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Happy 70th birthday, Martha

This weekend we salute Martha Argerich, the illustrious Argentine pianist who celebrates her 70th birthday tomorrow. A stunning success on her last visit to Dublin two years ago, she continues to dazzle audiences whenever she plays.

Argerich has always been something of an enigma. She's given few interviews over the years since bursting on the scene in her teens, wearing mini skirts and smoking like a chimney. She's always let her music do the talking.

And what music it has been; good enough to win her the prestigious Chopin Prize in Warsaw in 1965 -- an elusive accolade, for the competition is held only once every five years.

From Mozart and Beethoven to Tchaikovsky, from Liszt to Brahms and to 20th century masters like Messiaen, Prokofiev, and Rachmaninoff, Argerich has spanned all genres from the salon to the big pieces for the concert hall.

Strangely, for such an exuberant performer, being the centre of attention is not something with which she's felt comfortable. "I always hated playing in public," she once declared. "I never got over this intense dislike of being on a stage."

And though it may have stopped her from time to time -- Google "Martha Argerich cancels" and you'll come up with almost 35,000 results -- when she does perform, the audience applauds, and then some.

Still sporting a flowing mane of now grey hair, there's an earthy flamboyance about her presence in front of an orchestra. When she plays a concerto, there's the impression the conductor's baton is superfluous.

Even now, entering her eighth decade, Argerich brings passion and energy to her work. Every summer she oversees the running of a chamber music festival in Lugano in Switzerland.

And there are -- cry-offs notwithstanding -- still many concerts in her diary.

She's due at the Proms in London in July for a performance of Beethoven's Triple Concerto with the French violinist and cellist brothers Renaud and Gautier Capuçon (whose combined ages fall short of her own!).

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 9.30am each Saturday morning ghamilton@independent.ie

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