hector del curto: torchbearer of tango

hector del curto.

The chance to play with an artistic idol brought Hector del Curto to a crossroads early in his career.

The opportunity involved a performance with Astor Piazzolla, an artist who was far more than an inspiration for the young Argentine instrumentalist. Piazzolla was also the new generation pioneer in both the tango sounds that captivated de Curto’s homeland during his youth and the instrument that helped provide the music with its voice, the bandoneon.

The trouble was Piazzolla was considered a musical heretic by many Argentine traditionalists, including del Curto’s father, who viewed the composer’s modernization of tango, the aptly dubbed “nuevo tango,” as artistic blasphemy for its inclusion of jazz and classical accents.

So in essence, playing with his hero in 1989 (three years before Piazzolla’s death) meant del Curto had to distance himself from an established artistic practice of his culture and his family.

“At the time, with my father being a traditionalist, Piazzolla was simply not allowed,” said del Curto, who will perform two Piazzolla works on Friday with the Lexington Philharmonic. “Like many other people in Argentina, he did not accept the music of Astor Piazzolla. So when I performed with him, there were many mixed feelings.

“People talked about him, saying Piazzolla destroyed tango. But then I saw him onstage and how he put his personality into his music. Not only was his music very sophisticated and very developed. What made Piazzolla was his personality. That was something huge. You heard his life. That marked me for how I should proceed into the music. It’s not about trying to sound like this person or trying to write like that person. It’s about how you combine all the elements that you learn and the experience that you have with your own personality and how you convey that.”

For del Curto, a fascination with Piazzolla began in his teens while performing traditional tango music in the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugilese. Taken by a performance by Piazzolla’s Sexteto Nuevo Tango, he formed a quartet named after a Piazzolla piece that seemed that sum up the temperament of his new idol and the dramatic musical variations he was designing – Revolucionario.

“Tango was my language, but Piazzolla added his knowledge of jazz and classical. At that age, I was still developing my technique, so there were technical challenges built into his music, as well.”

For the sparse but potently emotive “Oblivion,” one of the Piazzolla works del Curto will play with the Philharmonic, the challenges are established and then pursued on the bandoneon, the concertina-like instrument that has long defined tango.

“The challenge is every time that you play a slow piece, where there are very few notes, that’s when you have to show your personality and your understanding of the music. If you have a lot of notes, you can show your virtuosity but not so much in a slow piece.

“The bandoneon is the main instrument on the piece. It’s not a percussive instrument. You can hold the notes and create different colors. That’s one of the main attractions of a piece like that – all this space that happens between one note and the other to create different emotions. An artist like Astor Piazzolla was able to simplify the music to where only the most important notes made up the piece, but those notes create many colors and many emotions. Nothing is wasted in the notes. Each note is very important and each note can be made beautiful. There are so many possibilities in a piece like this.”

Tonight’s Philharmonic concert won’t be the first time del Curto has performed in Central Kentucky. In 2014, he played Danville as a member of the Pablo Ziegler Quartet. Ziegler was Piazzolla’s pianist during the last decade of the latter’s performance career. Zigeler’s ongoing alliance with del Curto is now in its 26th year, even though the bandoneon artist performs regularly with his own group and released his second album as a bandleader, “Eternal Piazzolla,” in 2013.

“For my instrument, it’s very important to participate in all these different projects. Sometimes, people can be reluctant to include the bandoneon in different kinds of music. But the instrument can blend so well. It has such a unique voice.”

Lexington Philharmonic with Hector del Curto perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10 at the, Singletary Center for the Arts 405 Rose St. Tickets: $25-$75. Call 859-233-4226 or go to lexphil.org

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