Chamber Orchestra concert unites pieces around the theme of “Tango”

The Lawrence University Chamber Orchestra performed on Saturday, Jan. 18, their first concert of the term. The theme of the concert was “Tango.”

Before commencing the concert, Octavio Más-Arocas, director of orchestral studies and conductor of the symphony and opera orchestras, introduced the evening’s pieces and shared details about their histories. The “macho attitude” and assertiveness of tango and Argentine music was the uniting theme.

He announced that this was going to be a “short, but very hot concert.” Each work was to present folk and tango-inspired music through three of Argentina’s “most representative” composers of the 20th century.

The first piece, “Last Round,” composed by Osvaldo Golijov, featured stringed instruments exclusively. Golijov composed this piece as a tribute to the late Ástor Piazzola, a fellow Argentine and tango pioneer. Golijov wanted this work to sound “passionate” yet “patterned.” The orchestra was meant to sound “melancholy and breath-like,” like a bandoneon accordion, an instrument essential to many traditional tango ensembles.

Indeed, the piece demonstrated a multifaceted intensity. At times, the whole orchestra was engaged in a swell of cohesive, aggressive and accelerating bowstrokes—tension mounted. At others, soloists played piercing, mournful melodies, which were supported by contrasting softness from the other musicians. Like the bandoneon accordion, the sounds of the orchestra seemed to inhale and exhale.

The soloists stood in the innermost ring of the orchestra while the rest of the musicians stayed seated, physically demonstrating the balance between fiery strains and peaceful phrases through their posture and expressive movement.

There were moments when it seemed the musicians were dancing and swaying along to the expressive tango. It ended with a tranquil diminuendo and seemed to evaporate into the chapel.

The second piece, “El día que me quieras,” was composed by Carlos Gardel, an alleged sex symbol and Argentine idol of the early 1900s. The title of the piece roughly translates to “The day that you love me” and encapsulates the romance and sweetness of the music. The opening notes shimmered, now featurin¬g not only strings but also brass, percussion and woodwinds.

Prominent solo lines were exchanged between violin, cello and horn, resembling a tender conversation between lovers. The combination of so many different kinds of instruments and the sentimentality of the work was smooth, not sappy. Although the piece lasted less than five minutes, the overall effect was quite dreamy.

The final, and apparently most challenging, piece of the evening was Alberto Ginastera’s “Variaciones Concertantes, Op. 23.” Of the evening’s works, this piece seemed the most demanding of the orchestra’s focus and energy—looks of determination were easy to see on performers’ faces, even from the balcony.

Ginastera wanted to emphasize the intrinsic characteristics of the instruments and of traditional Argentine folk music in this piece. In a sense, the sounds of the instruments influenced the sounds of Argentina, and the Argentine sounds inspired the musicians’ performances.

This opus included several solos. Each one was long-lasting and rather exposed, but the musicians performed with grace and expressive detail under the pressure. A dramatic accent punctuated the finale of the concert. Such a conclusive flourish seemed fitting for the concert’s theme.

The audience was appreciative and responsive throughout the concert, but the final rounds of applause had even garnered standing ovations. Though the program was brief, it was packed with passion and beauty.

The Lawrence Symphony Orchestra, a larger orchestral ensemble that includes the Chamber Orchestra musicians, is scheduled to perform on Sunday, Feb. 2 in the Memorial Chapel. Given the success of last Saturday’s performance, concertgoers are not likely to be disappointed.