Thursday, October 29, 2009

Astor Meets Michael

The tune was familiar and was clearly written by Piazzolla but I couldn't quite identify it. And then, just after I sent a note to Pedro-with-the-golden-ears, I realized what I was hearing.

Folksmilch, the rather formal quartet in today's video is from Austria and contains four very talented and creative musicians: Christian Bakanic - accordion, Eddie Luis - contrabass, Klemens Bittmann - violin, and Gerald F. Preinfalk - clarinet. From looking at their website, I can assure you that they have an eclectic interest in music and a delightful sense of humor. From watching this video more than once, I can also assure you that they have good ears and have been listening to too much Piazzolla. They have nailed his style. If you enjoy their music, they have three CD's which you can purchase through their website.

Let's see if you can recognize this Piazzolla classic:

If the video does not appear below, click here.

Yes, it is Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. There is another Piazzolla connection here. Quincy Jones produced Michael Jackson's album, Thriller, which contained Billie Jean. Quincy Jones and Piazzolla both studied composition under Nadia Boulanger in Paris.

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Castelfidardo Competition

In 1863, Paolo Soprani founded the accordion industry in Castelfidardo, Italy. The company he founded is still building fine accordions today and Castelfidardo has become the center of the accordion universe. Every October, the International Castelfidardo Accordion Festival is held there and includes a competition focused on the performance of works by Piazzolla. Today's video of Meditango was made at the Piazzolla competition portion of the festival this year.

Meditango is one of the seven pieces composed by Piazzolla in 1974 for the commercially oriented recording, Libertango. It is the third most popular of the seven (behind Libertango and Violentango) and is a favorite of nuevo tango musicians. While there is no information about the group associated with the video, the person posting the video has confirmed to me that the performance is by the Belarus Group. I can find no information about the group on the web but I do enjoy their music. The inclusion of two tsymbaly (hammered dulcimers) makes the instrumentation and sound of the group unique. They play an interesting arrangement - more jazz than nuevo tango. To judge the arrangement, you might first want to listen to Piazzolla's original recording here. The Belarus Group captures the sense of the first portion of the work fairly well but note the contrast which starts at the transition to the second portion of the piece. In the original, this occurs at 2'50" and at about 1'55" in the Belarus Group version. From that point to the end, the original is essentially a meditative, solo lament on the bandoneon while the Belarus Group still have much to say and it is not all meditative. While perhaps not exactly parallel to the intentions of the original, the arrangement is clever and makes good use of the broad textures available from the instrumentation of the group. You can hear the Belarus Group in a second jolly piece which perhaps works even better for their unusual instrumentation.

The performance was good enough to win second prize in the Piazzolla competition. The winner of the competition was the group Club Tango - perhaps the target of a future blog.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Libertango Competition

The third International Libertango Competition was held October 9-11 this year in Lanciano, Italy. This competition which is jointly organized by Italian and Russian sponsors is not yet well known but does bring together some of the most talented young musicians from around the world to compete on the basis of their performance of Piazzolla works. This year, the third round of competition required all entrants to perform Vladimir Zubitsky's Omaggio ad Astor Piazzolla. Today's video, the first I have encountered from this year's competition, features cellist Georgy Gusev playing the Omaggio accompanied by Evgeny Gutchin on the piano. Their exceptional performance skills document the high quality of musicians the competition is attracting.

For those of you who are musicians, a most interesting feature in today's blog is that you can follow the score for the performance from this link. Through measure 275, Gusev and Gutchin are closely following the score. At measure 277, Mr. Gusev begins a credenza he created himself - a well written and performed credenza which is entirely in keeping with the character of Zubitsky's composition - and then he rejoins the score at measure 360. Unfortunately, the YouTube ten minute maximum has robbed us of the last ten measures of the piece but there is certainly enough there for us to understand why Mr. Gusev won Second Place in the competition. It will take additional video from the competition for us to understand why such a bravura performance did not win First Place. It is worth noting that the composer of the piece, Mr. Zubitsky, was a member of the Competition's jury (as was Piazzolla's widow, Laura).

