Martha Argerich goes random
As I've said here before, randomness is a very precious thing. At the moment the most popular article On An Overgrown Path by a long way is, surprisingly, my post from January this year about the day Martha Argerich was locked up. The viral spread started with a link on the Piano Forum site, which proved to be topical as Ms. Argerich's legendary keyboard techique continues to be matched by her legendary concert cancellations.
One way of avoiding Martha Argerich's no-shows is to buy her CDs instead. I have been on the look out for the EMI recordings from her 2007 Lugano Festival for some time following a comment from a reader recommending Ernö von Dohnányi's Piano Quintet No. 1, which is one of the featured items. While in the FNAC store in Dijon a couple of weeks ago I found the 3 CD box reduced from 28 to 9 euros, so that gap in my collection was quickly filled.
There is a wonderfully random selection of music captured on the 3 CDs; as well as the Dohnányi there are works by Beethoven, Mozart transcribed by Busoni, Schumann, Ravel, Glinka, Messiaen, Bartók and Lutoslawski. Weird though how the CD artwork, seen above, lists the musicians, but not the music they play. I would love to give you details of all the eleven works on the disc, but copy typing is not my great strength. So I thought I would simply link you to EMI Classic's website for the full work listings. But sadly, that only gives the composer's names. Which, I am sure, won't stop EMI's new owners blaming file sharers for lack of sales of the discs.
But back to the music, even if EMI do not tell you what it is until you have actually parted with your cash. The anonymous and random programme is a refreshing and stimulating contrast to the current obsession with cycles of works by single composers, which achieve nothing more than giving the marketing gurus, who now literally call the tunes, a peg to hang their creative ephemera on. Strange isn't it how diversity and plurality are today's hot buttons for funders, yet the concert programmes they fund are often devised by single composer fanatics? And with Mahler anniversaries in both 2010 and 2011 we ain't seen nothing yet.
Alas, the whopping discount on the Argerich box shows that multi-composer discs are usually commercial disasters, mainly because they do not fit neatly into browser and database categories, and, for review purposes, they get lumped into the 'odds and ends' section. That doesn't deter me from loving them for their randomness, a great example being a now deleted RCA France 4 CD box of Arthur Rubinstein playing chamber music by composers ranging from Schubert to Fauré with a stellar line-up including Pierre Fournier, Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky .
In 1997 Sony bravely released the multi-composer CD seen below with composer John Williams conducting the London Symphony Orchestra in music by Toru Takemitsu, Alan Hovhaness, Tobias Picker and himself. Although deleted in CD form that disc is still available as an MP3 download. The download is worth buying for Hovhaness' Symphony No.2 'Mysterious Mountain' alone, the other beautifully crafted music on it is a delightfully random bonus. More non-John Cage music and chance here.
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I wrote about it in May, it has just received an excellent review in the October edition of the Gramophone -
We need more people in the classical world expressing statements similar to “Martha Argerich, YOU SUCK!”
This sort of bad behaviour on the part of artists needs to be curtailed. Other than Teresa Stratas or John Ogdon, who had serious mental health issues, or other well-documented ailments such as Leon Fleisher’s (and even he keeps trying to perform), what excuses do the others have?
Part of the problem, it seems to me, comes from the agents and managers who fail to hold artists to account for this behaviour; indeed, bend over backwards to shield them from its consequences. Leading classical musicians today are, or should be, partners in a cottage industry: a shared enterprise driven largely by love and respect for the art we're all trying to protect and nurture. Too many of them act as if they are pop-culture superstars, with fees and attitudes to match - and they're surrounded by people who, by their behaviour (Maestro won't go on unless he has a Mars bar: you, unpaid intern, jump to it and FETCH! Soloist wants a taxi for the 300yd journey from hotel to concert hall - well, get on with it and hire one!) unthinkingly endorse this assumption. It's a bubble that's decades overdue for pricking.