Friday, July 8, 2011

Adios Nonino in Kansas City

There is much to admire about Elizabeth Suh Lane. She is a world class violinist who, inspired by the sounds of Bach in New York City, returned to her home in Kansas City, Missouri to found the Bach Aria Soloists in 1999. That group has thrived and become the center of chamber music in the city. But Ms. Lane's interests are much broader than just chamber music. Under the sponsorship of the Bach Aria Soloists she has expanded their concert series to include notable jazz artists and in February of this year, a Night of Tango with a focus on the music of Astor Piazzolla. Today's featured video of Adios Nonino comes from that concert.

Ms. Lane imported two of the best tango musicians in New York City for the evening - Gustavo Casenave on piano and Hector Del Curto on bandoneón. To her violin, she added two Kansas City musicians, Beau Bledsoe on guitar and Jeff Harshbarger on contra-bass, to form a classic Piazzolla quintet. The night included eight Piazzolla works for quintet and you can see them all on Beau Bledsoe's YouTube channel. Their sound is authentic. I believe they are playing directly from Piazzolla's quintet arrangements and they play them well. The people of Kansas City had a treat rarely available in the United States - Piazzolla's quintet music performed in an authentic manner.

Much of the credit for the success of the night must go to Del Curto and his bandoneón. Del Curto is not as flashy as some young bandoneónist but his playing is sensitive, fluid and nuanced in a manner which suggests he has put time into listening to Piazzolla's bandoneón. In addition, he surely benefits genetically from a grandfather and great-grandfather who were famous bandoneónists in Buenos Aires. He is almost certainly the best bandoneónist in the United States today and arguably one of the best in the world. But the reason I chose the video of Adios Nonino was not because of the bandoneón. It was because of the piano work of Casenave.

Gustavo Casenave was born in Uruquay, which shares claim with Buenos Aires as the birthplace of tango. His canyengue is the result of birth and nurture. He also studied jazz at Berklee College of Music and has played with some of the best tango ensembles and best jazz ensembles in the world. You can see all that background and experience come together in the piano cadenza he created to open Adios Nonino. Starting Adios Nonino with a piano cadenza is a tradition started by Piazzolla who wrote at least three such cadenzas - all of them stand on their own as piano compositions and are played on stage as such. An in-demand tango pianist like Casenave must have many chances to polish such an opening cadenza which made it very surprising to me to find this video of a concert less than six months before Kansas City where Casenave plays an equally long, equally complex cadenza and it is almost completely different. I could be wrong but I suspect that Casenave, consummate jazz artist that he is, creates the cadenza anew at every concert - no doubt preserving some of the best from concerts past but always adding something new to keep it fresh. I counted a dozen musical ideas in his cadenza and with the exception of the rocking octaves and rapidly repetitive chords that run from 3'20" to 4'25", they all worked. I do sincerely hope that the section from 4'00" to 4'25" will be viewed as an interesting but failed experiment. That moment aside, it is Casenave's cadenza which elevates this performance of Adios Nonino above most others.

While I am complaining, there is one other problem in the performance and that is the stage set-up which relegated the guitarist to a spot hidden, at least to the camera, behind Ms. Lane and her violin. Piazzolla always wrote for the guitar as a full voice in his quintet and the instrument deserves a seat in the front row. Piazzolla normally placed the guitarist to the stage right of the pianist and Ms. Lane should have done so here. The guitar is also too low in the sound mix. When I could hear him, it was apparent that Mr. Bledsoe was doing an excellent job but few could see or hear him.

This is a concert I would have thoroughly enjoyed. I encourage you to watch some of the other videos from the concert but if you can only watch one other, watch Escualo. Ms. Lane's violin work on this difficult work is superb.

If the video of Adios Nonino does not appear below, click here.

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

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  1. I came across your blog and really enjoy reading your posts. I added your blog to my blogroll too. Please read my blog on "Travel Music" where I have created place to share stories about journeys that inspire music & music that requires space (

  2. Thank you, Don, for this great commentary! The Bach Aria Soloists with Hector Del Curto will be performing A Night of Tango again on April 27 at the magnificent Kauffman Center. I hope you will be interested enough to blog about it before the big event!
    We appreciate you very much!

    Elizabeth Suh Lane
    Artistic Director-Founder
    Bach Aria Soloists