To many, tango is the dance music readily associated with Argentina, even though it roots extend around the world. To more casually familiar American audiences, it can be a brand of artistic expression that plays out anywhere from ballrooms to movie screens. To modernists, open to the stylistic possibilities of the music, it is a sound the late Astor Piazzolla blended with classical and jazz inspirations to create the controversial “nuevo tango” music.
Where it has roamed, though, Hector Del Curto has followed. He performed traditional tango in his youth in the orchestra of famed Argentinean composer Osvaldo Pugliese, explored the renegade Piazzolla sound with his own Revolucionario ensemble and won a Grammy Award earlier this year with the trio of Pablo Ziegler, Piazzolla’s final touring pianist, for the album “Jazz Tango.”
Though the Buenos Aires-born bandleader, educator and player of the bandoneon (the concertina-like instrument also favored by Piazzolla) has resided in New York for over two decades, he sees the music so often associated with his homeland in especially fine favor with American audiences. That might explain his return engagement with the Lexington Philharmonic on New Year’s Eve as part of its “Tango Caliente!” program.
“I have an idea about audiences,” Del Curto said last week by phone from New York. “Audiences like music or they don’t like music, and that’s what I go for. But you have to think that there are a lot of people that know about tango for two different reasons. One is Astor Piazzolla. The other is the dance. In every corner of the United States and all over the world, we have communities that come to dance tango socially, so there is knowledge of this music, a connection. Tango was born internationally, even though we say it is Argentinean. We may have raised tango, but tango was born all around the world. In Europe, everybody has their own kind of tango. Even in the U.S., they have their own kind of tango when people do ballroom dancing.”
But what of the music’s interaction with the orchestra or, more specifically, the combustible rhythms that fly when an orchestra is augmented, or even led, by an instrument as culturally distinctive as the bandoneon?
“There is a grittiness to the music that is intrinsic to the instrument,” said Lexington Philharmonic music director and conductor Scott Terrell, whose performance collaborations with Del Curto extend back to 2005. “But it’s also because musicians respond to it. It’s so clear, the intention of the music. It has a sound. It has a rhythm. But as a listener, and certainly as a performer, it’s so exciting to be a part of a big tango band, particularly when Piazzolla is presented in all his glory. There really is not much better music out there, I think, and that’s being really blunt.”
“The bandoneon works together with the orchestra in every sense,” Del Curto added. “It’s rhythmic, it’s harmonic and it’s melodic. The sense of rhythm is one of the most difficult parts because not everything that’s written is the way it should be played. So there are accents and articulations that are not common to classical musicians. In that sense, we have to give a crash course before the rehearsal on how to play this rhythm.
Having a conductor that is experienced in that makes a huge difference.”
Del Curto will not be the lone guest artist for “Tango Caliente!” just as Piazzolla will hardly be program’s only featured composer. The concert will also include performances by soprano Camille Zamora as well as Argentine dancers Patricio Touceda and Sonya Tsekanovsky. The repertoire will run from such traditional works as the familiar “El Choclo (Kiss of Fire)” by Angel Villoldo to American variants of the music that include John Williams’ “Tango” from the 1992 film “Scent of a Woman.”
“This is one of those occasions where I defer to the expert in the room,” Terrell said.
“He makes my life very easy and makes this music very approachable and fun. And, trust me, the musicians will always have fun in a show like this.”
Lexington Philharmonic presents New Year’s Eve: Tango Caliente!
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short