If you enjoyed this performance you will enjoy the performance of Oblivion which these two musicians also performed at the Competition. A full list of winners had not yet been added to the Libertango Competition website. I will find a way to share it on this blog when it becomes available.

My thanks to Mr. Gusev for some of the information in this blog.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Monday, October 26, 2009

Richard Galliano

This blog has featured several artists who have played significant roles in spreading the music of Astor Piazzolla. We add another one today: Richard Galliano. According to the Azzi/Collier book Le Grand Tango, in the mid-70's, Piazzolla went back stage at the Olympia in Paris to congratulate a young French accordionist on his playing. That accordionist was Richard Galliano and Richard and his wife, Giselle, went on to become good friends with Piazzolla and his wife, Laura. A close friendship continued for the rest of Piazzolla's life. Galliano celebrated that relationship in his composition Laura and Astor which first appeared on his 1991 release, New Musette. The Galliano website contains an interesting photo and signed score which illustrate the closeness of the relationship.

Libertango, the composition featured in today's video was first recorded by Galliano in 1995 on the album, Laurita, and has appeared on six other of the 37 albums listed in his official discography. Sixteen of those albums contain at least one Piazzolla composition and three are devoted almost entirely to Piazzolla. One is of particular importance to collector's of Piazzolla's music and that is his 2003 tribute album, Piazzolla Forever (also available as a live performance DVD). Galliano is clearly a fan of Piazzolla and no contemporary view of Piazzolla's music is complete without consideration of Galliano's performance of the music.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Piazzolla Goes To School

Maybe more accurately, Grace Jones's version of Piazzolla's Libertango goes to school and is met by a room full of soprano recorder players and two reluctant percussionists. Today's video provides a nice example of video editing and a chance to see the next Patricio "Toribio" Rijos developing his skills on the guiro.

If you want to try this in your own classroom, a place to start is the Schott Play-Along version of Libertango or, if your school has the usual budget problems you can make your own "Play-Along" starting with this YouTube Karaoke track. Have fun.

Many thanks to the folks at Asturias based Musical Blogies for sharing this video.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Otoño Trio

Otoño Trio: a good name for a musical group; but, here, Otoño Trio refers to three YouTube videos featuring performances of Piazzolla's Otoño Porteño, the autumn portion of Piazzolla' Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. The performance which captured my attention was that of Danielle Belen and the Colburn Virtuoso String Orchestra which is staffed by students of The Colburn School in Los Angeles. Ms. Belen is a rising star in the world of violinists and winner of the 2008 Sphinx competition. She is no stranger to the music of Piazzolla - you will find her interpretation of all four movements of Histoire du tango on the Listen portion of her website - and her highly charged emotive style and mastery of technique serve her well in the music of Piazzolla. As her career develops, I hope she has the opportunity to study the music of tango in Buenos Aires so more of the soul (and rhythm) of tango will enter her playing of Piazzolla. While Belen is the star of the first video, the real story may well be the cellist, Estelle Choi. Ms. Choi is a student at Colburn and plays with extraordinary finesses and feeling - the kind of musician that brings goose bumps to the music. She takes a shy bow at the end but deserves a standing ovation for her cello solo work in this video. I have rarely heard better and hope her life unfolds in a way that we will see and hear more of her skills in the future.

