The Greatest Living Legend in the World of Classical Music

by Warren L. Woodruff

I am a servant of the Fine Arts. I have no job, but I do have a career and a mission:  to illuminate the greatness of the living art of classical music to young people.

One time after returning to Atlanta from New York City and I found myself completely undone. My visit to the Big Apple was to indulge my borderline insane fanaticism for the great pianist Martha Argerich, who is, to me, the greatest living legend in the world of classical music.

I must confess to having little interest in pop culture, but do admit to being the worst culprit of all when it comes to possessing a pop culture-like hero-worshipping fetish for Martha—I’m a true disciple. While a doctoral student under the great pianist Ivan Davis, he proudly claimed her as his lifetime best friend and asked me if I knew who she was. When I said I did not, he proclaimed "she is the ultimate pianist’s pianist. It’s time you know that.”

I immediately purchased her legendary rendition of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto and from that point forward, I’ve been bowing to this high priestess of classical music. Since the opportunity had availed itself to see my heroine, I arrived in New York with enormous anticipation and was greeted with sensational news from my friend with inner connections:  she had obtained tickets to a private rehearsal at Avery Fisher Hall to watch Martha, conductor Charles Dutoit and the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra rehearse.

At exactly 3:12 PM on that Thursday afternoon, my heroine came out of a left stage door and I found myself instantly overcome with tears. There she was. In full flesh and blood, the pianist of all pianists walking casually onto the stage, exchanging amusing faces with Maestro Dutoit, and then flashing a glimpse of her staggering right hand technique. I nearly passed out. The musicians proceeded to perform Prokofiev's dizzying Third Piano Concerto and I had the privilege of hearing my favorite parts of this work not just once, but over and over as she shouted directions to various instrumentals, like “the flute is a bit too loud” or “a bit more crescendo for the tympani!” It took many minutes to regain any sense of composure, but finally I managed. I had a bird's eye view of her hands.

The night of the concert proved to be one the greatest experiences of my lifetime. There I sat on the front row to the right of the piano, able to witness Martha's face directly and watch her hands from the reflection off the shiny piano lid.  She performed this demonically exciting concerto with the powers of an Olympian goddess. Nothing fazed her as she triumphed her way through endless devilish passages and created the most intense, unforgettable music imaginable.

After the masterwork had been completed, I stood and cheered with thousands of others, all screaming “Martha! Martha!” as though she was a rock star. I, nearly eaten alive with the sheer electricity of that unfathomable performance, can’t remember ever sitting back down. And once again, thanks to my friend, after the concert I had the privilege of meeting Martha personally in the “Green Room.” I have to confess the magnitude of shaking the hand of THE Martha Argerich was almost more than I could withstand, and thankfully I had the wits to retrieve her autograph and the sacred pen as a keepsake. Sleeping later that night was not an option. The combined power of Martha Argerich, Maestro Dutoit, UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra, Prokofiev’s Third followed by Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique thundered through my veins until daybreak.

When I wrote my young middle grade fantasy novel, Dr. Fuddle and the Gold Baton, I imagined the power of Martha’s performance in the sixteenth chapter, when I described the Messengers of Music witnessing the inspirational power of the virtuoso Franz Liszt in action, right before their climactic battle to retrieve the sacred instruments and the Gold Baton.

I dream of the day when millions of young people will cheer for great legends like Martha Argerich, filling newly built concert halls to overflowing. May the immense power of classical music long live!

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