Piazzolla’s Tangos

Not everyone dances only when they are happy. Some dance to remember, others to forget, and some purely to feel anything and everything at once. Astor Piazzolla’s “Five Tango Sensations” is a suite of works that captures this sentiment perfectly. The suite itself is split into five sections (Asleep, Loving, Anxiety, Despair, and Fear) and was originally composed for a relative of the accordion (the bandoneon) and string quartet in 1989. Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla was well known throughout the world of music for having married classical, jazz, and tango music almost flawlessly into a new genre: that of “Tango Nuevo”. The suite premiered in New York the same year it was composed and immediately recorded by its composer and the Kronos Quartet. Piazzolla himself played the bandoneon for the original recording, exhibiting his virtuosic skill on the instrument.

The five compositions on this album were written after Piazzolla experienced a bout of serious illness. The session the composer recorded with the Kronos Quartet proved to be his last studio recording: he would fall into a coma the following year and never awaken. During his life, Piazzolla revolutionized the traditional tango to imbue it with new life, and he bids farewell to a musical life well lived and loved in the most moving ways possible in the five brief musical explorations that make up the suite

In Asleep, we are introduced to a dreamy world of dancers. Some made of wind, some made of the spring pollen and blades of grass blown by this same wind. The listener is at once comforted and curious. Piazzolla’s bandoneon has a knack for this, transporting lovers of music to a world where they are free to ask as many questions as they wish… without their eagerness to find answers spoiling their ability to enjoy the moment. The word dreamy does not quite do justice to the feeling of presence which is created in this movement. “Here you are” it seems to chime “now what are you going to do about it?” The lilting melody creates musical architecture, which is mysterious, yet inviting, daring the listener to venture forth in search of meaning.

Loving creates in the listener’s mind that all-too-familiar scene from a foreign romance film. A smoky bar. A mysterious and attractive individual whose colorful trappings pull the entire room into focus. There is smoke, perhaps a streetlamp. Whether indoors or out in the elements, this movement focuses on broadening our understanding of this dreamlike tango world with yet more delicious questions. Who is the stranger? How can they be reached? And what are these feelings that make the world all around shimmer with warmth and light? When the movement finally ends, the listener is left alone with these thoughts and the refrain to ponder on…

Anxiety is a movement of spirals. The thoughts of the listener begin to spiral as the rhythms and melody take on a slightly menacing quality. We are being pulled in a direction we cannot entirely control, and the scenery goes whirling by. The composer utilizes fast changes of pace to create a disorienting effect, but it is used sparingly and always accompanies a slower contrasting section which serves as an inquiry into where this descending melody is headed… and why it is so urgent. Near the end of the movement, the listener is almost treated to the answer… musically speaking it is just on the tip of the brain of one’s tongue. And then it is gone… now there are twice the number of worries, leading the listener down an all-too-familiar path.

And so the dream fades. The listener is treated to Wake (Despertar), the movement which is by far the most painful to endure. It is the realization that the monotony of the daily struggle is upon you once more, and the dream may never return. Sharp rhythmic accents serve as a blow to one’s musical heart. A violin solo languishes in the back corner of a forgotten room, and the memory of the splendorous dream fades faster with every passing second. For any who has awoken from a tremendously exciting dream only to forget the best parts once pencil is hurriedly put to paper, this movement could very well become your anthem. Yet this segment of Piazzolla’s Tango Sensations is not entirely devoid of warmth. No longer sensual, the heat we feel is that of familiarity, surrounding a beautiful melancholy which the listener encounters in cascading musical passages throughout. Will there ever be another dream so real and full of promise? And what if the opportunity to enjoy such a dream might never come to pass? 

The hobbling, stilted rhythm of Fear is exceedingly effective at alarming the listener at their own anticipations of sensations, not unlike the dread of each barefoot step placed on a floor made of ice. There is an excitement, but more predominantly is an uncertainty and disjointed feeling of running without one’s full balance throughout this movement. As the listener familiarizes themselves with the central melody, we feel a sense of dread build with the intervening of the strings. At least in the dream, the uncertainty was welcoming. Here, all seems pointless and alarming. As real life turns too unsettling to bear, the composer gives us reprieve. We have danced a dance of Life and Death, Confusion and Knowing, and now we are free to meditate on our own lives and selves without the music to guide us. Piazzolla’s masterful suite knows just where to turn, how to play with our emotions, and how to stir the memories from the deep recesses of our collective minds. Of the Kronos Quartet version of the suite, Adam Greenberg says it best: “Piazzolla plays his heart out on his trusty bandoneon, and the Kronos players accompany to perfection.” A tragic work of beauty, passion, and everything in between, you can take in the captivating colors and sounds of Astor Piazzolla’s Five Tango Sensations at our upcoming Buenos Aires concert! 

