Friday, September 25, 2009

Look Ma - One Hand

Now if the flautist had played his half of the duet with one hand or the pianist had used his free right hand to eat a burrito, today's first video would be impressive.

The video captures a fragment of Concert d'aujourd'hui, the fourth section of Histoire du Tango. It is the section of the Histoire which represents nuevo tango and it is seldom played. This year on YouTube, there have been 58 performances of Bordel 1900, 75 of Cafe 1930, 53 of Nightclub 1960 and only 12 performances of Concert d'aujourd'hui. A remarkable difference certainly not driven by economics since a purchased or rented score to Histoire du tango contains all four. Why isn't it played more often? I have asked several of the groups who have posted the first three but not D'aujourd'hui. The answers deserve more academic study but a common thread is the thought that "our audience will not enjoy it." I think if you asked the performers, "Why do you believe the audience will not enjoy it?", the honest answer would be "because we don't understand it and don't enjoy playing it." Without exception, the people playing the Histoire are classically trained musicians. The first three of the Histoire can be successfully enjoyed using the usual toolbox of the classical musician. The fourth, D'aujourd'hui, cannot. It is "classical" Piazzolla nuevo tango and without an understanding of the tango roots and gestures in the music, it cannot be rendered in a way that is intelligible to those playing or listening.

There are, however, those classically trained musicians who take the trouble to study and understand the music of tango. One of those is Tim Ribchester, the pianist in today's second video - a very successful version of Concert D'aujourd'hui. The Histoire series was originally composed as a duet for flute and guitar. Talented young violinist, Caeli Smith, covers the flute part here and Ribchester performs his own arrangement of the guitar part on piano. The performances are technically without flaw but that is not the secret of success of this performance. Listen carefully to the piano half of the duet and pay attention to the flow and pattern of the accents in the rhythm. Listen to the way the accents on the violin interact with those on the piano. Piazzolla's tango is captured there and, I believe, that is the secret of success of this performance.

The Smith/Ribchester version is the most highly viewed performance of Concert d'aujourd'hui on YouTube. That is because it is the best - nothing else comes close.

If the video does not appear below, click here to view the one-handed performance and here to view the best performance.

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.

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