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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Argerich and Japan

May 24, 2017

The best musicians often perform at famous spots around the world. Martha Argerich is known as one of the greatest pianists alive, and yet every year, she takes time out of her busy schedule to visit a remote corner of Japan.

A YouTube video has racked up more than 1.5 million views since it went online in February.

It's a promotional clip made by Oita Prefecture, featuring renowned pianist Martha Argerich.

The Argentinian artist has an intimate connection to this remote corner of southwestern Japan.

The city of Beppu in Oita is one of Japan's most popular hot spring resorts. But every May, it offers visitors a very different kind of experience.

It becomes the main location of a music festival. Beppu and nearby areas take on a festive air.

Fans are excited.

"I'm too excited to sleep."

"I'm so grateful for the fact that a worldwide star like her comes to this rural area and delivers a great performance," they say.

Argerich has enjoyed a career stretching over 6 decades and is one of the world's most influential pianists. Her daring technique and passionate performances have fascinated Japanese fans.

Many of Argerich's musician friends also come to Beppu to take part in the event.

They include Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis and Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa.

At this year's event, Ozawa took the baton for Argerich's performance of a Beethoven concerto.

Argerich's uninhibited character is legendary. On stage, her spontaneity makes the audience laugh.

Asked how she likes Beppu, she responds, "I like it very much! We are doing kind of some experience and experiment."

Her close ties to Beppu are the result of a long-standing friendship with a Japanese pianist from the region.

Kyoko Ito met Argerich 40 years ago when she was a student in Germany. Enthralled by Argerich's dynamic performances and free spirit, Ito has been learning from and working with her ever since.

"Her country -- Argentina -- and Japan are on the opposite sides of the Earth, and the personalities of their people are completely different. So are Argerich and I. So, I have no idea what will result from our collaboration. But the Japanese people adore her because she has a temperament we don't have," says Ito.

After Ito returned to Japan, officials in Beppu asked her to organize a new music festival. The first thing she thought of was inviting Argerich.

But she had a big challenge: how to persuade the genius who hates being restrained by rules into staying in Beppu for 3 weeks.

"We've never said 'No' to Martha. That's our basic stance. She'd sometimes hit upon a new idea, or during rehearsals she'd propose changing a program to express her music better. She still does that today. The staff can have a hard time," says Ito.

Argerich repays Ito's devotion with her spirited playing in Beppu.

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the festival. The bond between the artist and Beppu continues to strengthen.

"Public are changing. Before, they were different, a little bit more shy. But now, not so much. But tonight, here it was...Japan is a special place for me, I must say. Many things have happened here in my life. Many things," says Argerich.

Argerich was awarded one of Japan's highest honors, the Order of the Rising Sun, for her efforts over the years to promote classical music in Japan.

"Really great pleasure and joy to receive this today with them here. Thank you very much," said Argerich.

The pianist from Argentina has an approach to her art that contrasts with Japanese cultural norms, but, in Beppu, these 2 temperaments have found a way to work together in close harmony.