Behind the Belen performance is an interesting arrangement of Otoño Porteño by Leonid Desyatnikov. The arrangement was originally created for Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica and can be heard on their CD, Eight Seasons. It is a more aggressive arrangement than the "classic" chamber orchestra arrangement of José Bragato. The tango roots are a little more difficult to find and the dissonances a little more prominent than in Bragato's version. Yet, it is clearly based on Bragato. You can hear the Bragato arrangement in the second video of the trio below as performed by the Orquestra Ouro Preto. Bragato, a noted composer, cellist and member of several Piazzolla ensembles, was the trusted arranger, copyist and archivist of Piazzolla's works. His importance to the classical music world's view of Piazzolla cannot be underestimated and I suspect that there is a goldmine of future academic work to be found in the relationship between Bragato and Piazzolla. The cello solo found roughly 1'15" into the Belen performance is a derivative of the cello solo written by Bragato and found 1'00" into the Ouro Preto performance which is, further, a derivative of the bandoneon solo originally written and performed (entirely with the left hand) by Piazzolla with his quintet.

The third video of the trio is an original Piazzolla performance of Otoño Porteño filmed at the 1984 Montreal Jazz Festival. While this is a jazz tinged version, it is close to the famed 1970 performance by Piazzolla at the Regina Theater (available now in the reissue CD, En Vivo En El Regina). You will find the foundation for that cello solo at 1'05" into the video. A second point of interesting comparison is the violin solo played by Fernando Suarez Paz at 3'15" into the original Piazzolla video, this solo is carried essentially unchanged into the Bragato version at 2'55" into the video but it becomes a dramatic (and well executed) credenza in the Belen version at 4'30" into the video.

Together, these make an interesting trio. Piazzolla's music will live because the fundamental structures found in his quintet work are so strong they can survive and thrive even through the multiple reinterpretations illustrated by this trio. All three make wonderful listening experiences although I lament the slow fading of Piazzolla as we progress towards Belen.

My thanks to Ms. Belen for some of the information in this blog.

If the videos do not appear below, click here for Belen and here for Bragato and here for Piazzolla original.

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bandoneón on the Mandolin

Rarely have I come across a piece which I enjoyed so much but understood so little as that in today's video of Bandoneón played by Joseph Brent on the mandolin, Ken Robinson on the clarinet and Eddy Khaimovich on contrabass. Bandoneón is the first movement of Suite Troileana composed in 1975 to honor Piazzolla's friend and mentor, Anibal Troilo. Piazzolla recorded it the same year on the LP, Lumiere, and it is available today on increasingly difficult to find reissue, Piazzollissimo. It is an interesting piece with lots of contrast - going from a light milonga to a Brubeckesque jazz interlude to a sober reminiscence.

Brent and his fellow musicians have not taken the easy road and "simply" arranged the piece for their particular set of instruments. They have deconstructed it and reassembled some of the parts to create a piece which has the title Bandoneón and shares (now and then) the primary theme, which you will hear mostly from Robinson's clarinet, but otherwise represents a new and totally enjoyable piece of music. The piece opens with a baroque inspired credenza on the mandolin, followed by some mellow work on the clarinet and then all of a sudden dawg music breaks out and they totally swing only to bring it back to earth with a sober ending - paralleling but not duplicating Piazzolla's own closing of the piece. The quality of the video is bad - you can't even tell what kind of mandolin Brent is playing (although I would hazard a guess that is Pähkinä built by Brian Dean) - and the sound shows what can happen when you have a single, narrow band microphone and mismatched instrument volumes.

I hesitate to single out a single musician in this trio, they all fill their role perfectly, but Brent stands out as the virtuoso of the group. Joseph Brent is no stranger to Piazzolla's music: his first solo CD, Point of Departure, contains three Piazzolla tracks from the Histoire du tango series. He is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music and currently on the faculty of Mannes College. There has probably never been a mandolin player with better technical skills and he matches that with an enthusiasm for every imaginable role a mandolin can fulfill from classical to Broadway to bluegrass to jazz. The easiest place to observe his artistry is on his YouTube channel although, being a victim of luthier envy, my favorite video is this one which comes from the YouTube channel of the builder of Pähkinä.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ferrara Buskers Festival

Since 1987, the city of Ferrara, Italy has hosted the week long International Festival of Street Musicians - better known as the Buskers Festival. The Festival is the largest buskers festival in the world, drawing an estimated 800,000 people this year. There are Invited Buskers, Accredited Buskers and, I suspect, Buskers that just show up. This is the second year that the Argentine group Violentango has made the trip to Ferrara to appear as Invited Buskers - a tribute to the excitement these street musicians generate. In today's video, Violentango performs their infectious version of Libertango.

