Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Libertango - Yo-Yo Ma and Friends

It is the most watched performance of a Piazzolla work on YouTube: Libertango performed by Yo-Yo Ma and Friends. The video first appeared on April 27, 2006, posted by darkcurita but it is essentially the same video, posted on August 14, 2006, by BambaMaker, that has received the most views - more than 6.7 million to-date.  Many others have since posted a copy of the same video - I estimate that there have been more than 150 copies of the video posted on YouTube (the estimate is based on an actual count of 26 postings over 2009 and 2010) and with those copies included, it has probably been viewed nearly nine million times.

The video originated as part of a full hour broadcast by America's PBS network of the series, Sessions at West 54th, on October 25, 1997.  The appearance of Yo-Yo Ma on this program was part of the publicity campaign for his CD, Soul of the Tango, which was issued that same month and later went on to win a Grammy as Best Classical Crossover Album. The posted videos apparently all result from a Korean DVD or rebroadcast of that program. A video of the performance is also available on a commercial DVD, The Best of Sessions at West 54th, Vol. 1.

Libertango was composed in 1974 as part of a set of short tunes aimed at capturing radio play.  The song almost immediately became popular and has remained so for nearly forty years. It has become a standard. During a detailed study of Piazzolla performances posted on YouTube during 2009 and 2010, it was found that 30% were performances of Libertango.  It is, by far, the most frequently performed Piazzolla work. There are hundreds of arrangements for almost any imagined combination of instruments.  The arrangement for the Soul of the Tango recording, which is the same as used in the video, was created specifically for Yo-Yo Ma by the famed Argentine composer/arranger/producer Jorge Calandrelli.  The initial recording for the CD was made in May, 1997 in Buenos Aires.  Yo-Yo Ma was joined for that recording by three members of Piazzolla's quintets: Antonio Agri on violin, Horacio Malvicino on guitar and Hector Console on bass along with Néstor Marconi on bandoneon and Leonardo Marconi on piano. Rather than fly all these musicians from Argentina to New York City for the PBS video, the producers brought only Nestor Marconi and hired Pablo Aslan,  a young bassist and leader of the New York Buenos Aires Connection band, to provide the other musicians. Aslan added musicians he was working with at the time: Claudio Ragazzi on guitar, Jacqui Carrasco on violin, and Ethan Iverson on piano.  Those four plus Nestor Marconi and Yo-Yo Ma are the musicians seen in the video. No doubt, to be able to play with Yo-Yo Ma was a career high for Aslan and his three young friends. In addition to appearing in the video performance, Aslan also toured the U.S. and Japan with Yo-Yo Ma performing music from the Soul of the Tango recording.

The video deserves the large viewership - the arrangement makes the most of the limited musical vocabulary of the composition. The musicians play with precision and sensitivity to each other. Yo-Yo Ma, as always, brings an immense amount of musicality and emotion to his performance. There are some performance differences between the video performance and the performance recorded in the CD.  In the CD, Agri includes some of his trademark lija (the scratching sounds which are made by bowing the D string behind the bridge) - those percussive sounds are missing in the video performance.  The short, staccato bridge that occurs at about 1'45" in the video is more accented  in the video than in the CD, making it more of a separation than a link. At about 2'10" in the video, Marconi adds, to good effect, some syncopated notes that are absent in the CD.  A guitar counter-melody, perhaps improvised by Malvicino, starts at around 2'15" in the CD and is totally absent in the video - I miss it.  And the most noticeable difference is the ending - the CD just fades out while the video ends abruptly with a full stop at the end of a phrase.  I find the video ending much more effective.  If I could retain only one video of Libertango in my collection, it would be this one - even in preference to the video that Piazzolla himself made.

My thanks to Pablo Aslan for the information he provided identifying the musicians in the video.

If the video does not appear below, click here.

While this blog was created to focus on newly available Piazzolla Performance videos, I have chosen to review this classic video in celebration of my 500th posting to this blog. 

To learn more about Piazzolla videos, visit the Piazzolla Video site.
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  1. Thank you so much!!!

  2. This is an amazingly informative review. I think the Bandoneon at around 1.35 is truly outstanding. The video, shows Professional music, and yet you feel as if they are just a bunch of friends whipping their instruments out to have some fun.
    This video always cheers me up, no matter how my day has been..