in performance: lexington philharmonic – “tango caliente”

Camille Zamora.

In bidding adieu to 2018, the Lexington Philharmonic opted for perhaps the most recognizable tango composition of any age, “La Cumparsita” at the Opera House on Monday evening.

A tune whose march-like momentum typifies not only tango’s irrepressible elegance and romance, but its rhythmic complexity, the performance was an all out melodic blitz with the orchestra underscoring the work’s unavoidably playful construction, dancers Sonya Tsekanovsky and Patricio Touceda acting out the music’s striking humanity in very physical terms and bandoneon soloist Hector Del Curto underscoring a sense of Argentine heart and soul for a traditionally evening-ending piece with roots that actually stem back to Uruguayan composer Geraldo Rodriguez. In the end, though, most every established tango orchestra has claimed a little piece of this prized music as their own creation. So did the Philharmonic during this robust New Year’s Eve celebration.

That was the obvious part. The program, titled “Tango Caliente,” celebrated numerous traditional corners of the music with arrangements primarily by Jeff Tyzik (a noted conductor and arranger who, for those with long local memories, was playing trumpet in contemporary jazz groups at the long demised Breeding’s on New Circle Road during the early 1980s). Some reached back to the late 19th century for the comic Ruperto Chapi zarzuela “Carceleras,” an aria-level work that proved a fitting vehicle for the operatic joy and clarity of soprano Camile Zamora. But it also shot forward to the 1935 Carlos Gardel tango “Por Una Cabeza” that John Williams’ arranged nearly 60 years later for the film “Scent of a Woman.”

But at the heart of this program sat the music of Astor Piazzolla, the renegade Argentine composer whose “Nuevo tango” movement largely upended tradition in his homeland and has only in recent decades been accepted enough by audiences and artists alike to fortify programs like “Tango Caliente.”

The Philharmonic largely avoided Piazzolla’s more jazz like tendencies, although there were discreet traces of them in a stunning solo delivery of “Che, Bandoneon” by Del Curto on the melodeon-like bandoneon (Piazzolla’s performance instrument of choice). Instead, focus was placed on the textures and resulting compositional complexity of Piazzolla’s music. “Primavera Portenia” had Del Curto mimicking the strings on bandoneon over the work’s inherent counterpoint while the more ghostly, organ-like colors he summoned within “Oblivion” introduced the cinematic feel of the Piazzolla pieces that followed in the program as well as ones, like the Tyzik original “Tango 1932,” that were directly inspired by Piazzolla.

All of this might sound like an overly academic exercise. It wasn’t. The Philharmonic rose to the many challenges of tango’s deceptively treacherous melodic turns while the guest soloists, especially Zamora, embraced the music’s open faced joy, even so far as to describe the operatic zarzuela construction of “Carceleras” as “Verdi at a salsa bar.”

It was a winning combination all around, one that used tango’s almost defiant beauty as a means of brilliant seasonal celebration. Caliente, indeed.

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