Members of Violentango include Juan Manuel Lopez and Andrès Ortega - guitar, Adrián Ruggiero - bandoneon, Santiago Córdoba - percussion, and Ricardo Jusid, bass. They have a great jazz-tango sound which they apply not only to nuevo tango but also to traditional tango. While comfortable on the street, these are working musicians also comfortable in clubs, on theater stages and in recording studios - they have released three records (reportedly selling 17,000 copies of their recording Buenos Aires 3A.M. entirely on the street). They are also composers and arrangers - note they way they work in a dozen or so bars of Violentango at the end of Libertango. I don't know if this is a "trademark" move to salute their name or just something special for this performance but it works and it's clever.

You can listen to more of their music on their MySpace page and become a fan on their Facebook site.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nuevo Tango Ensamble

I first learned of the Nuevo Tango Ensamble through the Forum. Their 2005 album, A Night in Vienna, made quite a positive impression on readers of the forum - and that forum is populated by knowledgeable people dedicated to the authentic sound of Piazzolla's music. I am never quite sure just exactly where authentic canyengue swing starts but if it is not in today's video of La muerte del angel, surely it is getting close. The arrangements created by Nuevo Tango Ensamble do an amazing job of capturing the essence of Piazzolla's music in spite of missing the violin and electric guitar that were always present in most of the music's original form.

But it is not just the arrangements. These musicians are extremely good at what they do. The group includes Gianni Iorio on bandoneón, Pasquale Stafano on piano, and Alessandro Terlizzi on bass. Iorio and Stafano are founding members of the group. The group appears to employ a variety of bass players. Torindo Colangione played bass on their first album, Astor's Mood but Terlizzi joined them in time for their second and third album. Curiously, there is a third bass player, Francesco Angiuli, on the current personnel list posted on their website.

The bandoneónist, Iorio, appears to be channeling Piazzolla himself as he plays in this video. He is astonishingly good but what is even more remarkable is that he is a conservatory trained classical pianist, with many awards to his name as a classical pianist, who played a little jazz accordion on the side and then in 2004 took up the bandoneón. It hardly seems possible to learn to play so well, so fast. The man has a gift. Both Stafano and Iorio also compose in the nuevo tango mode and their third album, Tango Mediterraneo, released in 2008, contains their work as well as a little Piazzolla. You can find more videos of their music on their YouTube channel.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

La Camorra - YouTube Premiere

La Camorra is the finale for Piazzolla's quintet music. Most of the jewels crafted by Piazzolla were for his preferred quintet format: bandoneón, violin, electric guitar, piano and contrabass. Almost all of the Piazzolla works we enjoy on YouTube, whether heard in classical, jazz, pop or nuevo tango format, began life in such a quintet. La Camorra was the last piece he wrote for quintet. It is an important work reflecting both the history of tango and Piazzolla's contributions to the language of nuevo tango. It has three movements. You will see part of the first movement in today's video. I am convinced that it is one of his most important works and somewhat mystified by it's total absence in the repertoire of the 21st century musical world. It certainly deserves more attention than it has received to-date.

The performance in today's video is, unfortunately, but a fragment. It is a performance of La Camorra I, but the first two and a half minutes are missing and the last two minutes are missing. It is, nevertheless, the first and only performance of any portion of La Camorra on YouTube and is a very important contribution. The musicians look familiar - I believe they are part of the Novosibirsk Pops whose performance of Milonga for three was featured in this blog in late August. They call themselves Ensemble Expressione and they are Roman Chubich - violin, Pavel Dashkin - cello, Mikhail Peresipkin - accordion, and Vasily Mironov - piano. The performance is spirited and enjoyable. There are places where I think they missed an opportunity to kindle more memories of traditional tango but, overall, I salute the musicians and cheer them for their performance. You may note the vocalization at roughly one and a half minutes into the video - they aren't making that up, it is in Piazzolla's original recording of La Camorra and presumably in the score (this may be a singularity in Piazzolla's music). I don't think the music fall at three and a half minutes is in the score but it was handled with good humor.

