Pro Arte Music Director Emerita Gisèle Ben-Dor returns to conduct a series of tangos, including Piazzolla’s Remembrances of Buenos Aires. Joining us is Adrian Anantawan on violin and Juanjo Mosalini on the Argentinian Bandoneón. We conclude with Ginastera’s masterpiece of folklore and dance.
By Pamela Feo
Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) Variaciones Concertantes
Argentine Alberto Ginastera is one of Latin America’s most famous composers from the twentieth century. He achieved success early in his career with pieces that incorporated Argentine folk elements during what he would later call his “objective nationalism” period. He was a key figure in developing Argentina’s music institutions, and took teaching positions at the Conservatorio Nacional and Liceo Militar General San Martín, but was forced to resign in 1945 due to conflicts with the Perón government. This opened the door to new opportunities, however, and he traveled with his family to the United States on a Guggenheim grant to visit leading music schools and work with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. Upon returning to Buenos Aires, Ginastera established and directed the Conservatorio de Música y Arte Escénico in La Plata, but his ongoing conflicts with the government forced his resignation again in 1952. He would return to La Plata in 1956 after Perón’s defeat, but in the interim he supported his family by continuing to compose film scores (as he had been doing for a decade already) and accepting a number of commissions.
Though a difficult time for Ginastera, it proved a fruitful one, and it marked the full transition into his second stylistic period which he later referred to as “subjective nationalism.” Rather than direct use of folk elements, this style employed more of the avant-garde techniques that he had absorbed during his travels, while still evoking the atmosphere of his home country.
Variaciones Concertantes is a central work from this period, composed in 1953. It was commissioned by the Asociación amigos de la Música in Buenos Aires; Igor Markevitch conducted the premiere there in June of that year. It uses the classical “theme and variations” form, beginning with the statement of an original theme in cello and harp. This is followed by a somber string interlude before the central variations on the initial theme. Each variation demonstrates the unique characteristics of its featured solo instrument, as reflected in the titles of the movements: the playful sparkle of the flute, whose energy continues into the immediately following clarinet variation, the striking drama of the viola, the autumnal tones of oboe and bassoon, the rhythmic fanfare for trumpet and trombone which introduces the violin’s swirling moto perpetuo, and the horn’s pastoral lyricism.
Another interlude, for winds, rounds out the central movements before a restatement of the theme, this time featuring harp and double bass. The final variation is for the entire ensemble. It is in the style of a malambo, a high-energy gaucho dance. Its jazzy and virtuosic rendition, which exemplifies Ginastera’s unique melding of influences, brings the piece to a flourishing close.
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
The title of Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires is an obvious allusion to the more famous Four Seasons of Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi. The most well-known version of Piazzolla’s piece does indeed combine its tango style with elements of Vivaldi’s work, but this final shape came many years after a very different original conception of the piece.
In 1965, Piazzolla wrote Verano Porteño (Buenos Aires Summer), as the incidental score for Melenito de oro, a play by Alberto Rodriguez Muñoz. He then adapted it for his tango quintet, scoring it for violin, piano, electric guitar, double bass, and bandoneón. A few years later, he followed up with Fall, Winter, and Spring, written in 1969 and 1970. He considered the four works as separate pieces, however, and they were only performed together occasionally.
In the late 1990s, after Piazzolla’s death, violinist Gidon Kremer commissioned Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov to bring the four pieces together in a work that he could program alongside Vivaldi’s piece. Desyatnikov’s resulting arrangement, performed by Pro Arte today, unifies two places, times, and genres, bringing the Italian Baroque violin concerto of Vivaldi into the world of Piazzolla’s Argentine tango.
Desyatnikov’s instrumentation calls for strings and solo violin, recalling Vivaldi’s scoring. The challenging solo part includes moments played with the wooden part of the bow, and the virtuosic orchestral part varies between percussive playing and lyrical passages. While each of Vivaldi’s seasons is divided into three movements, Piazzolla’s seasons are rendered in one movement each, with contrasting sections. Their moods are suggested rather than painted in the more overt programmatic style employed by Vivaldi. Listeners who are familiar with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons will recognize quotes from his “Winter” in Piazzolla’s “Summer,” and, similarly, his “Summer” in Piazzolla’s “Winter”; this is Desyatnikov’s way of referencing the two seasons that occur simultaneously in Italy and Argentina. Even without prior knowledge of Vivaldi’s work, Desyatnikov’s arrangement fascinates with the contrasts it establishes between the classical violin concerto and Piazzolla’s own unique tango sound of dissonances and meter shifts.
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla is best known for his tango music and as a performer of the bandoneón, a type of button concertina typically featured in tango ensembles. As a teenager he performed with Carlos Gardél, the “king” of traditional tango, and later studied classical orchestral composition with Alberto Ginastera. Determined to pursue this more European style of classical composition, Piazzolla went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, but she encouraged him to draw upon his cultural roots rather than try to emulate a style that was not true to his voice. He went on to combine the musical influences he had absorbed throughout his career into a style called nuevo tango, infusing traditional tango with harmonies from jazz and classical styles, and thereby bringing the music of Argentina’s dancehalls to the concert stage.
The title of Libertango, a combination of “libertad” and “tango,” reflects Piazzolla’s break from traditional tango to nuevo tango and the freedom he found with this new style. It was written when Piazzolla moved to Italy in 1973, and recorded in Milan in 1974. His relocation helped him recover from a heart attack that had set back his performance career, and Libertango became part of his “Italian period” during which he renewed his dedication to making recordings. It remains one of his most popular works today. The immediately recognizable opening of a repeated descending pattern is joined by the violins’ lyrical line that soars above it, combining fiery rhythms with a smooth melody. This afternoon’s arrangement is from music director Gisèle Ben-Dor’s personal library.
While touring in October of 1959 Piazzolla received news that his father, Vicente Piazzolla, had died. It was his father, whose nickname was “Nonino,” who had bought the composer his first bandoneón when Astor was a child, and he had a profound influence on the composer’s life and career. Upon returning home to New York days after learning the news, Piazzolla went into the kitchen and asked his family members not to disturb him. They soon heard him crying while playing his bandoneón with the notes that became Adiós Nonino. Piazzolla later called this his “finest tune.” Two contrasting sections alternate throughout the piece: one based on an energetic tango from his Paris days, called Nonino, the other a lyrical, tender lament. Piazzolla would perform the work thousands of times throughout his life in over twenty arrangements. Pro Arte will be performing a rare arrangement by Argentine cellist José Bragato. It is the only arrangement of Adiós Nonino with orchestra; Bragato’s original score is lost, and current editions are reconstructed from his instrumental parts.
One of Piazzolla’s most beloved tangos, Oblivion was composed for Marco Bellocchio’s 1984 film Enrico IV (based on the play by Luigi Pirandello) about an actor who believes that he is King Henry IV after falling off his horse. It is written as a slow milonga, a type of song from Uruguay and Argentina that predates the tango. Its wistful, elegantly unfurling melody and gentle accompaniment have been arranged for countless combinations of instruments. The arrangement in this afternoon’s performance is from music director Gisèle Ben-Dor’s personal library and features bandoneón and strings. Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra is thrilled to be joined by the Conservatory Lab Charter School’s Dudamel Orchestra for this special performance.