Adriana Isabel Figueroa Mañas

One of Argentina’s most celebrated female composers, Adriana Figueroa Mañas is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist who graduated with a licentiate in music and flute from The National University of Cuyo’s School of Music in 1997. She pursued further studies at her Argentine alma mater,  completing Masters courses in Latino-American music as well as several courses in jazz, improvisation, chamber music composition and orchestration. 

Mañas served as flautist to several professional orchestras in Mendoza, Argentina, before establishing her own studio to offer flute, saxophone, and composition instruction. A member of the West Jazz Band and Camerata Barroca, she has also lent her incredible musical talents as a cellist to the Academic Orchestra of Mendoza.

Accepted as an associate member of the Latin Grammy Academy for her contributions as a composer, she has also served as media composer and musical producer to Film Andes. A member of the Argentinian Foundation of Women Composers, she helps to promote the music of female composers throughout Argentina so that they can receive a wider audience.

 Her symphonic works have premiered throughout South America, Spain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Australia, China, Sweden and the United States. Some of the more notable orchestras who have had the honor of debuting her work include: I Solisti Veneti, The Symphonic Orchestra of Unicamp, The Arizona Southern Symphonic Orchestra, and Artura Toscanini. In addition to producing original music for animations, video games, film, and television, since 1992 Mañas has devoted herself to the formation of instrumental groups for children, and has recorded several children’s albums to date.

 She received a plaque of recognition for her contribution to the art and culture of Mendoza, Argentina, in 2009. The international chamber music festival “Por los Caminos del Vino” honored her music in 2014, and she provided scoring for the documentary “La mirada del colibri” in 2016. Her 2009 composition for flute, violin, and cello, (“Misteros Urbanos”) constructs a sprawling array of exciting musical architecture in its opening bars: a city of music coming to life before your very ears! And when this city goes to bed, a captivating blanket of stars slowly flit across the night sky…

Misteros Urbanos incorporates jazz elements and constructs a musical narrative through which the listener is exposed to all sides of this remarkable painted city. It utilizes dissonance to provoke wonder, finding beauty in the strangest of shapes. The first rays of the sun break over the hill, led by passionate rumbling passages from the piano, and a new day breaks fresh and clean over the silent city. An invigorating wind is blown through the clouds by a cluster of flutes, and you can taste the romance in the air. A percussive and undulating finale is sure to leave you feeling warmed from head to toe…and utterly inspired. Don’t miss your ticket to Buenos Aires, where your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra will bring Adriana Figueroa Mañas’ “Misteros Urbanos” to life!

Catching up with Janna Sailor

Conductor Janna Sailor returns to lead her hometown orchestra for Postcards of Buenos Aires – we were able to ask her some of the questions we’ve been itching to ask!

SSO: When it comes to the rich musical heritage of Latin America, there is so much to love. What  do you feel is the most rewarding aspect of performing traditional Agrentinian music?

Janna: What I love about Latin music is the humanity that always comes through… everything from heart on your sleeve emotion to the pulsating rhythms,  there is something so universal about the musical language that surpasses  cultural and language barriers to be relatable, captivating, and engaging.  Piazzolla’s music is a very intimate look at the human  experience, outlining everything from an unsettled bad dream, the introspective and longing of  love, and a crushing and oppressive  anxiousness that we can all relate to. On the other hand, Ginastera’s “Four  Dances from Estancia” pulsate with dance rhythms and folklore that take  your breath away and make your heart beat faster. Both works are  rewarding and enticing in their own way, and prompt you to dig deeper into  your own human experience as a performer, both emotionally and  technically. 

SSO: Over the past hundred years, the bandoneon has become a staple for tango ensembles  worldwide. How has Piazzola’s writing for the bandoneon inspired your collaboration with  Jonathan Goldman in bringing this music to life?

Janna: I have played the works of Piazzolla in many different contexts…as an orchestral musician,  soloist, and even with my harp and violin duo! A wonderful thing about his music is how versatile  it is, and the composer himself encouraged transcriptions and arrangements of his work by  many different ensembles and instrumentations that would not have traditionally played tango  music. I wanted to be sure to feature the bandoneon in this performance because it was  Piazzolla’s instrument, and he had such an intimate understanding and connection with it. 2021  marks the centenary of Piazzolla’s birth, so I envisioned this program as a celebration of the  music and life of the man himself. I highly recommend sourcing a video of Piazzolla himself  performing on the bandoneon – I am always inspired by his intensity and commitment to his  culture and art form. 

