Back to back with Bach and Astor

Don’t dance. Immerse yourself


Tango. One word. Astor Piazzolla. Two. They go together. Three. Step off from there. Let the sound seep into your soul. The wide world now embraces the beat, the throb, the sensuality originating with that Argentinian master. Classical music players aim to replicate his pieces. So do those in the spirit of jazz. Turn anywhere and there he is, the man who delved into his nation’s characteristic dance and suffused it with multiple moods.

“There is a sense of danger, a sense of romance,” observes BBC Classical Music.com. “Smart, stylish, an often beautiful exterior; underneath: self-doubt, pain, regret and fear.”

These takes on tango don’t compel you to get up and move your feet. They compel you to lean in, to become absorbed.   

Partake of the feeling at Omaha Chamber Music Society’s first summer performance June 5th. Members of the Omaha Symphony combine with others in Cuatro estaciones porteñas, anglicized as Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, written between 1964 and 1970. In his 40s then, Piazzolla could have had little idea that he would soon grab everyone by the lapels.

Porteña or porteño means “port,” in this case referring to the port area of Bueno Aires, the birthplace of tango. These Four Seasons seem to seamlessly merge with the sense of Vivaldi’s dynamics, sassy rhythms connecting to flavors of the Baroque as Summer shines into view. Autumn becomes melancholy; a cello makes that clear. Winter slows in its tracks for a spell. Then Spring dances around a fugue.

Speaking of the cello, when Piazzolla started along his personal path, he came up with a new sound akin to chamber works, with jazz-like improvisations which included the cello, not heard before in any tango. Jose Bragato’s instrument was integral to that new thing, becoming a years-long mainstay. Immersed in the concept, Bragato soon orchestrated the pieces for many different instrumental combinations. The Omaha ensemble plays one.   

In his early compositions, Piazzolla, classically inspired, had gone in many directions, leaning towards earlier music too, playing Bach on his bandoneón, taught how by an Hungarian classical pianist and student of Rachmaninoff.  

It’s no surprise then that this concert starts with such inheritance, a Bach Brandenburg Concerto. Like the Argentinian, the German composer created his own versions of dance forms without any intention of getting people on the floor to rhythmically move about. Note in particular the gigue of the third movement “sweeping out the fireplace after the ball,” as the Philharmonia Baroque’s Bruce Lamott describes it, having found the first movement “a decorous recovery after a flight of madness.”

For the Bach work, Yu Zhang is at the harpsichord. He’s performed with the New World Symphony, the University of Wyoming Symphony and the National Repertory Orchestra and is principal organist at churches in Ohio and Wyoming.

UNO faculty’s Stacie Haneline, of I, The Siren’s and many other concerts plays piano in Piazzolla’s work. The other performing artists for the concert are violinists Amy Sims, Ann Beebe and Scott Shoemaker, violist Thomas Kluge, cellist Paul Ledwon, bassist Will Clifton and flutist Maria Harding.  

On future OCMS Sundays this month expect delights from Ravel, surprises by Prokofiev and Stravinsky. Plus more.

This concert is on June 5 at First Congregational Church, 421 S. 36 St. Sun.  3 p.m. Tickets $5-$20. www.omahachambermusic.org


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