-based pianist Zsolt Bognar whipped out his diary and retrieved a record of the week he spent, two years ago, with Martha and his teacher, Sergey Babayan.
I am struck again and again by the highly sensitive, even vulnerable nature of creative artists—their refusal to trust themselves and their abilities without unimaginable reserves of work. I witnessed all-night rehearsals and repetitions that seemed superhuman. For performers to give so openly and emotionally of themselves, time does not leave room to build illusions of personal defenses.
Suddenly, the Pace Changes
Long nap in the hotel—but suddenly the call came at 8.30pm. “A car will pick you right away to bring you to the Radio Studio. Be ready.” A quick ride up the mountain ended at the pizzeria. We picked up food and beverages for the artists. When we arrived, I saw the radio control room with the engineers, artists, and directors surrounding some concentrated task of unspecified intensity. I waited in silence backstage, guarding the pizzas. From everywhere, the sounds of rehearsing musicians. Fragments of Shostakovich Trio from the recording studio from the Maiskys. A Rachmaninov prelude from upstairs. A Chopin Sonata somewhere else. Noticing the backstage aesthetic is characteristic—austere, almost clinical, and yet it is the scenery behind the scenes for stage musicians.
I can only sit and wait–alone. My heart pounds. I have no idea how long the night would last, but surely it is long haul. My teacher and other musicians joined for food briefly to recharge. This pizza late night was breakfast for most of us. The Maiskys passed through and the cellist used the opportunity to recount more stories and tales—a favorite pastime of musicians. Suddenly the voice of Martha Argerich. She joins us and we all start telling stories as though purposely defying the fact of the grueling work lies ahead. We discussed physical conditioning routines and I demonstrated a stretch I learned in Cleveland. She asked me to help her learn. Then she showed even better ones. Suddenly the impulse for work began. Without words, they started.
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