SSO: Four years ago you founded the Allegra Chamber Orchestra. What was the process of  creating an all-female classical orchestra like, and how has it informed your work moving  forward?

Janna: The creation of Allegra happened quite by chance! I had an idea to raise funds through a benefit  concert for Music Heals, a charity that establishes music therapy programs in Vancouver. I put  out the call to my fellow musicians, and only female players responded. The outpouring of  interest from the musicians for the concert was so overwhelming, I soon realized we had  enough players for an orchestra, and that this was he beginning of a movement of “women  helping women through music”. Our first concert raised enough funds to start a music therapy  program at the WISH Drop in Centre for women living on the street in Vancouver, and we have  continued to support the program through fundraising concerts and employing women from their  transition work experience program as ushers and assistants at our past concerts over the  years. Through my work with Allegra it has opened my eyes further to not only many of the  imbalances within the classical music culture and programming, but in society as well. The music industry is a microcosm of our society at large, and through Allegra’s work we strive  to bring awareness to the inequity not only on our stages, but to shed a light on the larger social  and community issues that contribute to these inequities on a larger scale. To be able to  combine my two passions – music and community change making – has been a truly rewarding  and humbling experience for me, and I have grown tremendously as a person and artist  because of it. 

SSO: You have led orchestras all over the world, performing with the likes of Mariah Carey, The  Canadian Tenors, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. What would you say to young aspiring  maestras who wish to advance their careers during this time of change and uncertainty?

Janna: I certainly put in my time exploring a wide variety of styles and experiences! I think the biggest  thing that I learned was to be open to taking on jobs that were outside my comfort zone and  current experience, and to be willing to grow, observe and learn from each of them, no matter  what genre or artist I was working with. I feel privileged to have collaborated with renowned  artists from many genres, and found something to admire and replicate within my own artistic  output from each of those experiences. Looking back I also realized that each job and  experience lead to another in some way, even if it was for a basic reason – like the fact that I  worked very hard, was prompt and pleasant to work with, etc. and the contractor would take  notice and offer me bigger and better jobs and more prominent roles in the months and years  that followed as a result. I tried to take any opportunity – no matter how big or small – with  gratitude and know that I was working my way forward and gaining more confidence and skill as  I went. No experience is ever wasted if you choose to learn and grow from it. 

SSO: Astor Piazolla was adamant in his belief that “the tango was always for the ear rather than the  feet”. How do you tap into the essence of tango music to deliver its vibrant nature authentically?

Janna: To me, his music is all about colour and various states of energy and evolution. However the  essence of the motion is internal rather than external, and his music always has a sense of  restlessness and is never fully at ease. To me, Piazzolla’s music embodies the essence and full  bodied flavour of the tango so fully, you don’t even need the dancers!

Ginastera’s Estancia

Born in Buenos Aires to an Italian mother and a father of Catalan descent, Alberto Ginastera left behind a musical legacy which rightly established him as one of the most important classical composers in the Americas during the 20th century. More than any other stylistic contribution to the wide body of modern classical music, Ginastera is remembered most fondly for his success in blending aspects of European art music and indigenous Argentinian folk music so seamlessly.

As a younger man, the renowned composer studied at the Williams Conservatory in Buenos Aires, graduating in 1938 and pursuing a professorship at the Liceo Militar General San Martin soon after. He mentored a young Astor Piazzolla in 1941, and continued to teach at his post at San Martin until 1945, when he travelled to the United States.

He remained in the United States for two years, becoming a student of Aaron Copland’s at Tanglewood before returning to his native Buenos Aires. His self-proclaimed first compositional period (termed “Objective Nationalism”) would give way to more subtle abstractions of Argentine folk themes (the beginnings of his “Subjective Nationalism” period) by 1948.

The bulk of Ginastera’s musical output owes a great deal of its folk-centered inspiration to the Gauchesco tradition, which views the wandering native horseman as the penultimate symbol of Argentinian pride and cultural perseverance. The four-dance suite created for his ballet Estancia exemplifies Ginastera’s reverence for this tradition, and is fill to bursting with thematic tributes to the gorgeous diaspora that is Argentinian folk music.