The world needs more La Camorra (the music, that is, not the quarrels) but this is a start. If the Ensemble Expressione have videoed more of La Camorra, I urge them to share it on YouTube.

You will note the aspect ratio of the video has a problem - try to ignore that and focus on the music.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Friday, October 16, 2009

Libertango - A Mechanical Version

The machine makes the music. And the machine is an Orchestrion, in this case it is specifically De Schuyt. De Schuyt began life in 1913 as an 86-key automated dance organ built by Theophile Mortier in Antwerp, Belgium (the number of keys corresponds to the number of pins in the mechanical action in the device). Some of his instruments were nearly 15 meters long and 10 meters high but De Schuyt looks smaller than that to me. De Schuyt was acquired in 1931 by a German, Carl Frei, who learned the orchestrion trade from Mortier, and Frei converted it into the 105-key fairground organ you see and hear in today's video. It is one of the largest fairground organ that Frei built (his largest had 112 keys). The front you see today is not the original - it was created in 1971. De Schuyt is in a museum in Utrecht, Nationaal Museum van Speelklok tot Pierement, which looks like the kind of place I could enjoy for hours.

An Orchestrion or Pierement, as De Schuyt would be called in Utrecht, can be programmed via holes in paper, or holes in "chains" of cardboard cards, or bits from a computer to play any song imaginable. And someone has imagined Libertango for us. The arrangement sounds suspiciously like the one used by the female string quartet, Bond, but it does show off well the percussion and multi-ranks of pipes in De Schuyt.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Libertango - Al Di Meola

Al Di Meola on Piazzolla: "He had a way to make very intricate, very interesting music, very interesting, but also to make you cry, and that is the highest compliment that you can give to a musician."

This quote, from the artist featured in today's video, introduces Chapter Nine of the Azzi/Collier book, Le Grand Tango. Al DiMeola is one of the best jazz guitarists in the world today and, clearly, a Piazzolla fan. His style - fast, smooth and intricate - and even the timbre of his guitar is instantly recognizable. And, it is captured well in today's video of Libertango.

Di Meola first met Piazzolla in 1986 at a jazz festival in Japan and there were plans to collaborate which unfortunately were never fulfilled. In 1996, Di Meola recorded a full album of Piazzolla's music, Di Meola Plays Piazzolla, which should be on the list of every collector of Piazzolla's music. It includes Di Meola's version of Tango Suite interpreted from a score sent by Piazzolla himself to Di Meola.

Today's video is not new. It has been posted previously on YouTube although a version was posted today which triggered this blog. The video is from a live performance at the Scara in Ludwigsburg, Germany on May 17, 2004. The other musicians are Mario Parmisano - piano, Ernie Adams - drum set, and Gumbi Ortiz - congas. Parmisano is, incidentally, an extraordinary interpreter of Piazzolla music in his own right.

I'll close with another quote from Di Meola found on his website: "Piazzolla had a profound effect on my development as a musician and as a person. We became close friends often communicating by mail, which later during the course of this my admiration and desire to learn more about this great man intensified."

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Friday, October 9, 2009

September Review of Piazzolla Videos

There were 477 videos of Piazzolla’s music posted on YouTube in the month of September, 2009. 344 (72%) of the videos were performance videos featuring live performances. The others were videos which used Piazzolla’s music as a sound track for photo or video montages.

Forty-two percent of the performance videos were in the classical mode, 27% in Nuevo tango, 18% in pop and 13% in jazz.

