Martita, a girl with cute curly hair, was presented to a romantic father and an intelligent mother from the god of music, and this little girl had an extraordinary talent. Since then, the girl has now lived eighty years with the piano on Earth, this miraculous planet of ours. Even now she continues to run toward somewhere higher as a rare Amadeus (which means "loved by god") genius of music like Mozart. Her music draws and bewitches people in a moment. Magical wildness, the elegance of the eighteenth century, sweet romanticism, and classical rigidness - these contradictory elements coexist in a natural manner without any resistance.

[ Genius soaring into the sky ]

It was when I listened to Chopin over the radio that I heard Martha's performance for the first time. In that program, Ms. Nakamura Hiroko, who had won a prize at the Chopin Competition, was introducing the contest. At that time, Martha's family name was pronounced in the German way, rather than the way it is commonly pronounced now. When music critic Mr. Nomura Koichi interviewed Martha for the first time in Japan, he asked how to pronounce her family name. She answered, "Either way you like, as I am myself either way." This answer represents her elastic personality.

As there were no contact lenses around then, Martha wore thick glasses and a miniskirt. I heard some people were charmed by her appearance and became a fan of her because of it. Her hair is black, and she said with a smile that she had sometimes been mistaken for a Japanese. Long ago, there was an occasion when she was mistaken at an airport as a Japanese political offender who was on an international wanted list. I could not see her charming appearance over the radio, but I felt a new world of piano performance I had never heard. How can I describe it - a performance as if running through the sky freely and mightily, not restrained by anything, the performance bore the very life as if the music had just been born there. I think it was a historical incident to totally remove the frame of "a female way of performance" that was often featured with feminine delicacy. It was a very stunning performance, as if it were androgynous. Since that day, I became one of Martha Argerich's ardent fans.

[ Music, music, music ]

I attended as many concerts as possible when Martha came to Japan for the first time. I had bought all her records and my home was filled with her performances, day after day. I think there are many people like me around the world.

One day, when we were travelling for a concert in a car together, I told Martha it was a lucky profession to deliver happy time to many people. She said, "For me, music is not a profession. I really like music." I become emotional whenever recalling these words of hers. I am deeply moved by her feeling. She seemed not so interested in her brilliant career when thinking of her own love of music. Since 1977, when I met her in Munich for the first time, a meeting by fate for me, this has not changed at all.

The photo is a duet of Martha Argerich and Ito Kyoko at the 1994 JEE concert.

[ Happy 80th birthday, and going ahead to 101 ]

In Beppu City, "Shiiki presents Argerich's Haus" was built to honor her. The Haus is a home where Martha can come back anytime. I often hear her practicing at night, feeling as if it were the traditional Japanese story of The Grateful Crane - a story of a crane weaving a beautiful cloth using her own feathers, as Martha responds to requests from around the world. I wish for the Haus to serve as her second home, a place to rest her feathers for a while. The activities to pursue the role of the arts in society as well as her performances will shed light on the real role of the arts, especially during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Martha's words, "The arts are not something standing noble and aloof, but something to exist alongside people" made me aware that music is a prayer to sympathize with people and provide them with peace and hope.

The photo shows MUSIC FESTIVAL Argerich's Meeting Point in Rome
on December 16, 2018.

[ Suffering of genius ]

Martha's life was never uneventful, and I suppose there have been always both honor and suffering brought by her extraordinary talent. When she won the Chopin Competition* she had just given birth to her first child. Before that, she had a desire to study in an ordinary school and other struggles for her life in the process of growing to become a real genius musician from a prodigy. We can easily imagine her life has not been that of an ordinary person. She has to travel a lot to concert venues packing and unpacking her luggage. I have often seen her doing the packing that she dislikes, mumbling that it would be better if she could only do music. However, Martha is always energetic to continue such a busy life and has her techniques ever sharpened, and she pursues limitless possibilities more freely. I only have the sense of gratitude to her as I had the luck to be born in the same age as she. Insatiable curiosity and the severity she has had since her infancy toward herself to "play perfectly, otherwise die," and the perfectionism never yielding through the tens of thousands of concerts she has given - the world Martha pursues seems to be an unknown universe that an ordinary person can never see. * The 7th Chopin International Piano Competition in 1965

[ First music festival ]

When Martha took an official position for the first time and held the first music festival bearing her name in Japan, nobody imagined it would continue to the present time of 2021. In the pre-concert in 1995, she gave a recital for the first time in ten years. The news quickly spread around the world, evoking many surprises. Until then, there had been a rumor that Martha was capricious and often cancelled her concerts. She herself felt this was not a fair criticism as the cancellations were not made by her capriciousness. Despite serious illness, she was given a miracle by god and has continued the Music Festival every year up to now. I am grateful for this miracle to spend precious time together with her. Oita Prefecture has a historical connection with Rome and a history as a place where Japanese people learned and performed Western music for the first time in Japan. Based on this connection, we held a concert in Rome with Maestro Antonio Pappano and Mr. Mischa Maisky in 2018. At the concert Martha caught a cold, but she fulfilled her responsibility as President of Argerich Arts Foundation. In such circumstances, honestly speaking as a friend, I do not want her to force herself to do her task, because Martha is really a precious treasure in the world.

I have told Martha since we were young to be active until the age of 101. "What should I do? I don't know," says she, but it seems that she will easily realize this tenderly and energetically like Popeye. The age of 80 is a waypoint, and it is a happy, happy birthday. I would like to extend my sincere congratulations to my dearest Martha!

Ito Kyoko
Vice Chairperson, Argerich Arts Foundation

This essay was reprinted from the official site of Amazon Japan.
- The official site of Amazon Japan - (in Japanese)

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