Three to tango

Nov 10, 2018, 07:22 IST | Snigdha Hasan

A trio of well-known Argentine musicians will be in Mumbai to give you a taste of traditional tango music, and present a new form, which blends it with elements of Mass

Three to tango
Martin Palmeri at a performance of his Misatango composition

The spectacle of tango, with its vibrant, playful and passionate moves, is impossible to imagine without the accompanying music, traditionally created with a sextet of two violins, piano, double bass and two bandoneons. But while the dance form is known to and even learnt by many urban Indians, the avenues to learn more about its rich music tradition are few.

With the arrival of Argentinian composer and pianist maestro Martin Palmeri and musician Darío Polonara, who will be joining conductor Dr Santiago Lusardi Girelli for three days of performance in the city, Mumbaikars are in for a rare musical treat. Invited by the Consulate General of Argentina in Mumbai, the artistes will present an array of concerts — from the works of Astor Piazzolla, considered the foremost composer of tango music, to Misatango, a unique work composed by Palmeri, which blends elements of the traditional Mass form with those of Argentinean tango. The music concerts will be presented together with the Symphony Orchestra of India, Goa University Choir and The Bangalore Men, an all-male voice ensemble from Bengaluru. Dance will find its way into the repertoire, too, when Polonara, known for his magic with the bandoneon (a square-shaped variant of the accordion and the concertina, and intrinsic to tango), and Palmeri create the milonga experience, where the best tango dancers from Mumbai will teach participants the dance form.

Tango
Dr Santiago Lusardi Girelli conducts with the Goa University choir

"Piazzolla added different techniques [elements of jazz and classical music] to tango — and made it grow. His music was accepted the world over. He is the most performed composer from Argentina. The idea was to showcase his music to the people of Mumbai," says Palmeri, on a phone call from Goa, where he joined Dr Girelli to conduct a four-day workshop for the university choir members. Dr Girelli, who holds the Western Music chair, one of the five chairs that are part of Goa University's Visiting Research Professor Programme, conducts the choir. He divides his time between Panaji
and Barcelona.

"I have known Maestro Palmeri since I was very young. India does not have a big choir tradition and ours is an amateur choir. So, it is a wonderful opportunity for us to learn from him and join him in the performances in Mumbai," says Dr Girelli, who by training students, faculty members and Goan music lovers, is trying to revive the Portuguese choral tradition in the state. A keen musicologist, he has conducted research on Hinduism, Christian and Buddhist phenomenology, relating theology, arts and music. Apart from performing western classical compositions, the university's choir has collaborated with Indian musicians, including Rakesh Chaurasia and Debashish Bhattacharya, and regularly hosts composers from Spain, France and Portugal who write original music for the choir.

Martin Palmer
Martin Palmer (left) with Dr Santiago Lusardi Girelli and members of the Goa University Choir in the background

Consul General Alejandro Zothner Meyer is particularly happy about the Indian premiere of Misatango. In keeping with the Argentinian tradition of letting tango evolve with new musical interventions, Palmeri grew interested in the connection between tango and choir. The result was his work Misatango, which was premiered by the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba in 1996.

"The sound of the choir is typical European sound, and in South America, like in India, choral music is not a big tradition. We don't have much repertoire for original music for choir. Besides, tango music is written for soloists, and when you want to sing it with 15 sopranos, it's almost impossible. So, I tried different kinds of arrangements — a cappella, with instruments — but the result was not good," recalls Palmeri about the challenges of bringing together the two genres. "Then, I decided to try it with original music written for choir and orchestra, instead of traditional music and I used the Latin text of traditional Mass. So you can say that the structure of my work is of European Mass, but the bricks are from Argentina. And the instruments, harmonies and melodic lines are more in a tango style," he adds.

With a composition transcending genres, it was only natural that it transcended geographical boundaries, too. Since its premiere, the work has been widely presented in Europe, the US and South America, with over 200 performances annually across the globe.

Palmeri fondly recalls his travels to Europe and Morocco, where Polonara joined him to play the bandoneon. "It was fantastic to see Catholics and Muslims appreciate the music equally," he says. "Music is a good way to connect people of different religions." Something that he hopes to do yet again in Mumbai.

Dario Polonara
Dario Polonara

A bellow sound

The bandoneon is a free reed instrument and a variant of the accordian. The now, characteristic Argentine instrument has its roots in 19th century Germany, when it was developed. Unlike accordions, bandoneons have buttons instead of keys. The main difference between the two is one of sound, wherein the latter helps play edgier notes that are not possible with similar instruments.

On: November 11, 7 pm, High Street Phoenix Lower Parel (tango dance, free entry); November 12, Prithvi Theatre, Juhu, and November 13, NCPA, 7 pm (music concert)
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