Here are the most frequently performed pieces this month (Libertango was the most frequently played – 29% of the total; the others follow in order):

1. Libertango
2. Oblivion
3. Adios Nonino
4. Verano Porteño
5. Invierno Porteño
6. La muerte del ángel
7. Milonga del ángel
8. Histoire du tango – Bordel 1900
9. Balada para un loco
10. Histoire du tango – Café 1930

The top three on this list seem to be fairly stable month-to-month but the bottom seven change every month.

The performance videos came from 39 different countries. Italy posted the most videos: 59. The top ten posting countries are listed in order here:

1. Italy
2. Argentina
3. USA
4. Brazil
5. France
6. Spain
7. Japan
8. Russia
9. Germany
10. Switzerland

There were twelve video originals by Piazzolla posted – all but one had been previously posted. The new video was of Milva singing Rinascerò with the Piazzolla quintet in the Verona coliseum. It was unfortunately removed from the site by YouTube and the poster’s account was canceled.

Quality of performance varied from excellent to bizarre. There were a number of very good performances this month but one that stayed with me was the trio performance of Street Tango by Pablo Zinger, Jose Franch-Ballester and Young Song. It was my choice for best of the month.

The choice for most bizarre this month was more difficult. It came to a choice between a video of dancers on stilts, a man smoking a pipe to the tune of Balada para un loco, and a boogie woogie version of La Calle 92. I gave the award to the video of Libertango on stilts.

I have posted a table with links to all 477 videos as well as some more information on the videos on the September link in my Piazzolla on Video website.

The Rondalla Equation

One guitar + one mandolin = one bandurria. That is the rondalla equation. At least it is if you are counting strings. The bandurria has 14 strings and is the instrument that perhaps most defines the Philippine instrumental ensemble known as a rondalla. Two other instruments in the rondalla have fourteen strings - the laud and the octavina. All three are played with turtle shell picks. Add a guitar and a contrabass and you have the makings of a rondalla. While usually encountered playing traditional Filipino music, almost every imaginable piece, including today's video of Libertango, has been covered by a rondalla somewhere.

The rondalla in today's video is the Philippine Chamber Rondalla of NJ. The arrangement of Libertango is usual and quite entertaining as one might expect upon learning that the arrangement was done by one of the most famous contemporary composers from the Phillipines, Bayani de Leon. The leader of the New Jersey rondalla is Maria Leonor Llorin Paliguin - one of the most important rondalla figure in the United States. Ms. Plaiguin also conducts the University of the Philippines Alumni and Friends Rondalla (UPAFR) which has spread the sound of the rondalla across the world from Portugal to Cuba to the halls of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. In a little more than a week (October 17), UPAFR will appear in Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center in NYC. I think it is safe to assume that many of the musicians in the New Jersey Rondalla are also members of UPAFR.

If you enjoy the sound of the rondalla, you can find more on YouTube including this performance of the traditional Silayan by the UPAFR or buy their CD.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Invierno Porteño - KU Classic Guitar Club

This is one of the larger and more disciplined guitar consorts I have seen. It is not an easy task for a group this large to play together without the sharp edge of attack being lost to hundreds of fingers moving not quite together. The group, all members of the Korea University Classic Guitar Club, shows discipline and great attention to their director in this performance of Invierno Porteño, the winter portion of Piazzolla's four seasons. The result provides very good listening. There are some other very good performances of Piazzolla by members of this club: a fun jazz trio version of Libertango and an impeccable classical version of Café 1930 for guitar and flute as originally scored by Piazzolla.

There are some very talented musicians in this club. Interestingly, as far as I can tell, Korea University does not have a school of music so these are students studying science, engineering or liberal arts - not music. Their talents are a tribute to the value for music instilled by families in Korea.

