GISÈLE BEN-DOR , conductor



April 08, 2002

Conductor and new world keep the tango renaissance alive

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The worldwide tango renaissance peaked a couple years ago, but it still can provide an apt demographic-friendly, if less-than- audacious theme for a South Florida music festival. The New World Symphony wrapped up its weeklong festival, Piazzolla and the Passion of Tango, Saturday night at the Lincoln Theatre, with a lively concert of Argentine music, spotlighting the tango master, Piazzolla. Saturday's concert gained a bit of additional drama with conductor Robert Spano's cancellation because of complications following sinus surgery. The substitute maestra was Gisele Ben-Dor, music director of the Santa Barbara Symphony. While it was disappointing that the excellent Spano was forced to bow out, one could hardly wish for a better replacement. The Uruguayan-born Ben-Dor has shown herself an inspired advocate of Latin-American music, with acclaimed recordings of Ginastera and Revueltas to her credit, and the conductor did not disappoint. Ben- Dor proved a vigorous podium figure, eliciting responsive playing from the orchestra and conveying a strong, innate feeling for the dance rhythms and swaying melodies of this Latin music.

Ben-Dor's experience with Ginastera's Estancia was clearly evident in the roiling performance of dances from the 1941 ballet. Ben-Dor built the plaintive flute solo of the "Wheat dance" into an impassioned lyricism, yet it was in the syncopated outer movements that she proved most impressive. The percussive section, "The Land Workers" was delivered with high-kicking energy and propulsive force, accents incisively pointed. The dervish final dance "Malambo" was given playing of seismic force and commitment. Ben-Dor maintained astounding clarity and control, clarinet squeals cutting through the massive textures, which made the relentless sonic buildup of brass and percussion even more thrilling.

That roof-raising opener had the unwonted effect of making the rest of the concert seem a bit anticlimactic by comparison. Guitarist Martin Mastik and bandoneon player Daniel Binelli proved richly idiomatic solo protagonists in Piazzolla's Double Concerto for the two instruments, subtitled "Hommage a Liege." The concerto may not be the most profound of works, yet it showcases Piazzolla's melodies superbly, and what melodies they are! Mastik was superb in his atmospheric opening cadenza, yet with just a small string orchestra in support, his guitar was often submerged by the strings and Binelli's wailing bandoneon.

One of the world's most celebrated bandoneon players, Binelli obtained a striking range of dynamic nuance and coloring from what would appear an ungrateful solo instrument in both the concerto and Piazzolla's somewhat less inspired, Punta del Este. In Piazzolla's Tangazo, Ben-Dor brought out the sultry languor, tango rhythms and quirky humor with fine expressive feeling, letting the orchestra deliver the witty closing diminuendo on its own.

Last Round for string orchestra is a memorial to Piazzolla by his compatriot Osvaldo Golijov, 42. Affectionate yet individual in style, his work manages to make tango elements resonate while gently deconstructing the music with astringent string textures that segue into a more straightforward lyrical lament. Ben-Dor and the New World strings made a fine case for Golijov's offbeat and stylish hommage.

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