Updated: Feb 10

Photo by Lorenzo Spoleti on Unsplash

The prestigious French classical music magazine Diapason once noted that to find an equivalent to Martha Argerich in the history of piano performance, one would have to go all the way back to one of the first female pioneers of classical composition: Clara Schumann. This little sentence alone bluntly illustrates the celestial heights of classical fame Argentine-Swiss pianist Martha Argerich has risen to within her career. At less than 80 years of age, Argerich is easily comparable to unforgettable trailblazers of classical music history. Without a doubt, Argerich has already left her mark on classical music globally - but in Japan, she managed to go the extra mile. In this article, we will examine Martha Argerich's impact on our music scene of the month!

Since she was a child, Martha Argerich dared to do anything: breaking taboos, overcoming patriarchal oppressions, and bringing female empowerment to the top of classical music were on her daily agenda. The Argentine pianist has a thousand stories to tell. Hundreds of collaborations under her belt, concerts held, competitions won - even a medal at the Kennedy Center of honors - those are only some of the major contributions of Argerich's long-lasting classical career. On top of that, however, she has also achieved something that living artists of classical music and beyond rarely achieve: an entire music festival has been dedicated to the work of Martha Argerich. Surprisingly, this festival does not take place as an exclamation of pride in her home town of Buenos Aires. Instead, the festival takes place precisely 19,081 km from there, in the city of Beppu, a small city in southern Japan with no more than 120,000 inhabitants.

In the realm of classical music, Martha Argerich is a celebrity, but in Japan, she is much more than that. At the beginning of the century, the pianist received the Imperial Prize in Tokyo for her exemplary contribution to the development of culture and artistic creation in the world. Then, in 2005, the Emperor of Japan awarded her the "Order of the Rising Sun, Golden Rays with Rosette" for her promotion of musical culture in Japan.

"Argerich's father was a romantic: he told her that if she dug a hole from Argentina, it would take her to Japan".

Kyoko Ito (Japanese pianist)

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Despite her immense efforts to bridge all this geographical and cultural distance in the Asian island country, Argerich alone can not take credit for her achievements in Japan. The foundation on her path to success was laid by colleague and Japanese pianist Kyoko Ito, whom she met in Munich at the end of the '70s. Without a doubt, it was Ito's support and encouragement that helped Martha Argerich reach the heights of celebrity she has found in Japan today. The female and professional forces of these two powerful and talented women helped them unite at the top of the Japanese classical culture. Through their mutual support, these extraordinary female artists were able to lift each other up to new levels. It was in 1994, after Ito's insistence, that Argerich accepted the proposal of the Beppu government to establish a classical music festival there. In an interview that same year, after being asked why she chose Beppu, Martha responded at a press conference: "Because Kyoko is there." A gesture that showed support, confidence, and admiration. And so, in 1998, the three-year pre-concert event "MUSIC FESTIVAL Argerich's Meeting Point in Beppu" was born. To this day, the festival is directed and produced by these two empowered women, and it serves as an example of the power of female collaboration in male-dominated areas of the music industry.

"The Japanese public loves her because she has a temperament that we don't have".

Kyoko Ito

In a country where the expression of feelings is preferably relegated to the private sphere, the pianist Martha Argerich achieves long ovations and even imperial admiration. Her fiery Argentine mentality and emotional connection to the music, as well as her desire to collaborate and share the spotlight with talented artists from all over the world, has earned her a spot in not only classical celebrity line-ups of Japan, but also the hearts of Japanese people.

This year, the 22nd "MUSIC FESTIVAL Argerich's Meeting Point in Beppu" is to be held from February until June 2021.