Watch: Shy Martha Argerich receives her Obama honour

Watch: Shy Martha Argerich receives her Obama honour


norman lebrecht

December 05, 2016

photo: Stephanie Argerich Blagojevic

‘Without a pre-school rivalry we might not have been honoring Martha Argerich,’ quips the President.

We have been asked to clarify that the Kennedy Center Honors are bestowed by the Kennedy Center’s Chairman, David Rubenstein. The President and First Lady host a reception at the White House for the honorees; this took place yesterday before the tribute performances for all 5 honorees at the Center.



  • Tom Moore says:

    is she an American citizen? if not, why is she being honored by the White House?

    • Simone says:

      For the Kennedy Honors are given to artists of any nationality who have contributed significantly to American culture. In the past they’ve been awarded to Ozawa, Mehta, Domingo, Pavarotti as well, just to mention a few.

      • Steinway fanatic says:

        Will somebody please explain what Argerich has done for American culture? She hardly ever plays in the US, and over the last 50 years it’s doubtful if she’s played as many concerts here, and the few concerts she played were only in a handful of the biggest cities. And she canceled as many as she played.

        • Russell Platt says:

          I agree. My admiration for Argerich is profound, but this is silly. No one will celebrate the work of American artists if we don’t do so ourselves.

        • MacroV says:

          I’m a big fan of Martha Argerich, but I also fail to see how she merits a Kennedy Center Honor, as she has had minimal presence in the United States. If they wanted to honor a pianist, Menachem Pressler or Gary Graffman might have been better choices; Leon Fleischer was honored in 2007.

    • Olassus says:

      The president’s comments on her start after 10:30 on the clip, in case people don’t want to hear the rest. He calls her Martha Argeritz, and it seems reasonable to infer he has never heard her play.

      • Mark says:

        I’m sure that since Argerich has no connection with the Beyonce/Jay Z/etc or rap world, neither Obama nor Michelle have ever heard of her or had any idea of Argerich’s role in the classical music world. I really can’t imagine Obama asking Michelle to play Argerich’s Beethoven 2nd concerto performance. I don’t imagine that either of them has ever even attended a classical music performance.

        • Michael says:

          And I don’t imagine that you have any idea what Barack and Michelle have or have not done.

        • Sue says:

          Good call. ‘Condie’ Rice was a performance-level classical pianist who would be very familiar with Martha Argerich. You’d never have seen her within cooee of a rapper or doing a chicken dance on “Ellen”.

          • MacroV says:

            Condie Rice was a capable amateur pianist. Still a long way between that and having an actual career. I’m sure if she were President (or a candidate) you’d have seen her do a lot of wacky things.

          • George Porter says:

            She should have stuck to piano playing.

            Rice was a proponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After Iraq delivered its declaration of weapons of mass destruction to the United Nations on December 8, 2002, Rice wrote an editorial for The New York Times entitled “Why We Know Iraq Is Lying”. [Wikipedia]

          • Bruce says:

            What is “cooee” please? From the context I can’t tell if it means 50 feet, or a million miles. Thanks.

        • M says:

          Disgusting but unfortunately these days, unsurprising.

        • Mark says:

          +1 (from another Mark)

      • Laetitia says:

        As you rightly say, he has probably never heard of Argerich but I find it deplorable that no one in Mr. Obama’s assumedly numerous retinue was able to instruct him as to the correct pronunciation of her name. It isn’t, after all, so very difficult!

        • Marya Berry says:

          Amen! There is no excuse, especially when the President must have been aware that he was mispronouncing her name. Twice. No excuse for his advisors nor for him. Especially for him, contrary to what someone else said on here. He is the President, the person “presiding” over the evening, after all. Poor Miss Argerich.

      • Cyril Blair says:

        I am very fond of Obama as president, but he fell down on the job here. First he called her Martha Argeritz, then he finished by calling her Martha Aggeritz! It was inexcusable. I mean, come on. Even if you’ve never heard someone play, learn how to say their name! Practice it a few times. I was grimacing from embarrassment, especially since every other person’s introduction was delivered as if he loved them dearly and saw them every other weekend.

      • Robert Holmén says:

        It is gracious of the President to take the time to highlight these artists.

        He’s certainly not obligated to do so, the award has no official status and a President has no say in choosing the honorees.

