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L’histoire du Tango(1986)     Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)

Cathy Peterson, flute                        Bob Brudvig, marimba

Piazzolla was, at once, passionately Argentine and a citizen of the world. He was, at once, passionately committed to the tango and yearning for legitimacy in the avant-garde world. He played in and led tango bands in Buenos Aires and studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He grew up partly in Mar Del Plata, Argentina, and partly in New York City. In New York, he took up the bandoneon button accordion, the signature instrument of the modern tango band. Piazzolla also studied piano there with Bela Wilda, who had studied with Rachmaninoff.

He was, in short, a complicated man pulled in many directions. In Paris in 1954, he initially hid his bandoneon and tango-band background from Boulanger. He finally told her everything. He got out his bandoneon and played “Triunfal”for her. Boulanger’s advice: Your true voice is in tango. Apply what you learn here to it.

Piazzolla did just that. His music led yet another world-wide revival of tango. I first heard his music in New York in 1985, in the Tango Argentinoshow, at that time Broadway’s hottest ticket. The dancing was sensational and so was the music. The onstage orchestra of about 15 included five bandoneons. I will never forget the banshee howl of those things. I have loved Piazzolla’s music ever since.

Here is Piazzolla’s description of each section of L’histoire du Tango, originally for flute and guitar:

Bordello, 1900: The tango originated in Buenos Aires in 1882. It was first played on the guitar and flute. Arrangements then came to include the piano, and later, the concertina. This music is full of grace and liveliness. It paints a picture of the good-natured chatter of the French, Italian, and Spanish women who peopled those bordellos as they teased the policemen, thieves, sailors, and riffraff who came to see them. This is a high-spirited tango.

Cafe, 1930: This is another age of the tango. People stopped dancing it as they did in 1900, preferring instead simply to listen to it. It became more musical, and more romantic. This tango has undergone total transformation: the movements are slower, with new and often melancholy harmonies. Tango orchestras come to consist of two violins, two concertinas, a piano, and a bass. The tango is sometimes sung as well.

Night Club, 1960: This is a time of rapidly expanding international exchange, and the tango evolves again as Brazil and Argentina come together in Buenos Aires. The bossa nova and the new tango are moving to the same beat. Audiences rush to the night clubs to listen earnestly to the new tango. This marks a revolution and a profound alteration in some of the original tango forms.

Modern-Day Concert: Certain concepts in tango music become intertwined with modern music. Bartok, Stravinsky, and other composers reminisce to the tune of tango music. This [is] today’s tango, and the tango of the future as well.

Tom Strini. Sources: Wikipedia pages on L’histoireand Astor Piazzolla; the Astor Piazzolla website.

Strum(2012)     Jessie Montgomery (b. 1981)

Erik Peterson, violinShin-young Kwon, violin
Kenji Bunch, viola     Noah Seitz, cello

Jessie Montgomery grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Her father is a musician, her mother an actress. Both participated in community activism as well as the arts. Montgomery first studied at the Third Street Music School Settlement, a community organization founded in 1894.

Montgomery complete her Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance at The Juilliard School in 2003 and a graduate degree in Composition for Film and Multimedia at New York University in 2012. She is a member of the Catalyst String Quartet, and she is currently at work on a ballet score for the Dance Theater of Harlem.

On top of all that, she maintains a career-long commitment to music education. Montgomery has worked with the Sphinx Organization, which promotes string playing among young Latino- and African-Americans, since 1999.

“Strum,” as you might expect, is a pizzicato tour-de-force. Montgomery exploits the plucked strings brilliantly in driving bass lines and meaty chords of the sort normally heard on guitars. The seven-minute work, in one movement, opens with an ancient-sounding incantation that brings Arvo Paert to mind. Then the jazz bass and popping syncopations kick in, and the traveling music takes off.

The miniature marvel zips by so quickly and with such exhilarating energy that it’s easy to miss the sights along the way: the reference to Steve Reich’s Different Trains; the flamenco-like hemiolas; the beautiful modal melodies that spool out over potent rhythms; the momentary pause for meditative stasis just when you need it.

Source: The composer’s website.

Quintet in C Major, Op. 163, D. 956 . . . .. . . . .  .  . Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Allegro ma non troppo
cherzo (Presto)

Sarah Knutson, violin     Shin-young Kwon, violin    Kenji Bunch, viola

Noah Seitz, cello    Anne Ridlington, cello.

Schubert’s last year was rich in creation – – three piano sonatas, a dozen
lieder, and the Fantasy for piano duet.  In summer he finished his great C
Major Symphony and his finest Mass, the E Flat. In August and September
he wrote his quintessential chamber masterpiece which we shall hear
tonight.  Not till 1850 did it receive its first performance.

We know almost nothing of the circumstances of the creation of the
quintet.  Always fond of his brother, Schubert moved into his brother’s
house in the summer of 1828 and stayed there till he died. Perhaps he
wrote the quintet for their family circle, recalling the ensembles they
ad shared in their childhood home.

Except for the cello quintets of Boccherini, this combination of
instruments is virtually unique.  Mozart, a preferential violist, had
added a second viola to the conventional string quartet; we can only guesswhy Schubert – also a violist – selected the cello instead. We marvel at the result.

For generations this quintet has occupied a special place in the hearts of
musicians – seldom performed in public, but often played lovingly by
string players in their homes with their friends.

Shortly after he finished writing the quintet, Schubert became ill,
probably with typhoid fever.  Here is an extract from his last letter: “I
am ill.  For the last eleven days I have had nothing to eat or drink.  I
can only walk feebly from my armchair to my bed and back. Dr. Rinna is
treating me.  Whenever I take any food I cannot manage to keep it.  Please
be so kind and let me have some books in this desperate plight.  Those of
Cooper’s I have read are The Last of the Mohicans, The Spy, The Pilot, and
The Pioneers.  If by any chance you have anything else by him I beg you to
leave it for me.”

Earlier, Schubert had written in his diary: “Who can still try to attempt
anything after Beethoven?”  Near the end of his life, he asked his friends
to play Beethoven’s Opus 131 quartet.  Tradition has it that he heard the
performance on his death-bed, five days before he died. One of his last
wishes was to be buried near Beethoven, and so he was, just three graves

At Schubert’s funeral, one of his own poems was sung:

For many roses did this life on earth
With pointed thorns reward thee for thy worth,
With pain and sorrow and an early grave.