Introducing the June 2021 issue of Gramophone, featuring Martha Argerich

Martin Cullingford
Friday, May 14, 2021

Editor Martin Cullingford introduces the June issue, which features an unmissable tribute to Argerich at 80, a look at how Miloš is building a beautiful new guitar repertoire and our Summer Festivals Guide

I’d be hard pressed to think of a living musician who commands such admiration and affection as Martha Argerich. For as long as I’ve mixed in musical circles, the pianist’s name has evoked hushed tones of acclaim and gratitude for her contribution to our world. That she’s the antithesis of the famed virtuoso, one whose life seems more dedicated to the development of her collaborative colleagues rather than anything as ephemeral as fame, only adds to the sense that here, among us, is a figure to cherish. And, indeed, to celebrate. And Argerich’s 80th birthday, which falls on June 5, seems just the fitting moment to do so.

I was once privileged to attend her Progetto Martha Argerich, held beside Lake Lugano, where she gathered friends and colleagues (and it was clear that such terms were largely indistinguishable) for mainly chamber music-making. But if she was the event’s star – and undeniably she was – it soon transpired that this was much more in the sense that she was the brilliant sun which enabled the creativity in those around her to grow, and to shine in their own right. I recall that she joined in playing a set of variations on ‘Happy Birthday’ for the festival’s co-director – I hope her friends and colleagues do the same for her now.

For our tribute, meanwhile, Reviews Editor Tim Parry has beautifully woven together voices from across the piano world to paint a portrait of a pianist who, for her musicality, humanity and humility, is an icon whose qualities stand out as all the greater against an era which so often places excessive value on the trivial and transient. He concludes by pointing us towards some personal choices among her catalogue of recordings; setting aside time to listen to those, or to your own favourites, would surely be the most appropriate way of all to celebrate the 80th birthday of such a figure.

‘The entire occasion served as a reminder of the importance of nurturing and continuing to develop the musical life of this country’

A few days after our last issue went to press, the Duke of Edinburgh’s death was announced, bringing to a close a long life of service to this country and to the Commonwealth. His funeral was an intensely poignant occasion, made all the more so by the required restrictions due to Covid, and the music played an extraordinarily powerful role. The playing by the tri-service band prior to the funeral was a reminder of the immense skill of the musicians of the armed forces, and of the military’s support of them. And in the service itself, the beauty and dignity of the performances of the four-strong choir, conducted by James Vivian, and organist Luke Bond, was incredibly moving. Performance feels an odd word in the context – this was music as service, woven into the fabric of the occasion, and by extension, into that of our society. That two of the works were modern commissions, from Benjamin Britten and William Lovelady, both at the request of the Duke himself, was a reminder of choral music as a living tradition. And the entire occasion served as a reminder of the importance of nurturing and continuing to develop the musical life of this country, which repays the support it asks of us a thousand fold in terms of what it gives back.

Also in the June issue...

One of the world’s finest clarinettists, Julian Bliss has a number of exciting recording projects for Signum Classics in the pipeline. Editor Martin Cullingford meets him.

On the 10th anniversary of Milos’s first album release, the guitarist is celebrating his instrument by recording two new concertos by Joby Talbot and Howard Shore for Decca. James Jolly finds out more.

Following a year in which so much music-making was cancelled by Covid-19, artists and audiences alike are looking forward to reconnecting over the summer months. Check out our annual Summer Festivals Guide for the best events, online and in person, in the UK, Europe, the US and beyond.

Which recording of Sibelius’s First Symphony is the one to own? In Collection, David Gutman tracks down the available versions of a work that blends international influences into a Finnish whole and chooses his favourite.

In The Musician and the Score, David Vickers talks to The English Concert’s Harry Bicket about his approach to Handel’s Rodelinda, the opera they have just recorded for Linn Records.

In Icons, Paul Wee pays tribute to fellow pianist Sergio Fiorentino – a pianist to treasure with a staggering technique.

In Contemporary Composer, Richard Whitehouse celebrates the achievements of American composer Joan Tower, unfairly overlooked beyond her country for far too long.

In this issue’s Classics Reconsidered, Hugo Shirley and Mark Pullinger revisit the 1980s recording of Le nozze di Figaro from Georg Solti and the LPO on Decca.

In What Next?, Peter Quantrill beings with Mozart’s D minor Piano Concerto K466 and takes us on a journey encompassing Hummel, Carter and more.

And finally, for our Orchestra of the Month, we explore Orchestre Métropolitain, founded in 1981 and now with Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the helm.

Plus, as always, our world-leading critics review the latest classical music releases on CD, DVD and download – with the best being crowned ‘Editor’s Choice’.

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