        • Sue says:

          Thinking about all these excuses re Obama and the negative ones about a classy and talented Condie Rice (doing her job, by the way) reminds me that I’ve never heard or seen or viewed any negative and nasty satire about Obama in his whole Presidency. Nothing on Saturday Night Live, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart. Nothing at all. Meanwhile, Trump has been publicly savaged and still managed to win an election. Obama – the man who entertains low-life rappers and whose wife goes on American television to amuse the, er, ‘deplorables’. That alone is worthy of satire. You couldn’t make that stuff up!!

          The fact of NO satire at all about Obama tells me about the current state of political correctness in the USA and the extent to which most of you have Stockholm Syndrome. It’s appalling. And resembling a democracy in no way at all.

    • Davd says:

      The Kennedy Center Honor is honored by Martha Argerich!

    • Marya Berry says:

      The White House can honour anyone it likes. They don’t have to be American, altho’ if such were the case, I’d not be surprised, but shocked!

      Of course, Marta Argerich has given concerts all over the world, including in the US.

      Forgive me, but I find the question offensive.

      (I am American, to anticipate the question.)

      • Raphael de Kadt says:

        Right on! Martha Argrerich, many would say, is arguably the greatest living classical pianist. She is said to declare herself a citizen not of any one country but ‘of the world’. In this time of heightened nationalisms and ‘nativisms’, it is admirable that an American President (prior to the closing of the American mind under the stewardship of Donald Trump) should remind the world that its greatest military and economic power can transcend the bounds of mativism and draw on its deep – if currently under siege – cosmopolitan heritage!

  • Andy says:

    I managed to get a ticket to see her play in January. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe it!

    • Ross says:

      Congats, it’s hard to get a ticket to hear her play.

      The next hardest thing is for her to actually show up to play.

      Good luck!

    • pooroperaman says:

      That’s odd – I didn’t know she’d written a play. I’ve been to hear some of her concerts, though.

      In other news, it’s nice to see that somebody’s finally taught the President what a real musician looks like.

  • Karen Hagberg says:

    Martha Argerich is the greatest living pianist. She has performed with all the major US orchestras as well as given solo and duet performances in our major concert halls. She will perform a piano duo recital in Disney Hall in LA on April 8. As someone who attends as many of her performances as possible, I know that she performs in this country on an average of more than once a year, which is amazing for an artist who regularly performs through Europe, in Japan, and in Argentina, and who presides over two annual music festivals in Switzerland and Japan.
    Argerich herself has said that she is not a citizen of any one place, but of the world. If the Kennedy Center honor would go to a classical musician at the pinnacle of a 7-decade career, there is no better choice than Martha Argerich. It is unfortunate that she is known for canceling performances, but it means that those lucky enough to hear her will hear her in top form. She has always stood up to the system that requires artists to commit themselves to dates years in the future, when there is no way to know if they would be able to deliver a super-human performance on that day. Consequently she does not sign, therefore does not break, contracts. She gets bookings regardless with a backup plan in mind. And just think, if Martha hadn’t canceled a performance of the Prokofiev 3rd with the Boston Symphony, we still might not know Yuja Wang!!

  • Teresa McGlone says:

    I am an American and Martha Argerich is very derserving of this honor. Her recordings and concerts have enriched my life.

  • Sue says:

    @Macrov; I’ve seen vision of Condie performing a concerto!! That’s hardly the status of ‘amateur pianist’. What about ‘highly accomplished pianist’.

    And I don’t think we would have seen Condie do ‘whacky things’. Just because the Obamas do this doesn’t mean others would follow suit. She didn’t have to prove anything to anybody. I always thought she should have run for POTUS – black and female and fabulously accomplished and intelligent. Alas, it wasn’t to be. She’s a classy woman.

    • Bruce says:

      FWIW, “amateur” and “highly accomplished” are not mutually exclusive. Mozart and others wrote pieces that are now part of the standard repertoire for amateur players.

      • Sue says:

        You got my point about “Condie” Rice. She is elegant and classy and talented.

        But she’s a Republican – I can see why you’d all want to find some way to dismiss her talents to build up those of Obama. But, you don’t need talent to hand out food stamps!

        • Steinway Fanatic says:

          Condie Rice’s piano playing is at the student-amateur level. She has mediocre keyboard capability, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If she were not who she is, she would not have any major concerts whatever.

        • alex says:

          Stop flaunting your graceless prejudices, please, at least until your accomplishments equal those of the least among the Kennedy Center attendees.

  • Geoff Radnor says:

    Just for the record:
    Selection process

    Honoree recommendations are accepted from the general public,[7] and the Kennedy Center initiated a Special Honors Advisory Committee, which comprises two members of the Board of Trustees as well as past Honorees and distinguished artists. The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees selects the Honoree recipients based on excellence in music, dance, theater, opera, motion pictures or television.[8]
    The events

    The invitation-only weekend-long ceremony includes the Chairman’s Luncheon, State Department dinner, White House reception and the Honors gala performances and supper.

