Classically Speaking / The birth of a tango orchestra
And BPO hits the road
Moshe Shulman learned the bandoneon in Argentina.
Photos courtesy of the artist
Carmen in Concert
Kleinhans, 1 Symphony Circle.
The Friends of Vienna closed out their Sunday afternoon concert series season at the end of April with a performance by Boléo, a string quartet dedicated to the performance of tango music. Boléo’s founder, composer, and violist Moshe Shulman; violinist Miranda Shulman (his wife); BPO principal second violin Antoine Lefebvre; and Fredonia School of Music professor/touring cellist Natasha Farny offered the appreciative packed house an afternoon of tango music.
Favorites by the older generation of Argentine tango composers such as Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzolla, the modern master of nuevo tango, were featured, usually in original arrangements by Shulman. “Arrangement became a special focus for me, when I worked for several years arranging full opera scores for the Boston Lyric Opera. I like to arrange anything I discover and want to perform, sometimes even my own music,” Shulman says. “The string quartet is probably the most popular and easy-to-form chamber group, but how many string quartets play Argentine tango repertoire or Piazzolla or Rovira?”
The FOV program also featured the world premiere of his Dance Suite (String Quartet No. 3). This intriguing tango-inflected work was more complexly interesting than its title might suggest, making effective use of extended string playing techniques. “My Dance Suite was written for and dedicated to the members of Boléo, and above all my wife, Miranda,” says Shulman. “It is a piece of joy to the ear the way dancing is to the body, but it is also about family as the titles of the movements, such as “Wet And Crying”—we have a two-year old boy—suggest.”
Besides his work with Boléo, Shulman is also the founder of the Tango Orkestra and an active collaborator with many other local musicians in various combinations, at venues such as PAUSA in Allentown. How did Moshe Shulman, a laid-back Russian-born Israeli, become, in effect the local “front man” for a style of music as torrid as the tango?
“I began violin studies in Russia at the age of five,” explains Shulman. “We moved to Israel in 1990, and I lived there until 2004 studying violin at a local music conservatory and then composition at the Jerusalem Academy. I avoided any type of dancing until living in Rochester in 2007. Why then? It was a period in my life when I started to explore the things that I was afraid to do in the past, like yoga and dancing.”
Shulman earned his PhD in composition at the University at Buffalo in 2011. “As my dissertation, I composed a violin concerto for Yuki Numata Resnick which she performed with the Slee Sinfonietta,” says Shulman. (Resnick has since garnered national recognition for her work as the artistic director of the Buffalo String Works afterschool program for underserved kids.) “The concerto involves some tango techniques that I developed, but you wouldn’t call it a piece in tango style.”
Shulman’s tango breakthrough came when he went to Argentina: “Before going to Argentina, I had mastered the tango music repertoire with the accordion, an instrument I had never played before. That winter of 2012, after I had been awarded my PhD, I felt empty, with no goals and no plans, so ‘¡Vamos, Argentina!’ I went there without a concrete plan or even any contacts.
“On my third day in Buenos Aires, I attended a free tango concert in my neighborhood. The concert made my hair stand on end. After the performance, I wanted to talk to the musicians but was too timid. However, I did follow them, walking down the street with the hope that something will happen. Ten seconds into the walk, another musician came out and was about to pass me. I said to her: ‘Muy bien,’ with my Russian-Israeli accent. She said, ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Where are you from?’ When I told her that I was from the US, she replied that she had lived in Boston for many years, as I had, and she invited me to join her and her friends for pizza. I found someone who could teach me to play the bandoneon—the Argentine accordion, the essential instrument for tango. Buying my bandoneon is a story: I could withdraw only $400 a day, so I did this for a full week until collecting the necessary amount.
“I stayed only three months in Buenos Aires, but it felt like three years, with so many stories and experiences. I needed to share this music when I returned to Buffalo.
“When I came back from Argentina in 2012, I wanted to start a tango orchestra, so I contacted my friend, pianist Ivan Docenko, whose mom is Argentinean and who grew up on tango as a kid. Ana Vafai, a very talented and versatile musician was the first violin. Teagan Faran, who was then fifteen years old, was another violinist. She received a Fulbright grant this year to go to Argentina to study tango. Currently, my wife, Miranda, is the first violinist, Antoine Lefebvre the second. James Marone and Megan McDevitt are the double bassists, and we recently added Drew Azzinaro on electric guitar.
“Chris Vazquez, our vocalist, a fluent Spanish speaker, is a talented vocalist who knows something about the style of tango, turned out to be a perfect match for what I was trying to do with my Tango Orkestra. At one point, we had three singers: Miguel Benitez, Victoria Perez, and Chris Vasquez. Our first CD, Ecos del Pasado, features all three.”
On August 4, Shulman, guitarist Drew Azzinaro, and bassist Megan McDevitt perform some of Shulman’s original compositions for bandoneon, electric guitar, and double bass.
Follow Boléo and purchase the CD at buffalotangoorkestra.com.