A thank you to the Conductor, 박승호, and to all 26 of the students for the beautiful music.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Maria de Buenos Aires - Vicenza, Italy

With one caveat, the production of Maria de Buenos Aires captured in part in today's video is truly exceptional. Maria de Buenos Aires was always described as an "operita" - a little opera, but when first produced it was more of an oratorio. Staging was minimal and parts were sung without the insertion of dramatic movement. Others have taken the opposite approach and delivered elaborate productions worthy of the title, "opera" with fancy orchestration and a coloratura soprano in the lead. The production in today's video is closer to the latter than the former but has retained considerable authenticity in the music. What is available on YouTube is unusual in its completeness. You can view the entire operita in a series of 14 high quality videos. If you have always been curious about Maria de Buenos Aires, here is a chance to see a quality production of the whole thing.

There is a bandoneonist on the stage, Massimiliano Pitocco, and an orchestra in the pit led by musical director, Marco Tezza. Their work is superb - they capture the nuevo tango sensibility and have respected Piazzolla's original score. The role of El Duende is played with just the right sense of gravitas and foreboding by Piergiorgio Piccoli. He is a worthy replacement for Horacio Ferrer who not only wrote the libretto but starred as El Duende in the original production (and in many productions since). The male vocal lead (he covers several parts) is Ruben Peloni and he is excellent. And then the caveat: the role of Maria is not well sung or played by Victoria Lyamina. In another context, Ms. Lyamina may be excellent but she shows no understanding of the role or of the music in this production. You will not see Ms. Lyamina in the video below - you need to go all the way to the fourth of the fourteen videos which complete the series to see her. The dancing almost merits a second caveat: it is full of drama and may not be to your taste - it reminds me of soap operas I have seen on Italian television - but it is interesting.

If you enjoy this first video, you can find the other thirteen on this YouTube channel.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gracias a La Vida

Another chapter in Argentine music closed on Monday when Mercedes Sosa was buried. Thousands joined the funeral procession to La Chacarita cemetery - the same cemetary that contains the grave of Carlos Gardel. Like Piazzolla and Gardel, Ms. Sosa transcended Argentina and became famous all over the world. Piazzolla certainly knew her music. Natalio Gorin quotes Piazzolla in his book, Astor Piazzolla: A Memoir, "In the past twenty years two artists have represented Argentine music around the world: Astor Piazzolla and Mercedes Sosa. The truth is in the bins at the record stores." But to my knowledge, their paths never crossed other than in those record bins. Sosa singing Piazzolla would be appropriate for today, but if it exists, I can't find it (oops, see note below). As a more than suitable replacement, we will feature what is perhaps Ms. Sosa's most famous song - Gracias a la vida - "Thanks to life."

Note: An alert reader has noted that Ms. Sosa did perform Vuelvo al sur. You can see a recent version here and an early version here. Thanks, Pedro.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Jazz Meets Classical

A problem with the audio/video sync is not enough to sink this most enjoyable performance of Nightclub 1960 by Andrea Candeli and Alessio Menconi. Candeli is one of the best young classical guitarist in Italy and Menconi matches him as the best young jazz guitarists in Italy. Both have toured extensively and have ten CD's between them, although they have never recorded together. That needs to change.

Nightclub 1960 is the third movement of the Histoire du tango series which Piazzolla wrote for flute and guitar. Candeli, the classical guitarist, plays the part for guitar as scored by Piazzolla. Menconi, the jazz guitarist, plays the flute part - it's all there but so are some smooth jazz riffs, always in keeping with the spirit of the composition. I have heard many different combinations of instruments used in the Histoire series but this is the first classical guitar/steel string, amplified guitar duo I have ever heard. It is an imaginative combination and in the hands of these two fine musicians, it is very fine listening.

I hope someday they will video a similar performance and have better luck with the audio/video synchronization. And as long as they are together, how about a full album of Piazzolla? They do have a joint MySpace page, so perhaps plans are being made.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It's Not An Accordion

Today's video contains one of the best piano arrangements of Milonga del angel that I have heard. It is an original arrangement by Prof. John Mortensen of Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. Admirably, Mortensen started with the original quintet score and worked to capture all five parts in his arrangement. No one can replace ten hands with two, but a careful listen can find elements from all five parts in his work. I find his arrangement of the last section of the piece particularly appealing although I believe Piazzolla usually left the last note of that final arpeggio unspoken, creating an angelic void which Mortensen filled.

