By Susan Van Dongen
Tango, the dance, as well as the music, evokes style and sensuality with just a hint of the risqué. Perhaps this is because the graceful but high-spirited dance originated in the bordellos of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the late 19th century. The music was first played on guitar and flute, then later, the piano and concertina.
A generation later, the music became more for turn-of-the-20th-century hipsters, who sat and listened in chic cafes, as the tempos were slowed and the instrumentation expanded.
Then, with the age of air travel, and the embrace of South American sounds such as the bossa nova, tango, attracted new audiences who came to listen and dance at nightclubs. Still later, such 20th-century icons as Bela Bartok and Igor Stravinsky incorporated elements of tango into their compositions.On Sept. 29, Princeton University Concerts will pay homage to those earliest days of the tango, when the stage of Richardson Auditorium will be transformed into an Argentine nightclub, with the help of stellar lighting designer Kate Ashton.
A musical spell will be cast when Grammy-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich and renowned Spanish guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas bring highlights from their 2013 recording Histoire du Tango (Avie), tracing the history of Argentina’s national dance through Astor Piazzolla’s title composition.
To further enhance the intimacy of the evening, the audience will be seated onstage around the musicians, to launch the 2016-17 season of P.U. Concerts’ innovative series, “PUC125: Performances Up Close.”
Strains of folk, gypsy and flamenco will be woven into the music throughout two performances on Sept. 29, one at 6 p.m., and another at 9 p.m.
”’PUC125’ is probably our biggest and most important innovation to date,” says Marna Seltzer, P.U. Concerts director. “The flexible format of these new concerts has allowed us to start reimagining the traditional classical music concert for a 21st-century audience. Music need not be consumed in two-hour chunks; by having one concert (at 6 p.m.) and a second (at 9 p.m.), we are trying to make our concerts logistically feasible for the widest possible audience.”
”We also want to physically bring the audience closer to the artists so that they can more intimately connect with them, listen more closely and engage more deeply with the music,” Ms. Seltzer continues. “We encourage artists to speak from the stage, which helps them build a rapport with the audience, share their passion and intellectual perspective, and perhaps offer a window into their personality.”
”And, for the first time, we have asked all of the performers to collaborate with multimedia artists, who will help transform the space to uniquely support the program,” she adds. “The upcoming concert with Augustin Hadelich and Pablo Sainz Villegas will be the first in this multimedia format.”
In addition to Mr. Piazzolla’s work, the concerts will feature compositions by Manuel De Falla, Roland Dyens, Eugene Ysaye, and a world premiere by Spanish composer Lorenzo Palomo.
Mr. Hadelich says the evening will most likely be capped with some playful duets composed by “gypsy jazz” guitarist Django Reinhardt and jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.
”What I like best about this music is that it’s really full of humor, it sounds like they were having a ton of fun when they played — and Pablo and I do, too, when we play this music,” Mr. Hadelich says.
Born in Italy to German parents, the Juilliard graduate reflects that he and Mr. Villegas have performed before in such settings as the transformed Richardson stage, and that it’s an especially ideal way to hear the guitar.
”It’s a more intimate atmosphere to have the people up that close, and it’s great for this type of recital,” he says. “Of course, with the guitar, you want to be up close if you can, to truly enjoy the music.”
”I really enjoy the combination of violin and guitar, how the instruments sound together, which is very different from playing with a pianist,” Mr. Hadelich continues. “The piano makes a much bigger sound than the guitar, so you have to adapt your sound production to match the occasion.”
Although there may not have been much composed for violin and guitar historically, apparently there are plenty of transcriptions for the two instruments, and more that is currently being written.
”As we’ve been exploring the different music that is out there, we’ve found that there’s a lot of music that is not played very often, and that’s also very exciting,” Mr. Hadelich says.
”Pablo and I don’t play in recital all the time, but we’ve played together for about six years and have added some new pieces (to our repertoire),” Mr. Hadelich continues. “As for the De Falla, we’ll be doing popular Spanish songs, arranged for guitar and violin, and reflecting Spanish culture, just full of color. Most of the program is like this, music that benefits from a little something extra to get everyone in the right mood. But, it will all have that Spanish/Argentinian connection.”
Not only is the staging, the lighting and the music evocative of a casual setting, the fact that there are two hour-long concerts gives the feeling of a club or café, Mr. Hadelich says.
”I think it’s fun to do a concert that is put on at a different time,” he muses. “It’s more like a nightclub, where you’re doing hour-long sets with a break in between.”
Violinist Augustin Hadelich and guitarist Pablo Sainz Villegas will launch Princeton University Concerts’ “PUC125: Performances Up Close” series with “Histoire du Tango” at Richardson Auditorium, on the campus of Princeton University, Sept. 29, 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. (As of this writing, tickets to the 6 p.m. show were sold out, but may be available on a limited basis at the Richardson box office, the night of the performance.) Tickets cost $25, $10 for students. For tickets and information, go to princetonuniversityconcerts.org or call 609-258-9220.
By Susan Van Dongen