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Educational Outreach

Viva Tango! performing at Educational Outreach

Outreach Event with VIVA TANGO! at Blue Skies of Texas West on April 29, 2024

On Monday, April 29 at 9:30am, all six Viva Tango! musicians arrived at Blue Skies of Texas West (formerly Air Force Village II) to perform for the retirement community’s residents. Transportation was no simple task: as these six instrumentalists travel to perform, so do their instruments, which include a 6-foot-tall double bass and several cumbersome percussion items. Every single instrument is vital, though, in creating the unique sounds of tango music. As the bassist Pablo Aslan explained during the Sunday concert, every subtle bit of percussion – even the way that he or bandoneon virtuoso Héctor Del Curto physically slap the sides of their instruments while playing – adds to the iconic timbre we understand as modern tango.

It’s worth commenting on the uniqueness of this ensemble. Aside from tango specialists and improvisers Pablo Aslan (bass) Héctor Del Curto (bandoneon), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion) and Alex Brown (piano), classical superstars Cho-Liang Lin (violin) and David Shifrin (clarinet) add a nuance, flare and virtuosity that deepen the listening experience. The fascinating mix of improvisation and written interpretation is both difficult to pull off and ultimately gripping, demanding absolute attention from every musician in order to ensure the tightest ensemble.

For the 50-minute outreach program at Blue Skies, deciding what to play was easy. With an eclectic program of Argentinian music ready to go, it was only a matter of selecting works that paired well together. Decisions were made just minutes before the concert began, and there was a casual sense of improvisation and ease among the group that revealed how close and relaxed they were with one another. But don’t confuse their casualness with carelessness. After a quick setup and a brief welcome by SACMS President Randy Glickman, they launched into Astor Piazzolla’s nuevo tango work Michelangelo 70 with all the crisp vitality and irresistible groove one would expect from a world-class band.

Throughout the program, the charming bassist Pablo Aslan provided fascinating, relevant information about the music and its composers. For example, before they performed “Summer” from Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons, he related the connection to Baroque music, as one might of course think of Vivaldi’s own The Four Seasons. “Piazzolla would combine Baroque elements like fugues or canons with his own tango themes,” he explained. “We come in with staggered, imitative entrances, just like we would in a Baroque fugue.” Setting up the works with these sorts of stylistic comments provided a guided listening that made the event incredibly accessible and perpetually interesting. The music alone, though, was plenty exciting: after a particularly exhilarating rendition of Piazzolla’s La Muerte del Angel (The Death of the Angel), Pablo commented, “You can probably tell we all had our coffee this morning!”

After several hits, including a famous milonga Oblivion that Piazzolla wrote for the film Henry IV by Italian film-maker Marcello Mastroianni, the group decided to end the program with Piazzolla’s infamous Libertango. Pablo set this work up by explaining just how controversial Piazzolla was in writing his new, edgy style of jazz- and classical-influenced tango. During the 1950s, Pablo explained, Argentinians viewed him as “destroying tango,” especially perhaps as he was not from Buenos Aires, where tango was born. Thankfully, the composer stuck to his instincts and his personal taste to produce some of the most irresistible music of the 20th century. Libertango is a particularly fierce work, and warranted a final comment from Pablo: “I never thought I would be playing this music before noon, unless I didn’t sleep the night before… but here we are… it’s invigorating! We should do this every morning.”

Submitted by Daniel Anastasio