Ginastera composed Estancia in 1941, having been commissioned by the American Ballet Caravan to create a work which included spoken and sung elements. The composer produced his ballet in one act and five scenes based on Argentinian country life, but conflicts within the American Ballet Caravan delayed Estancia’s debut performance until 1952. That did not stop Ginastera from publishing his four-dance suite from Estancia in 1943, which received its first public hearing at the legendary Teatro Coloacuten in Buenos Aires.

Each of the four dances offers to the listener a poignantly unique mental picture of rural Argentinia. The first dance, “Los trabajadores agrícolas” (Agricultural Workers) depicts the passionate labouring of a vibrant group of field hands. The rhythm in this movement is relentless, slowly bringing forth a pastoral melody which carries us into the second movement: “Danza del trigo” (The Wheat Dance). The lyrical interlude of this movement develops a melody which stands in stark contrast to the energetic sophistication of “Los peones de hacienda” (The Cattle Men). This third movement enjoys an unbridled splendor of dynamic contrasts leading into Malambo, the piece’s finale, made to stand out to the listener by way of its constant 6/8 rhythm and rapid usage of eighth-notes. Malambo is titled after a dance frequently utilized by Gauchos (Argentine Cowboys) for competitive purposes.

Though Alberto Ginestra left this world far too soon (passing away at only 67 in Geneva, Switzerland), his music holds a special place in the hearts of Argentinians the world over. His musical vision ensured a continued interest in the rustic traditionalism of Argentine folk music and culture, and it is this very celebration for which we salute him. You can hear the four-dance suite from Ginastera’s Estancia performed by your very own Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra in our concert: Postcards from Buenos Aires!

Piazzolla at 100

Leonardo Suarez Paz has big plans for the world of arts and culture, and he plans to bring each of us closer to the heartbeat of our collective humanity with Piazzolla 100. An interdisciplinary performing arts project of grandiose scale, Piazzolla will celebrate the centenary of tango’s legendary composer Astor Piazzolla in 2021 by showcasing a groundbreaking Nuevo Tango style. But what is so unique about this new style of tango? For one, Nuevo Tango draws on the common roots of Tango, Jazz and Classical Music, relying on the technical developments made possible in each of these genres by the interactions of African and European cultures in the Americas. 

Young Astor Piazzolla

Astor Piazzolla was born in Argentina, but grew up in New York, and Leonardo Suarez Paz wants to honor the legacy of the revolutionary composer in the Big Apple as a testament to the complexities his musical idol and mentor brought to the genre. If not for the innovations of Piazzolla, the tango might never have been pushed to its limits to truly evolve as an art form and challenge the sociocultural constructs of Latin America as a whole.

Piazzolla at 100 is a project that thrives on its artistic and sociocultural mission: to represent the culture of Tango in all its forms of expression and to emphasize liberty as an evolving concept that was instrumental in birthing the genre of dance in the first place. The project aims to foster educational outreach through a focus on bridging the people and cultures of North and South America, while emphasizing the high quality of art which can be produced through dedicated and giving collaboration between people from all walks of life. Piazzolla at 100 strives to afford greater opportunities for different generations of artists across genres and disciplines and represents an integral effort to renew the concept of cultural unity and inclusion for the world of dance and art at large. 

Piazzolla at 100’s will take place as a Festival in 2021 in New York, and the action will be spread out over multuiple venues and with a variety of programs. These include a chamber music program, a symphonic program, art exhibits, film screenings, master classes, and so much more. This Festival to top all festivals will bring together top artists from all disciplines who “form a part of Tango culture’s renewal” and will emphasize the importance of women and their role in the evolution of Nuevo Tango post-Piazzolla. 

The festival’s Artsitic Director Leonardo Suarez Paz belongs to a long line of tango innovators and artistic creators. This legacy begins with Gabino Ezeiza, who mentored Leonardo’s father Fernando Suarez Paz (an artist instrumental in the co-creation of Nuevo Tango alongside Piazzolla). Learning all he could from both his father and Piazzolla, Leonardo formed part of the most distinguished tango orchestras in the world (those of Mariano Mores, Horacio Salgan, Atilio Stampone, Osvaldo Berlingieri and the shows Tangox2 and Perfumes de Tango). The Artistic Director of Piazzolla at 100 is referred to by many as a “virtuoso extraordinaire”, whose art transcends both culture and genre. We at the SSO are excited about so many musical projects that are taking wing in the New Year, but Piazzolla at 100 is definitely one we will be following with extra enthusiasm!