Monday, June 06, 2011


Happy Birthday to someone who is often voted World's Greatest Living Pianist - and who, from what I've seen, probably is. Martha Argerich turned 70 yesterday. And back in February a call from Olly Condy at BBC Music Magazine assigned me the prize task of interviewing her for a cover feature, or trying to.

Martha and interviews are a bit of a contradiction in terms - she doesn't like them, and I don't blame her. I imagine she has enough to contend with already, without silly journos pitching up asking her how many hours a day she practises. Anyway, they dispatched me to Rome to trail her, clutching BlackBerry to report in case of emergency...

Rome should be a favourite destination, but sadly isn't - it can feel as if everyone is out to rip you off, from taxis that won't do the fixed-rate trip from the airport because you're staying just outside the city walls, to restaurants that overcharge, then say there was a misprint in the menu. (Amazing how the 'trickle-down effect' works perfectly in politics and morals, but not cashflow - but that's another matter...) The bonus, though, was that in one day I met not one great pianist I hadn't talked to before, but two. After the concert I was having my camomile tea in the hotel and in walked Alfred Brendel.

And Martha? I got the interview - with a little help from the lovely Yannick Nezet-Seguin, who fortuitously was conducting and knows me from the LPO, of which he's principal guest conductor. And after I explained to Martha in a preliminary chat post-rehearsal that I trained as a pianist myself, but stopped because I couldn't stand the nerves, the great Argerich became the kindest person in all Italy.
I'll never forget sitting just about underneath the piano while she rehearsed Prokofiev 3 - the sounds that came out of it were elemental, the sort of music you imagine that a mountain range or a wide, wise ocean would produce, could it play the piano. But there is absolute method to the 'Argerich sound'...

The interview is in BBC Music Magazine's June edition, which came out a few weeks ago. Get at a copy via this link: