‘New tango’ composer featured in concert

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Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla led the new wave in tango music.

By Laura Tate/Editor

Astor Piazzolla once said he wrote music for listening rather than for dancing, and when Saturday’s evening concert began at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Argentinean’s work did indeed sound like symphony music for listeners only. However, in Piazzolla’s “Bandoneón Concerto,” with musician Horacio Romo playing the instrument of the title, the tango that dancers love could be heard.

Romo’s mastery and skill with the bandoneón is amazing-the instrument is reminiscent of the German accordion and has 71 buttons on each side- not only with how his fingers rapidly flew over the keys, but also how he squeezed the last breath out of the instrument, gently and exquisitely fading the last note at the end of the third movement.

The evening’s program featured several pieces by Piazzolla, as well by Argentineans Osvaldo Golijov and Alberto Ginastera. Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who is associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted.

Golijov’s “Last Round,” written in “a sort of tribute to Piazzolla,” according to the program, and performed with strings only, was an almost mournful, yet sweet piece that brought tears to my eyes. At the end of the second movement I felt the beat of my heart, the pulse of my blood, slowing with the music, which ended so perfectly-not a sound could be heard from the full house. It was as if everyone was held in a trance by the last notes. The composer describes the second movement as a “final, seemingly endless open sigh.”

Tango music was born in the outlying, immigrant-filled, poverty-stricken borders of Buenos Aires in the mid- to- late-1800s. The music is said to reflect the woes and struggles of the lower classes of this time. The mournfulness of the tango is heard in “Tangazo” and the rhythm of what I call the “tango march” or “walk” begins when the triangle signals, then the oboe, flute and clarinet solos lighten and quicken the pace of the music. Later, horn solos bring back the solemnity, but the woodwind instruments begin another refrain of the tango rhythm. The piece ends softly with a pluck from the strings.

The last piece of the evening, “Variaciones Concertantes,” by Ginastera, was reminiscent of Piazzolla’s “Tangazo,” beginning with the same mournful tone, then picking up with various solos and ending with what is described in the program as a “high-voltage malambo,” a gaucho (cowboy) dance. Or, it could be said that “Tangazo” was similar to Ginastera’s composition, which is not surprising, being that Piazzolla was his first composition student. “Ginastera was the teacher who gave me the foundation,” reads a quote

by Piazzolla in the

program.

Piazzolla, born in 1921 in Mar del Plata, Argentina, immigrated to New York and grew up on the Lower East Side. His father gave him as a gift a bandoneón, the heart of tango music, when he was about eight years old. As a child he did not like tango, what his father played almost every night, but by the age of 16 he became a regular in the tango orchestras of Buenos Aires, where his family returned to live. His compositions marked the beginning of what is called “Nuevo Tango” or New Tango. He equated it this way, “Nuevo Tango = tango + tragedy + comedy + whorehouse.” He died in Buenos Aires in 1992.

Ginastera was five years Piazzolla’s senior, born in Buenos Aires in 1916. He is regarded as one of the most important and original South American composers of the 20th century. His work covered almost all musical genres, including opera, ballets, concertos for the harp, cello, piano and violin and chamber music. He also composed music for movies and the theater. Ginastera died in Geneva, Switzerland in 1983.

Golijov was born 1960 in La Plata, Argentina. He blends Argentinean music with traditional Jewish idioms and modern sounds. His quintet, “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind,” brought him international notice. He is an associate professor at the College of Holy Cross in Massachusetts and is on the faculties of the Boston Conservatory and the Tanglewood Music Center.