Mortensen's comments in the opening of the video are best enjoyed with the use of the fast forward button. Mortensen describes a milonga as a slow tango. Tango dancers would state the opposite - it is a happy, light and usually fast tango (example here). Piazzolla may have had the other meaning of the word - a gathering to dance - in choosing the title. Mortensen also says that Piazzolla played the accordion. It's not an accordion, it's a bandoneón. I suspect this was either fleeting aphasia or a simplifying statement so he could get to the piano and play because I am reasonably sure that any musician who plays the Irish accordion (as Mortensen apparently does) knows the difference between that instrument and the Anglo concertina and it's big brother, the bandoneón. I'll give him a pass on that, but the gelato analogy? Hmmm..

After watching Mortensen's performance you might want to judge his success in covering all five parts by watching this video of Piazzolla and his quintet performing Milonga del angel.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Friday, October 2, 2009

Piazzolla in India

If you closed your eyes, you might think you were in a small jazz club on the lower east side of Manhattan. You would be wrong, because in today's video, you are actually in Arjun Sagar Gupta's living room in Delhi. This is the first Piazzolla performance video posted on YouTube from India in 2009 - perhaps the first ever.

The group is known as The Variety Hour and from an article in India Today, I learned that Gupta is on piano, Sahil Warsi is on bass and Nikhil Vasudevan is on drums. All three are trained musicians although all have "day jobs." Gupta is a business man (a successful business man from the appearance of his gear) working to bring green technology to India, Vasudevan is a copywriter at Studio 4-D; and Warsi is pursuing a Master’s in Philosophy at Delhi University. I would not claim that their playing is exceptional but it is certainly acceptable and they have done their homework on jazz basics and on Piazzolla's greatest hit, Libertango. The Variety Hour appears every Sunday at The Park Hotel at Connaught Place so if you are Delhi on Sunday, stop by and request a little Piazzolla from the band.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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

Zoom Zoom

Zoom Zoom - may bring to mind Mazda automotive advertisements but more importantly, they are the words that Néstor Zadoff chose to open his vocal arrangement of Piazzolla's Buenos Aires Hora Cero that is in today's featured video. Dr. Zadoff is Argentina's leading choral scholar and conductor. He recently won the Konex Award as choral conductor of the decade. He is also the arranger of many choral works including vocal arrangements of more than a dozen Piazzolla compositions that are widely used in the global choral community. Most of these are available from Ediciones GCC or Editions A Coeur Joie. Buenos Aires Hora Cero is an angular work said to describe that instant at midnight when time is neither yesterday or today. It is not a work which naturally lends itself to a vocal arrangement but Zadoff has found a way to do it that works extremely well.

The performance in today's video is by Vocal 7 led by Susana Diaz. This group was assembled about 12 years ago from a high school choir led by Ms. Diaz. They continued to sing together during and even after the singers went to Universidad Adventista del Plata in Liberador San Martin. Today, the group is dispersed around the globe but still remain friends and sing together when they can. Three of the singers are daughters of Ms. Diaz. Vocal 7 have a number of videos on YouTube which can be found at Juan Freichel's channel. The group is well rehearsed, on pitch and blend very well - no voice stands out, which is goal many A Capella groups fail to achieve. Today's video was made approximately two years ago. The group has sung some other Zadoff arrangements of Piazzolla's music but unfortunately, no video exists. My thanks go to Mr. Freichel for this information about Vocal 7.

As a side story, perhaps of interest only to chemistry geeks like me, the town of Liberador San Martin was known as Puiggari from 1917 to 1950 - named after the father of Argentine Chemistry, Dr. Miguel Puiggari.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

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