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Concert Review: Juan-José Mosalini and His Grand Orchestra de Tango

Sponsored by: UCLA Center for the Performing Arts
Sunday, February 8, 1998 at 7:00PM - Veterans Wadsworth Theater

Concert Program:

Lo que vendrá - Astor Piazzolla
Al maestro con nostalgias - Carlos García
Dominguera - Julian Plaza
Nostalgico - J. Plaza
Romance del barrio - Anibal Troilo
Retrato de Julio Ahumana - Leopoldo Federico
Alma de Bohemio - Roberto Firpo
Bien al mango - Raúl Garello
Adios Nonino - A. Piazzolla
Bando - A. Piazzolla
Prepárense - A. Piazzolla
De contrapunto - Emilio Balcarce
La bordonna - E. Balcarce
Don Goyo - Luís Berstein
3 minutos con realidad - A. Piazzolla
Ojos Negros - Vicente Greco
A fuego lento - Horacio Salgán
Cabulero - Leopoldo Federico
Bordeneo y 900 - Osvaldo Tuggiero

Concert Review by Gregory A. Vozar:

Los Angelenos had a rare opportunity on Sunday night, the 8th of February. Bandoneonist and master of the romantic, passionate and complex idiom of Argentine Tango, Maestro Juan-José Mosalini, appeared with his Grand Orchestra de Tango at UCLA's Veterans Wadsworth Theater in front of an enthusiastic and capacity audience. This was both his first appearance in Los Angeles (indeed, in the United States) and the opening concert in a series which will take place across the country over the coming weeks.

In spite of heavy rains, flooding and badly snarled traffic, it seemed nothing could dampen the spirits of those who came in anticipation of this event. It would be fair to say that both Tango enthusiasts and the Argentine-American community of LA awaited this concert with baited breath! Local Tango publications were filled with hyperbole about Maestro Mosalini's concert during the months prior to his appearance. It was certainly an unusual event; artists of this caliber have not appeared in this city for decades.

When the music began, there was no disappointment! The program was a veritable bouquet of Tango and Milonga, old and new. Within the genre, there are different types and styles of music. The most distinct division being between the danceable, tradition laden style of the Guardia vieja (The Old Guard) and the sometimes iconoclastic Tango nuevo (New Tango)the soulful outpouring of Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla and his followers. Much freer than the traditional Tango, Tango nuevo often embraces non-Argentine musical forms, such as jazz. Sunday evening, Mosalini and his Orchestra easily demonstrated they had mastered all styles!

Maestro Mosalini modeled his superb orchestra, composed of youthful French and Argentine musicians, upon the large Tango ensembles, or orquestas típicas, of the 1930's, 40's and 50's. Marshaling the forces of three bandoneons, four violins, a viola, 'cello, double bass and piano, the Maestro led his group as an integral member of the ensemble, playing first bandoneon. His son, Juan-José Mosalini, Jr., and Serge Amico took up supporting bandoneon roles with plenty of opportunity for expressing themselves in solo breaks. Two other musicians who gave particularly fine performances Sunday night were violin soloist, Nicolas Dupin (with an exquisitely warm tone) and pianist, Fernando Maguno.

In his youth, Mosalini tenured as a bandoneonist with Tango masters such as Osvaldo Pugliese, Horacio Salgán and Jorge Dragone. In the late 1970's, a politically repressive period in Argentina, he left his homeland and took up residence in Paris, bringing Tango Argentino with him. In France, he eventually wrote the bandoneon method that helped legitimize his instrument within that country's conservatory system. It was there in 1992 that he formed his orchestra at the suggestion of the director of the academy where he was teaching. This orchestra recalls the past but does not necessarily emulate a specific period sound; Mosalini has created his own sound: rich, full, yet flexible: unquestionably true Tango Argentino. They possess the ability to balance primitive passion atop an elegant poise, qualities absolutely necessary to the interpretation of Tango.

While well-rooted in tradition, Mosalini and his musicians were in no way slaves to the past! They played tangos of the Guardia vieja as part of their Sunday evening program, but their goal was not to revive the faded glory of yesterday or to evoke nostalgia. These musicians were dedicated to create a living, breathing Tango, not just a dance or a link to Argentine musical culture. They revealed Tango as an art that makes one think and feel! It bridged the barriers between popular and concert music. This is what, for me, made the evening exciting. The audience was not simply offered hackneyed arrangements of La Cumparsita, Caminito or rubber-stamped Piazzolla standards; rather, they were presented with inventive tangos, both old and new, played with great respect for tradition, but by musicians who were not afraid to widen the concept of Tango! Mosalini has not simply given life to tradition but proven that his is a living art, a unique and viable form of expression.

The only disappointment I experienced that evening was the end of the concert; it seemed to come around all too soon! Nearly two and a quarter hours had passed, but it seemed like minutes to me! I could have easily listened to the art of this talented bandoneonist and his orchestra for another hour. I also hoped to hear more solo bandoneon work; this haunting and introspective instrument is capable of some very soulful musing Tango for the mind and heart as well as the feet.

My favorites from the program? Adios Nonino, for one. I've heard Piazzolla himself play it (on record), and although written as a requiem for the composer's father, I don't think I have ever heard it sound so wistful as it did Sunday evening. From the Old Guard, the romantic Alma de Bohemio and simmering A fuego lento would be my top choices. However, it really is difficult to choose among superlatives when almost every piece was so superbly played.

Final thoughts? If you are an aficionado of Tango or the bandoneon, check your newspaper to see whether Juan-José Mosalini and his Grand Orchestra de Tango will appear in your community over the next few weeks. This is a must see event for you. If you are even casually curious or think you might enjoy this artist, this is a rare opportunity to experience Tango live. You may find yourself with a new passion! I have to relate that my concert companion expected to find the evening interesting but certainly not extraordinary. She found herself quite won-over by what she saw and heard and is still thanking me for her ticket!

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