    Surrounded by the Honorees, the luncheon is held on Saturday at the Kennedy Center, with a welcoming speech by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. At that evening’s reception and dinner at the State Department, presided over by the Secretary of State, the Honorees are introduced and the Honors medallions are presented by the Chairman of the Board.[8] The wide rainbow-colored ribbon then hung around the necks of the recipients, and prominently noticeable when the events are televised, symbolizes “a spectrum of many skills within the performing arts” according to creator Ivan Chermayeff.[9]

    On Sunday, there is an early-evening White House reception[10] hosted by the President of the United States and the First Lady, followed by the Honors gala performance at the Kennedy Center and supper.

    For the 2015 gala performance, President Barack Obama did attend, after addressing the nation in a live telecast.[11] There have been three occasions where the President did not attend the gala performances: President Jimmy Carter did not attend the December 1979 gala performance during the hostage crisis,[12] President George Bush did not attend in December 1989 and President Bill Clinton did not attend in 1994.[13][14]

  • Benjamin Steinhardt says:

    I’ve been fortunate to see Argerich perform over a dozen times here in the U.S.
    She has certainly done an great amount for this American’s culture.

    • Jaybuyer says:

      I was lucky to see her Beethoven 1 with Barenboim in London last year (how does she keep it sounding so fresh and vital?) and with luck, i.e. her showing up, I will see her Prokofiev 3 on 29th January. Amazing how someone can enjoy playing the same 3 or 4 concertos again and again.

    • Sue says:

      And her partner for quite a long while was the elegant and gorgeous Stephen Kovacevich. What a team those two would have made!!!! He said about her recently, “she’s a bit warmer these days”. She always seemed frosty to me, so that was a rather revealing comment from Kovacevich.

  • Teresa McGlone says:

    Martha Argerich deserves this honor. I’m an American and her artistry has enriched my life.

  • Albertus Magnus says:

    It would have been the Kennedy Center people’s job to tell the President who she was, and how to pronounce her name. Discourtesy to Argerich that they apparently didn’t. But you can’t blame the President for that.

  • Julie says:

    In defense of President Obama, the announcers and presenters of the BBC have been mispronouncing “Argerich” for 50 years. Every single time. It’s NOT “Argerick”!

  • Raysa says:

    Martha in my opinion definitely deserves this honor, as she has also received a multitude of other recognitions throughout the world. She has won several Grammys and her recordings are as extensive as her repertoire. She has founded several festivals where musicians from all over the world both young and old get to play and share the stage, and she even has a competition in her native Argentina. Let’s face it, classical Music has always been dominated by men, Martha however, was a force of nature, unstoppable and setting her own rules She really has nothing to prove, she’s in demand just as much as she was in her youth if not more because of her selectiveness of where and with whom she plays. What she gives to the audience is something so special it cannot be explained with words. She has invested her time and resources reaching out to the youth to cultivate that passion to carry classical music thru the years to come. If that isn’t enough to deserve this award then I don’t know what is. The problem is the cultural level here in America. I had the privilege of seeing a top notch British based orchestra and a first class pianist (whom many compare to Martha for her speed, I won’t mention names, not the point here) and the theatre was half empty. I was so thrilled to see them right in my backyard sort of speak but was so embarrassed that the place was empty.

  • David says:

    Martha is a genius and without out a doubt one of the very greatest pianists in the entire history of the instrument. But as others have noted, I fail to see how she has contributed in any meaningful way towards the cultural life of this country. And she still, rather bafflingly, refuses to play solo recitals anywhere.

    (although I think her frequent cancellations are a bit unprofessional…a lesser established artist would not be able to get away with doing this without doing serious damage to their career–because no one would want to engage them).

    I think a far more deserving classical pianist would have been Alicia de Larrocha (while she was alive anyway), who for over 30 years played tirelessly in practically all the major concert venues in the U.S. and abroad. And she was absolutely Argerich’s peer, although they were temperamentally very different kinds of artists…

    • Jaybuyer says:

      Apples and pears…..I can’t imagine Alicia de Larrocha bashing away at Prokofiev 3 at the age of 70.
      Btw, everyone seems to have their own way of pronouncing ‘Argerich’. Many Germans think of her as ‘their own’ and say ‘ich’ at the end (as in German ‘dich’)