Tango: A sweeping South American dance where fire and emotion meet their match in a particularly precise artistry. Quick, cutting steps mirror bandoneon notes in their intricacy, but the sentimiento that remains is insistently passionate. The sound conjures thoughts of Buenos Aires, and well it should. Along with Uruguay's Montevideo, Buenos Aires gave birth to tango.
It's also a city that Williamsport Symphony Orchestra conductor Gerardo Edelstein, a native Argentinean, called home for many years, and which inspired the WSO's next concert, the aptly titled "Let's Tango!"
The WSO will present "Let's Tango!" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St. The concert will feature renowned Argentinean bandoneonist Hector del Curto, who will join with the symphony to perform "Las Cuatro Estaciones (The Four Seasons)" by Astor Piazzolla - not to be confused with that other like-titled work by Vivaldi.
"The tango has all the components that people like to hear in music," Edelstein said. "It has very seductive dancing, tunes and melodies - very beautiful melodies - and it's very rhythmic at the same time."
It's not surprising then, that Piazzolla's work "is a very different take on the four seasons," Edelstein said. "It has nothing to do with the qualities or characteristics of the seasons. (It's more about) feelings, how does it feel in Buenos Aires during that time, during those different seasons?"
The Piazzolla piece will comprise the majority of the concert, but the symphony will also present two of Argentina's most famous and traditional tangos: "La Cumparsita," by Gerardo Mateo Rodriguez, and Angel Zilloldo's "El Choclo." Dancers will accompany the WSO, creating the tango's dramatic visual with which Americans are most familiar.
"It's beautifully melodic and fun to watch," Edelstein said of the music and song. "It's very difficult to learn to dance. The couple is very much tied to each other and the moves are very quick and sometimes dangerous, because the feet move so quickly."
"La Cumparsita" and "El Choclo" are iconic examples of this, and while they may be less familiar to North Americans, in South America they're a simple matter of tradition.
"Everybody in Argentina and South America will name (them) and they will know what you are talking about, and they'll be able to sing them to you," Edelstein said.
The conductor also believes that this appeal will translate to the symphony's Williamsport audience.
"I think that they will be enchanted by the music," Edelstein said. "It's music that is full of passion, and intensity, and I'm sure they will love the dancers. Some may hear for the first time this bandoneon instrument. I think that they also will be surprised by the variety of the different types of tango that we will be performing, from the most traditional to the salon tango to the most sophisticated."
To round out the playlist, the WSO will also perform Jacob Gade's "Tango Jalosie" and Carlos Guardel's "Por una cabeza," an instantly recognizable melody made famous by the John Williams arrangement featured in "Scent of a Woman" and "Schindler's List." The Guardel piece will also feature former WSO concertmaster Ken Sarch, who played with the orchestra for many years and has since retired. Edelstein said that Sarch's return is a way for the symphony to honor his years of dedication to its music and mission.
Del Curto will also add an emotional element to the event. The New York Times called him a "splendid" player who performs "wistful, piercing" solos on the bandoneon.
A unique instrument, the bandoneon is similar to an accordion, but smaller, and with buttons instead of a keyboard. Still, it's played in a similar fashion, and, together with the strings, gives the tango its haunting quality, as well as its signature flair. While tango is now recognized and appreciated all over the world, like the bandoneon, the emotions it consistently stirs have very specific roots.
Stemming from lower class neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, the tango was an outlet for people to vent their frustrations and unhappiness, typically with social issues.
"It was something that was sung and played. With time it evolved into something much, much more sophisticated," Edelstein said.
Edelstein was raised with tango music in Buenos Aires. When he relocated to the United States, he realized he wanted to bring that music to life for audiences in his new home. More than 10 years ago, as conductor of the Richmond Symphony, Edelstein created a concert that would set the stage for "Let's Tango!" When that concert succeeded, nearly selling out, Edelstein knew there was an interest in his homeland's music, and he revived the concert several times over the following decade.
He now brings it to Williamsport, with considerable enthusiasm.
"It's very emotional of course," Edelstein said. "It's very moving. I grew up with this music. I left Argentina more than 20 years ago, so it gets a little bit nostalgic for me. It's a moving experience, just hearing the bandoneon play and being close to a couple of dancers performing. It's very sentimental for me, very nostalgic. I love it. I really love it.
"I'm really looking forward to sharing this music with the audience and community and with musicians in Williamsport," he added. "It's a very sophisticated audience and I know they will appreciate it and enjoy it. It's wonderful music, very well written, very appealing."
Strike up the bandoneon, then, as the WSO prepares to offer its audience a night of passion, beauty and sophistication in music.