Aston Magna Music Festival Opens 45th with “Forbidden Dances”

hector_del_curto8:00 pm • Friday, June 16th 2017
László Z. Bitó Conservatory Bldg at Bard College • Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

6:00 pm • Saturday, June 17th 2017
Saint James Place • Great Barrington, MA

Both the stately sarabande and the chaconne of the late baroque had rather checkered pasts. In late 16th and early 17th century Spain, they were low-life dance-songs: fast, provocatively syncopated, often with racy texts. Their burgeoning popularity in Spain and elsewhere worried both Church and State, and these dances were banned at various times and places, which only made them more popular. They spread like wildfire throughout Europe and beyond, much like recent dance crazes today (e.g. the macarena, tango, or the twist). Early Baroque composers like Arañes, Merula, Bertali, Marini and Monteverdi left us artistic versions that attest to the vigorous, fleeter forms of these dances.”

So begins Daniel Stepner’s program notes for the upcoming Aston Magna Music Festival’s 45th season opener. Stepner—violinist and artistic director of the nation’s longest running summer early music festival that features music-making on period instruments and with very  fine early music vocalists—has curated an intriguing program of sarabands, chaconas, and tangos under the heading of “Music for Forbidden Dances.”

According to Stepner’s notes, the sarabande and chaconne of the late baroque had roots in the Hispanic New World. He writes:

“Their exact provenance eludes us, and in their early Spanish incarnations they were mixtures of Central American, African and European forms. Descriptions by the Spanish Conquistadors, as well as by 16th century missionaries who followed them to the New World, attest to the importance of dance and song among the Aztecs. Though there seems little doubt that the saraband and chacona came from the New World, they may have been influenced by the many African slaves brought there by the Conquistadors to mine gold and silver. Along with these precious metals, plundered and brought back to Spain, were chili peppers, chocolate, tomatoes, corn, paintings, jewelry, sculpture, poetry, music and dance.”

With this in mind, it is delightful to see the core of the Aston Magna ensemble being joined by the acclaimed Argentinean bandoneón player Héctor Del Curto. Born into a family of bandoneón players, Del Curto was introduced to the world of Tango and bandoneon by his grandfather, Héctor Cristobal. By the age of 17, he had won the title “Best Bandoneón Player Under 25″ in Argentina, and was invited to join the orchestra of the legendary Osvaldo Pugliese, the “Last Giant of Tango.” Throughout his career (which spans 25+ years) Del Curto has not only embraced the traditional Tango, but incorporated well into the worlds of jazz, classical and world music performances with luminaries across the genres including the Tango legends, Astor Piazzolla and Osvaldo Pugliese, latin jazz giant Paquito D’Rivera, jazz violinst Regina Carter, saxophonist Joe Lovano, and violinist Cho–Liang Lin.

While you may be familiar with the sound of the bandoneón, you may not know much about the instrument itself. According to Wikipedia the concertina type instrument, which has become an essential instrument in most tango ensembles from the traditional orquesta típica of the 1910s onwards and in folk music ensembles of Lithuania, was named after the German instrument dealer Heinrich Band (1821-1860). It was originally intended as an instrument for religious and popular music of the day, in contrast to its predecessor, the more folk music inclined German concertina. Around 1870, German and Italian emigrants and sailors brought the instrument to Argentina, where it was adopted into the budding genre of tango music, a descendant of the earlier milonga, or “excited habanera.” It you want to hear more about it, you can listen to Héctor del Curto share its history with a concert audience. If you want to jump right to it, start the video at 2:45. It’s quite interesting!

Alrighty… getting back to the Aston Magna “Music for Forbidden Dances” program. Here is what you’ll be able to take in first hand:

  • Arcangelo CorelliSarabanda Op. 4, No. 7  &  Sarabanda Op. 5, No. 7
  • Jacques Morel Chaconne
  • J.S. BachSarabande from the Partita for flute
  • J.S. BachCiaccona from the Second Partita for violin
  • Henry PurcellThree parts upon a Ground  (Chacony)
  • Carlos GardelEl Día que me quieras
  • Luis Del CurtoCanto para tí (ca. 1925)
  • Astor Piazzolla  — Oblivion
  • Robert Xavier Rodríguez (b. 1946) — Tango

For this performance, the Aston Magna musicians are:

  • Christopher Kruegerrecorder, baroque flute, flute, typewriter
  • Santiago Del Curtoclarinet
  • Diane Hefnerchalumeau, clarinet
  • Daniel Stepnerbaroque violin, violin
  • Jisoo Okbaroque ‘cello, ‘cello
  • Catherine Liddellbaroque guitar, theorbo
  • Judith Gordonpiano
  • Jonathan Hesspercussion

As it is always nice to pair new music in context with early music, you’ll note American composer Robert Xavier RodríguezTango is on the program. It will feature tenor Frank Kelley and Christopher Krueger on typewriter (clearly a period instrument). Written in 1985, the composer derived his text from 1913-14 news clippings of early tango, which (as Daniel Stepner writes in his program notes) “spread like a virus through the Americas, Europe, northern Africa… even as far as India.” Stepner continues:

“It’s hard to say which aided the tango’s contagion more: the considerable attractions of the dance itself or the many hopeless prohibitions instituted against it. Setting various quotes from newspapers and church edict to the music of tango, Rodríguez lays bare the hilarious futility of authorities trying to get the human race to stop sashaying, bumping and grinding, and otherwise celebrating their bodies.”

This program sounds so enticingly fun! There are two opportunities to take pleasure in such “Forbidden Dances.” Friday night at Bard and Saturday night at the recently renovated Saint James Place in Great Barrington. The program notes in full can be read in advance by clicking here, and you’ll want to arrive an hour early to catch Daniel Stepner informative pre-concert talk!

Whether you go to this program or one of another flavor this weekend, here’s wishing you great listening in your musicking adventures this weekend!

Tickets to the Aston Magna concerts can be ordered by calling (888) 492-1283

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