The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores
Concert Review: The Ohio Chamber Orchestra
The Seductive Music of South America: Tangos, Milangas, Malambos
Review by Henry Doktorski :
Maestro Leo Najar has a long history of conducting: 19 years as Music Director of the Saginaw (Michigan) Bay Orchestra, which he has built into one of the outstanding small orchestras in the United States. In Spring 1998 he was appointed General Director and Interim Artistic Director to the Ohio Chamber Orchestra, which has profited from his innovative audience development concerts.
The evening event which I attended, titled Dark Passion , began with tango dancing lessons in the lobby one-half hour before the concert, and ended with a reception with the performers (with more tango dancing). The middle section — the concert — interested me the most.
The orchestra program began with Fugu from Suite for Strings by the 20th-century Venezuelan composer Aldemaro Romero. The piece began with a lively Baroque-flavored fugue theme played by the second violins, and repeated by the violas, first violins, and cellos & basses in turn. A decidedly minimalistic contrasting B section was characterized by various ostinato figures and a mysterious dominant pedal point in the basses. The orchestra played with articulation and energy.
The next piece, Ave Maria by the Argentinean composer and bandoneónist Astor Piazzolla — whose name is already very familiar to regular visitors to The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. web site — featured classical bandoneónist Peter Soave. Classical accordion aficionados are already well acquainted with Mr. Soave, through his many bayan concerts and master classes presented in the United States and Europe, and his superb CD: Pride and Passion.
Of all accordionists (and, for that matter, all instrumentalists) Peter is unique in that he has switched instruments not just once, but twice. The program notes explained:
"Peter Soave was born in Detroit Michigan to parents recently arrived from Italy. His earliest memories are of Italian music played on an accordion, and he insists that by age three he was certain of his life's work. His life aspirations include the desire to develop, to the fullest extent possible, the musical talents he was born with, thereby furthering the recognition and acceptance of the accordion family of instruments especially in classical music.
"By age 16, Peter began to enter international accordion competitions and quickly learned the limitations of the piano accordion. The piano accordion had been superseded by the high-tech, chromatic button accordion developed in Russia for classical music and given the name bayan . This was the instrument used by most competitors. Soave recognized that his piano accordion was not competitive in this arena, returned to America and began a period of intense study to master the more complex bayan .
"He returned to Europe and swept first place in the four major international competitions for his instrument, an unheard of feat for a virtuoso of any instrument. Having been deeply moved by the music of Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla, Soave has recently included the characteristic tango accordion called the bandoneón to his performances."
In a nutshell, Mr. Soave began on piano accordion, then switched to bayan, and now he has begun playing the bandoneón. I believe the reason is that, despite Soave's virtuosity and musicianship, the accordion (and its cousin, the bayan) is not very popular with American classical audiences due to its association with folk music. (In America when the accordion is mentioned, the average person thinks of the polka.)
On the other hand, the bandoneón, due to its novelty, does not have that stigma. In addition, tango music in general and the music of Astor Piazzolla in particular are currently popular with classical audiences. If Mr. Soave wants to perform classical concerts with orchestras, adding the bandoneón to his arsenal of instruments (or even switching completely to the bandoneón, as it would be incredibly difficult to maintain virtuoso degrees of technique on both instruments, as they are wildly dissimilar) seems to be a step in the right direction.
Judging from his recent concerts playing bandoneón — November 1998 with the Grand Rapid (Michigan) Symphony, December with the Detroit Symphony, January 1999 with the Phoenix (Arizona) Symphony and the Zagreb (Croatia) Quartet (for a complete list see The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. News Bulletins) — his choice has brought him success.
Piazzolla's Ave Maria , a beautiful religious work written late during the composer's life, began with a lush introduction for strings. As Soave played the single melody line, his eyes were riveted heavenward in an angelic pose. The entire work was for right hand, with the exception of two measures at the end for the tenor-range left hand. Truly a beatific event.
The decidedly more difficult and substantial Concerto for Bandoneón and Orchestra (1979) followed. Although the orchestra — consisting of strings, harp, piano, timpani and percussion — played well, I felt that the piece was lacking the spirited energy and reckless abandon which to me is essential in a convincing performance of this work. This was unfortunately compounded by Soave's apparent lack of total mastery of his instrument — a unisonoric (chromatic) bandoneón. Although his right hand technique was very good, his left hand was noticeably weak and consequently led to a couple of questionable grace notes.
The two-handed bandoneón solo in the second movement — Moderato — sounded hesitant and strained to me. At times Soave had to awkwardly look over his instrument to see the buttons of the left-hand manual. Fortunately, he rallied later on during the piece and performed convincingly during the piano/bandoneón duet.
The third movement — Presto — got off to a good start with the exciting broken octaves in the bandoneón right hand. The movement continued with enthusiasm and confidence and finally ended with a spectacular conclusion. Over-all, a good performance.
After intermission, Soave returned with Three Tangos by Piazzolla, arranged by Luis Vidal. He performed these pieces with the reckless abandon and daring that I had hoped to hear during the concerto. In De Carissima , he finally let loose and actually smiled! It seemed that he was beginning to enjoy himself and have a good time. Milonga del Angel was superb! Beautiful! As was the third piece in the set — La Muerte del Angel — which concluded with a rousing descending piano glissando.
Musically, Por Una Cabenza , the traditional tango by the Argentinean composer Carlos Gardell (arranged by Leo Najar) was less than exciting, but it did not matter, as all eyes were watching the two tango dancers, Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriquez from the Cleveland San Jose Ballet, strut their stuff. This was one of the high points of the concert: the dancers were attractive — Ms. Gabay's smile was enchanting — and poised. Such beautiful and exciting dancing; highly stylized and painstakingly choreographed, yet seemingly natural and effortless.
My honest reaction: in my notes I wrote "TERRIBLE! Only one dance!" They were so good that I wished they would have performed for two or three numbers.
The final piece of the concert, Ginastera's Estancia (his first major ballet) was my favorite. Here was truly great music by a truly great composer (certainly the best composer on the program in my opinion). Featuring a full orchestra including brass and six percussionists, the work was a portrayal of the Argentinean Pampas — similar to Aaron Copland's portrayal of mid-western America in Rodeo. Najar conducted with vigor and the orchestra followed in the same spirit.
The program notes were disappointingly lacking in biographical information about the composers, but this was partially compensated by the verbal introductions spoken by Maestro Najara and Mr. Soave.
I look forward to hearing Peter Soave perform again soon; he is certainly in my opinion one of America's foremost free-reed players! (Upcoming concerts include: April 30: Florida Symphony at Miami, July: Tour and Recording with Moscow Philharmonic, July 9: Detroit Symphony/Meadowbrook, August: San Diego (California) Symphony.) I congratulate him for his courageous decision to learn a new instrument (if anyone has the talent and determination to accomplish this exceedingly difficult task, it is Peter Soave) and I wish him all success in his new career as concert bandoneónist!
Reply from the soloist:
Date: Wed, 14 Apr 1999 10:08:33 -0400 (EDT)
From: Peter Soave—SoavePeter@webtv.net
To: The Classical Free-Reed
I feel you missed one of the most important aspects/points of the music and performance last Friday. All cadenzas in all 3 movts. of the concerto are "improvised" from a very basic sketch. The 2nd movt is aprox. 70% improvisation! The Ave Maria is only a melody chart for solo voice. Again, this is played spontaneously and generally "not to be repeated the same way twice". The 3 Tangos (Vidal) also have improvised "B" sections!
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