With music that roused emotions ranging from searing passion and heartbreak to a childlike playfulness, Emory University’s Argentine Tango Music concert transported the audience from Emerson Concert Hall to the streets of Argentina.
Emory’s Tango Ensemble, Tango Orchestra Club Atlanta (TOCA) and guest guitarist Alejandro Cote performed two styles of tango music in the Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts last Friday at 8 p.m.
According to ensemble vocalist and College junior Maggie Bertrand, who has sung with Emory’s Tango Ensemble off and on since last summer, there is a difference between tango music for dancing and concert tango compositions.
“Tango music for dancing is typically instrumental. You’re not going to have a vocalist,” Bertrand said. “There are not as many dancing rhythms in the [concert tango] so it makes it harder for a dancer to even dance … it’s possible, it’s just harder.”
The lights in the audience hardly faded as members of both the ensemble and TOCA quietly filed onto the stage and set up their instruments. As they positioned their metal chairs and music stands, thuds and loud screeches echoed throughout the concert hall.
After a nod from Emory Tango Ensemble Director Kristin Wendland, the musicians launched into their first piece, entitled “Milonguero Viejo,” by Carlos Di Sarli.
This composition began with the accordion — played by Vincent Aleandri — and the piano. Then the string instruments eased in with a joyful, up-tempo melody. The accordion offered a lilting quality, while the violins added dynamic changes in phrasing and tempo, though the tempo remained mostly staccato or quick.
According to ensemble violinist and College senior William Eye, within “Miloguero Viejo” the violinists employed two techniques to give the piece its lively quality.
The first is known as “látigo” which literally means “whip” in Spanish. Essentially, the musician slides his or her finger up and down the string to create a shrill noise, emulating the sound of a whip.
The second technique, known as “fraseo,” gives the song “the distinctive tango swing where, very much like in jazz, the value of eighth notes are augmented and diminished to convey a particular rhythmic idea,” Eye explained.
One of the pieces that featured fraseo prominently was a song entitled “La Cumparista,” by Hernán Matos Rodriguez. The audience gasped as the musicians began to play the sensual — and most famous — tango composition.
During previous pieces, the musicians either focused intently on their instruments or eyed Wendland for direction. During “La Cumparsita,” their faces filled with passion.
Wendlend’s fingers darted from key to key as she played complicated melodies and dramatic chords on the piano.
Aleandri played the accordion with a face of stone, but the sound emanating from his instrument evoked a scene of two lovers caught in an intense tug of war on the dance floor, a passionate encounter of both love and hate.
Soon the complex harmony of instruments faded into a piano solo. The violins slowed their tempo, the accordion mellowed and the angry passion that began the composition eased into a lovely melody.
The palpable heat returned as the song finished. Wendland hammered the keys of the piano with incredible intensity that resonated within the audience as the tempo slowed note by note.
TOCA cellist Noemi Kurylo identified “La Cumparista” as her favorite tango of the concert because — though it is meant for dancers — you can almost feel the movement within the song itself.
“It has a lot of energy and a lot of variation,” Kurylo said. “If there aren’t actual dancers that are dancing while you are playing, you can imagine that they are, and what that would look like.”
After another fervent dance tango called “La Yumba” and a suspenseful concert composition entitled “Comme il Faut,” Wendland ushered a hesitant Bertrand onto the stage. Before the song “Malena” began, the vocalist explained the story behind the composition.
According to Bertrand, the piece described the passion with which a woman named Malena sings her tangos.
Pouring her heart into every word, Malena’s music evoked the “aching sound of a bandoneón,” a classic Argentine instrument similar to the accordion, she said.
Bertrand sang in a relatively low register, and her voice was haunting — piercing yet smooth — as she channeled the heartbreak of Malena. Bertrand’s eyes glistened ever so slightly in the lights cascading upon the stage. To some members of the audience, for a moment she was Malena.
When Bertrand paused, the sounds of the saxophone played by College senior Matthew Brown, and the violin, magnificently commanded by Eye, added a sultry dynamic that resembled a somber longing. The harmony created by both instruments culminated in more than a sound: It was a feeling.
“Tenía pena,” Bertrand kept singing: “She felt sorrow.”
The ensemble and TOCA members played three more poignant pieces before they exited the stage.As they quickly gathered up their instruments, Wendland introduced their special guest, acclaimed classical guitarist Alejandro Cote.
In preparation for a piece called “Don Agustín Bardi,” by Horacio Salgán, Cote and TOCA bassist Todd Markey patiently tuned their instruments on a bare stage.
Cote plucked the guitar strings in a tender, intricate melody. He seemed to be holding back, or at least taking his time with the piece, which added intrigue and engaged the audience.
Markey provided the background for Cote with deep bow strokes that complemented the guitar melody’s softness.
Cote gently bobbed his head side to side as he played, and it seemed as though he was alone with his music. Markey, on the other hand, rarely pulled his gaze from his fellow performer.
Cote’s calm performance and level of comfort with his instrument may be explained by his roots, as his mother used to play the guitar for him as a young boy.
But his inspiration came from a teacher back in Curaçao, for surprising reasons.
“There was a teacher in my school who was in a rock band with a bunch of the students, and I thought he was really cool,” Cote said. “I wanted to be in a band, so I started to learn all that ‘grunge stuff’… when I was 12, that was cool.”
For Cote, the emotional connection to classical guitar developed later in his career. But the dynamic aspect of his personality that once yearned to be a rock star never faded.
Much like Cote, this concert demonstrated a potent personality. From tangos like “Milonguero Viejo” that inspired the crowd to tap their toes, to tangible narratives that summoned tears for Malena, Emory’s Argentine Tango Music concert offered a relatable and emotional journey from beginning to end.
— Contact Stephanie Minor.