Kelsey Burritt | Staff Writer
Astor Piazzolla, the son of Italian immigrants, moved from his birthplace in Mar del Plata, Argentina, to Greenwich Village when his father bought him his first bandoneón. Piazzolla was 9 years old, and he would then move to Buenos Aires on his own at 17 to chase his dream of playing tango.
Guest bandoneonist Jorge ‘Coco’ Trivisonno first learned to play bandoneón from his father at a young age living in Rosario, Argentina. By age 18, Trivisonno began recording live on the radio in Argentina at night. Trivisonno and his friends were inspired by the cutting edge music of their time, composed by Piazzolla.
Piazzolla, a staple in large concert halls and small Argentine alleys alike, will form the heart of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s concert at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, conducted by guest Sarah Ioannides.
It will be Ioannides’ first visit to Chautauqua. The daughter of conductor and composer Ayis Ioannides, Sarah juggled performing in ensembles on horn, violin and piano before she decided to pursue conducting.
“It suddenly dawned on me that with my different perspectives from within the orchestra that I should consider the advantages I had already to try to be a conductor,” Ioannides said.
Ioannides received her degree in conducting at The Juilliard School under Otto-Werner Mueller, and is the current music director of the Spartanburg Philharmonic Orchestra.
“One of the things I care about as a conductor is bringing pieces that are appreciated and loved in other places to America,” Ioannides said.
The concert is a cultural musical sampling of sorts. It opens with Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture,” inspired by the composer’s travels to Cuba, and then moves further south with two pieces by Piazzolla, featuring Trivisonno.
The second half of the concert has a French flavor, Ioannides said, with pieces by Dukas and Debussy both inspired by poetry.
Ioannides and Trivisonno have never worked together before, but Ioannides looks forward to the collaboration and to conducting the Piazzolla.
“It’s always fun to conduct Piazzolla,” she said. “The tango feel is in there, of course, and then there’s certainly the fun of accompanying … great artists who can be flexible with the tempo and the time. It really gets that feeling of spontaneity.”
As a bandoneón virtuoso, Piazzolla was mindful of all the limitations and the possibilities of the instrument’s keyboard, Trivisonno said. The complexity and range of the bandoneón is captured particularly well in the “Aconcagua” concerto.
“It really exhibits the subtleties of the accordion and the ability to be able to mold a melody in a flexible way, a very creative way, and it gives the artist ample opportunity to be really free and expressive about what they do,” Ioannides said.
The other Piazzolla piece on the program, “Oblivion,” was said to be inspired by a relationship Piazzolla had in which the woman was unfaithful.
Piazzolla’s nuevo tango, or new tango, style was influenced by his classical and jazz studies. The original tango, however, was greatly informed by Italian immigrants and the Italian operatic tradition, Trivisonno said.
“There is a lot of that reflection in the tango,” Trivisonno said, in an interview translated by his son Fernando. “It’s a blend of a lot of cultural occurrence in one musical style.”
Although Ioannides agrees music is a type of universal language, she allows that there are some musical languages certain cultures understand better than others.
“Tango music might be understood better by the Argentinians, but it seems to be universally loved and enjoyed,” Ioannides said.
No matter the language or culture barrier, Trivisonno does not doubt his ability to connect to his audience.
“The intimacy and the bond between the musicians and the public is undeniable,” Trivisonno said. “There’s no word to explain it, but he knows that when he succeeds … he can reach their souls.”
Gershwin’s “Cuban Overture” offers another musical style through the lens of a traveling composer.
“He traveled to South America, and it was his interest to draw on other aspects of music from different countries and put them into his music,” Ioannides said. “There are certain composers who helped music to become universal, such as Gershwin.”
Originally called “Rumba,” the piece highlights a vibrant percussion section and Caribbean rhythms, Ioannides said.
“That’s also a very colorful work like ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice,’ but 30 or 35 years later,” Ioannides said. “But again, descriptive in the way it draws on the colors of the country as opposed to the colors of a story or a poem.”
Dukas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” of Disney’s “Fantasia” fame, was originally inspired by a Goethe poem. Debussy’s “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” induces a poem by French poet Mallarmé.
“I think it’s always wonderful to take a work like ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and just remind everybody how much we love playing it and we love listening to it,” Ioannides said. “It’s such a fabulous piece, and I think Dukas is one of the underrated composers.”
The Debussy is based on the story of a faun drifting asleep on a hot afternoon. Basing it in the whole-tone scale, Debussy endows the piece with a different coloristic feel than his previous works.
“The piece is very evocative and much more based in the feelings of that sleepy afternoon, whereas the Dukas is much more energetic and playing out the story,” Ioannides said. “They’re exploring different things in their tonality and harmonies.”