Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Retrato de Milton - Novjaro Quintet

It is difficult to imagine a connection between the shores of the Rio Plata, birthplace of the tango and of Astor Piazzolla, and the shores of a remote archipelago on the southern coast of Finland; but, for a day in July of this year, the Novjaro Quintet provided that connection with a concert of twelve Piazzolla compositions at the city hall of Hanko, Finland. Today's featured video of a performance of Retrato de Milton is from that concert.

Finnish tango is very interesting and has its own blog. But while Finnish tango may belong to the same genus as Argentine tango, it is a different species and the music of Piazzolla plays almost no part in Finnish tango. In the ten years of the existence of the Finnish tango blog, there is only one reference to Piazzolla. So it is surprising to find not one but two active quintets devoted to the music of Piazzolla in Finland, and perhaps there are even more yet to be discovered on YouTube. One of the most accurate reproducers of the Piazzolla quintet sound in the world is the Finnish group, Tanguedia. Today's featured group, Novjaro Quintet, does not have the authentic Piazzolla timbre of Tanguedia (an electric guitar and more use of the bandoneón would change that), but they provide a detailed, nuanced and musically compelling interpretation of Piazzolla.

Novjaro began in 1997, when students at the Sibelius Academy met to play Piazzolla together. In the year 2000, they won the Piazzolla Award in Castelfidardo, Italy. Violinist, Noa Nakai, and contrabass player, Julius Pyrhönen, are the only current members who were part of the original Novjaro. All the current members are superb musicians but Nakai's violin work in the featured video and in the video of Mumuki must be singled out and recognized as sublime. His sound is very close to that of Antonio Agri, violinist in Piazzolla's first quintet.

You can find all twelve performances from the July, Hanko concert on the Novjaro YouTube Channel. I chose to feature Retrato de Milton for two reasons: one, it is rarely heard and, two, it is the only one of the twelve to use bandoneón rather than accordion. I applaud Veli Kujala for his use of bandoneón in spite of his obvious lack of comfort on the instrument - I hope he will continue to work and play it more in the future. In 1969, Piazzolla composed Retrato de mi mismo which translates roughly as "Portrait of myself." In 1972, he met a young Brazilian musician and composer, Milton Nascimento, who so impressed him that when he rewrote Retrato de mi mismo into a more complex form, he retitled it as Retrato de Milton. There is perhaps a symbolic significance of Piazzolla recognizing himself in the young composer, Milton Nascimento, and converting his self-portrait into a portrait of Milton. Piazzolla recorded the work only once, in a July, 1973,live concert at the Teatro Odeón in Buenos Aires which can be heard on the readily available CD, Muerte del Angel.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

Note added 12 October, 2011: Noa Nakai was kind enough to provide me a list of additional Piazzolla bands in Finland. They include Otra Vez, In Time Quintet, Quinteto Fuego, Tango for Four and Tangueros Polares. It is not clear how many of these are still active bands.

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

Follow Piazzolla on Video on Twitter.


  1. In fact, "Retrato de Milton" was recorded more than once: the piece "Luna" that appears in some of the Sextet rerdings is clarely an arrangement of the Retrato.

    Muchas Gracias, you in this blog make a beautiful work!

  2. P.S.: And from what I remenber, in the Lausanne Concert, the piece is named "Operación Tango".