Classical Music

Tango With Apollo Chamber Players For Piazzolla Centennial

Apollo Chamber Players brings the tango beat - and more - this weekend with Piazzolla Centennial.
Apollo Chamber Players brings the tango beat - and more - this weekend with Piazzolla Centennial. Photo by Lynn Lane
When you celebrate someone’s 100th birthday, you always do it in style. Therefore, Apollo Chamber Players will pull out all the stops for the Argentinean tango composer Astor Piazzolla, who would have entered his tenth decade this year, with Piazzolla Centennial at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston.

Piazzolla was a tango composer, arranger, and bandoneon player – which is akin to an accordion. His works revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style termed "nuevo tango," incorporating elements from jazz and classical music.

“Our mission is to connect communities and cultures through globally inspired music. Houston is the world. Houston is representative of all cultures of the globe. That’s our inspiration. That’s what we want to bring in our programming and the people we collaborate with,” said Matthew Detrick, the group’s artistic director.

That international flare will be present thanks to the programming Detrick has laid out. Piazzolla's "Tango Ballet" will be performed. The Latin Grammy-winning tango performer-composer Hector del Curto will present a new commission for bandoneon and string quartet. Enriching the experience, Adolphus Hailstork, who is celebrating his 80th birthday this year, will present the world premiere of “Deep River: Rhapsody for String Quartet.”


In a nod to Piazzolla’s roots, the del Curto’s piece used the tango rhythms and the music of Buenos Aires, and he also references the passage of time specifically related to the pandemic.

“I think we all experienced time in a new, unusual, slightly quirky way during the pandemic, and this is his way of instilling that into his musical composition and creativity,” Detrick added.

The Hailstork performance takes inspiration from the spiritual of the same name, a song that holds deep meaning to the composer. Hailstork has been called ‘the Dean of African-American composers’ and has been commissioned by groups like the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Detroit Symphony.

“We always want to connect music with culture, and Adolphus’ favorite spiritual is ‘Deep River,’ which is a testament to the time we are living in. It has biblical allusions and references to overcoming adversity. The way he uses it in this new piece for string quartet tells a story that the listener will hear. It tells the story of a slave yearning for freedom and his visions of escape,” Detrick said.
click to enlarge Nobody does international music quite like Apollo Chamber Players. - PHOTO BY LYNN LANE
Nobody does international music quite like Apollo Chamber Players.
Photo by Lynn Lane
While this event is a celebration of Piazzolla, it is a family affair at the same time. Del Curto played in Piazzolla’s band when he was younger. Further, Hailstork shares with Piazzolla a teacher in the legendary French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger at the American Institute at Fontainebleau.


“Our approach to his celebration is to go through the intergeneration thread that stitches these artists together with Nadia Boulanger. People outside the classical world might not be familiar with her, but she is teacher of Aaron Copeland, Phillip Glass, Burt Bacharach and Quincy Jones – among others,” Detrick mentioned. “Her influence was not only inspiring Copeland and Piazzolla, but also other musical genres as well. She was a visionary who imparted on her students not only the fundamentals of composition, but more meaningfully, she cultivated the individual gifts that are buried deep in their souls. She was able to extract their humanity in a way that would connect with audiences and the world in a way that was special and unique.”

Boulanger’s teachings sometimes called on her students to find inspiration within their culture and heritage.

“Piazzolla was a seminal composer, and he will live on forever, and that is because of the guidance of his mentor Nadia who pushed him to embrace his heritage and the music of his culture. There’s a famous story that he was studying with Nadia in Paris, and he brought her something he had written in a more contemporary style. She said it wasn’t what he should be composing…he should have been composing the music from his heritage. That changed the course of his musical trajectory,” Detrick added.

That same call is evident in Hailstork, who holds a lifelong passion of blending the music of his African American heritage with the European traditions, which has remained his loadstar.

Detrick paid special notice in his programming to the interconnective tissue between these composers’ relationships and their blending of heritage with their artistic talents. He calls this a “musical ecotone,” in reference to the transition area between two biological communities – like when a grassy field meets a forest.

“Most of the composers we work with, that’s what they’re about. This is where the magic happens…in the mixing and blending of different genres. Whether its classical or jazz or folk music, that’s where the really special bits happen,” he said.

For Piazzolla Centennial, each artist uniquely represents their respective heritages while pushing the boundaries of what classical music is and sounds like in the current century.

Piazzolla Centennial takes place with a 7 p.m. Q&A followed by a 7:30 p.m. performance on Saturday at The MATCH, 3400 Main. For information or tickets, call 713-521-4533 or visit apollochamberplayers.org. $10 to $40.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd