And the long-hoped day finally came: the reunion for the first time in their fantastic careers in the city where they made their debut. Now in their early seventies, they haven´t lost their exalted qualities: Martha Argerich remains a unique phenomenon in the world of women pianists, and there´s no other musician than Daniel Barenboim to be at the pinnacle both as pianist and conductor. And both are Argentine. At least in musical interpretation the country has produced undisputed immense talents.
The trajectory of Argerich is a strange one: she is the only great pianist that decided long ago to play solely concerti with orchestra or chamber music with friends; I was fortunate enough to hear her in solo recitals before she took that strange decision adopted for psychological reasons: she needs to feel that she makes music with fellow artists. She may play a solo piece as an encore but that´s as far as she goes. Even with this singular restriction, her name attracts multitudes all over the world as an uncanny blend of technical perfection and intense, personal interpretation.
As to Barenboim, he is probably the most important figure in purely musical terms both as pianist and conductor, and he also has been for decades an outspoken leader for peace; the organism he created has become the best symbol: the West Eastern Divan Orchestra is based on Israelis and Palestines, and in recent years, also Spanish players, for the organisation is supported by the Junta de Andalucía. What better example of harmony between people that unfortunately have been at war for decades?
More than a year ago something very special happened in Berlin. Although Argerich and Barenboim had for decades deep respect for each other, they had led separate careers; but somehow they met, and admiration became friendship and a will to collaborate artistically. They arrived at a scheme of an orchestral concert in which she would play with the Divan Orchestra Beethoven´s First Concerto, and then they would be partners in two pianos and/or in piano four hands. The concerts were a howling success and had repercussions at the Colón; Director Pedro Pablo García Caffi saw the opportunity for what would surely be the hit of the year, and with the agreement of the artists it became a reality.
Both artists were child prodigies; Martha (born 1941) played concerti publicly in 1949 and by 1952 she made her debut at the Colón; Daniel (born 1942) played in public on the same year of Martha´s debut. Yes, they are here together 65 years later! Daniel added conducting in 1967 and has led the Orchestre de Paris, the Chicago Symphony, since 1992 the Berlin Deutsche Staatsoper and since 2011 has been the Milan Scala´s Musical Director.
Both were absent from Buenos Aires for decades, but Martha came back for Argerich Festivals in the period 1999-2005; unfortunately, she was a victim of labor conflicts and grossly treated. As a result, she didn´t come back to BA, although last year she played in Rosario and Paraná. With Barenboim the problem was of a different sort; as his family went to Israel when he was a boy, he didn´t want to come to Argentina to comply with military service; if he had visited us he could have been arrested, but eventually that threat was waived and he appeared with the Orchestre de Paris in 1980 for the Mozarteum. It was the first of a whole series of visits as pianist or conductor of the Chicago Symphony, the Staatskapelle Berlin, the Scala Orchestra and the West-Eastern Divan.
Barenboim founded the West-Eastern Divan with Edward Said in 1999 and eventually brought it to BA. The Orchestra is young, fresh and fully professional, a pleasure to hear, though without that special sound of the truly great orchestras.
Barenboim´s energy is gigantic, and he has committed himself to the Colón for three consecutive years of activities called "Music and Reflexion". In less than two weeks this year he will conduct three orchestral concerts and four performances of a reduced unstaged Wagner ("Tristan and Isolde"), plus a two-piano recital with Argerich and a strange concoction: members of his orchestra plus Les Luthiers in Stravinsky and Saint-Saëns. And a dialogue between Felipe González and the musician (that´s the "reflexion" aspect).
The initial concert for a huge crowd (the most coveted tickets of the year) promised high quality and delivered it. After a nice traversal of Mozart´s Overture to "The Marriage of Figaro", Beethoven´s First Concerto had one of its best interpretations in the Colón´s history. The charisma of Argerich remains unblemished, her wonderful precision coupled with sensitive phrasing and beautiful timbre, and the orchestra accompanied with care and taste. She played a welcome encore: "Träumeswirren" ("Unquiet dreams"), the virtuoso Nº 8 of Schumann´s "Fantasy Pieces".
The Second Part was fully coherent: Ravel scores connected with Spain. "Spanish Rhapsody", "Alborada del Gracioso", "Pavane for a defunct Infanta" and "Bolero". All of it played with transparence and beauty, Barenboim´s ear accutely reflecting the composer´s evocative atmospheres.
The encores: as he did with the Orchestre de Paris, the four Preludes from Bizet´s "Carmen". And then, to finish, the conductor´s affinity with our tango: "El firulete", in a fine arrangement for winds by José Carli (years ago Barenboim had conducted the Buenos Aires Philharmonic in an open-air concert of symphonic tangos).
A great occasion indeed.
For Buenos Aires Herald