is she?” my daughter, Linnea, asks me.
Argerich. She’s a brilliant pianist. She plays with all this
passion, this brio, this verve.”
I never use words like “brio” and “verve.”
Linnea is looking at me with one raised eyebrow—a trick I
myself had to practice to master, but which she has done effortlessly
since she was about four.
let me YouTube her and you can see for yourself. Just the
first three minutes. After that, you know, go do what you
want to do.”
Possibly out of sense that it is good to encourage parents
to do things online, Linnea indulges me, nodding at the screen.
So I Google “Prokofiev Concerto No. 1, Martha Argerich.”
heard her play before, of course,” I explain, “On the radio.
On recordings. I’d just never seen her.”
Linnea nods again.
But then the video begins, with the crazed-looking conductor—Alexandre
Rabinovitch-Barakovsky—wiping his brow as if he’d already
run a race. Meanwhile, Ms. Argerich sits at her piano, half-wild,
half-tamed. She purses her lips, points at either the conductor
or the concertmaster. And then she turns her head and smiles—maybe
at the audience, definitely not at me.
But what the hell. Because even before the driving three-chord
opening of Prokofiev’s first piano concerto, I’m hooked.
Then the strings open it up and the piano, Martha at the helm,
The first time I heard the Prokofiev piano concerto—which
he wrote as a conservatory student and is probably an immature
work and all of that and I’m probably a novice listener for
loving it so much—I was in the car and I immediately drove
to the closest store and bought a copy. (And just to set things
straight: I like my recording, with Kurt Masur conducting
and Michel Beroff at the piano. Beroff’s no slouch, you know?
But he’s not Martha.)
I point out to Linnea, “how she looks at the orchestra!”
Linnea, who actually played an instrument in high school while
I was all about ballet class and self-abasement, looks at
me. “Why shouldn’t she look up?” she seems to be saying.
But I’m not paying much attention. Because now the orchestra
has taken back the theme and the conductor, actually wearing
a hair comb of some sort and looking particularly anguished,
is thrashing the air and squinting.
Then Martha’s back in before halfway into the second minute,
chasing up and down the keys with chipmunk speed, pursing
her lips, looking gorgeous, driving home Prokofiev’s hormone-driven
missive, which is a kind of thanks-be-to-God for the
life force—though what do I really know about either music
or adolescent male composers?
Martha holds her own, unsurprisingly, cocking her head this
way and that as the music expands into a jaunting, urbane
gallop, not what you’d expect of a Russian composer on the
cusp of the Soviet era. But what did Prokofiev know of politics
at that point? It was music and music was about logic and
a little logical madness.
So she rides us through that and then the pace quickens. It’s
rush hour and now all we see are her hands. And what hands!
Fingers like race horses’ legs—OK, I did not just actually
say that. But they are like that in a way: a blur.
Then the camera cuts to her face, the hair bobbing around
her head, her lips pursing again, moving, as if speaking without
Who needs words at this point, anyway?
But now the piano stops abruptly. Martha looks up, wipes the
hair out of her face. The conductor, still looking weary,
suffers the orchestra to come unto him as they begin a kind
of dirge. The piano eventually joins in and for a moment or
so everything is quiet until, irrepressibly, the piano begins
to build again, like a mountain man on the Tour de France
pulling ahead with slow, but implacable confidence that he
can out-distance the drag of the pellotin.
And so Martha goes, as the score half-bullies, half-charms
the orchestra into a restatement of the first, driving theme.
Rabinovitch-Barakovsky, more fraught than ever, waves his
arms around, urging the orchestra to catch up. Or that’s
how it seems. Until the strings come in and the camera pulls
back and we see Martha, her hair and face reflecting the bold
sonority of what she’s playing. And then . . .
then, the movement ends.
She looks up, pushes her hair back, exhales.
The video ends, too.
I am entranced. But I am not sated.
just the first movement,” I say breathlessly to Linnea,
as if I’ve been in any way involved in the performance.
And Linnea, who has stayed not for just the first three minutes,
but for the full seven, turns to me and says, “I really liked
it. I really did.”
I think. I’ve raised up my kid on classical music. I used
to queue the Chopin Nocturnes to help her get to sleep.
We’ve sat through live cannon fire during the 1812 Overture.
She gets the Phillip Glass joke. The Phillip Glass joke. The
Phillip Glass joke.
also, Mama,” she adds, “I think you’ve got a serious girl
crush on—on? What’s her name?”
Argerich,” I say, involuntarily practicing my lip-pursing.
And knowing that, without a doubt, she is right.