A dream come true

For its 10th anniversary, Israeli quartet Pitango performs the tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires.

Pitango 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Pitango 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Pitango has been doing its thing for quite a while. In fact, our leading tango music quartet has been performing here and all over the world for a full decade. The group will mark that milestone with six performances of its reading of Maria de Buenos Aires , a tango opera with music by Astor Piazzolla, which premiered in the Argentinean capital in 1968. The shows kick off at the Young Center Auditorium in Beersheba at 9 p.m.
this evening, with the main performance taking place tomorrow at 9 p.m. at the Assia Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, under the auspices of the Felicja Blumental Festival. The show will also do the rounds of Petah Tikva, Netanya, Nahariya and Tivon, ending in Ashdod on May 11.
The quartet of violinist Hadar Cohen, bandoneon player Amichai Shalev, pianist Shachar Ziv and acoustic bass player Rinat Avisar will be joined by Argentinean singer Amparo Gonzalez and compatriot guitarist Omar Cyrulnik, with three pairs of dancers providing the visual tango spectacular. The narrator is Uri Gottlieb, and the choreography was devised by Argentinean Chiche Nuñez.
As to be expected from the Argentinean dance form, Piazzolla’s opera, to a libretto by Uruguayan poet Horacio Ferrer, is something of a sultry affair, and the eponymous character is portrayed along a wildly swinging pendulum of emotions, intents and states of reality.
In addition to marking a decade of creative endeavor by Pitango, the upcoming Maria de Buenos Aires run is also the realization of a long-standing ambition for Avisar. “It has been a dream of mine to do this show,” says the bassist. “I received a CD with the music from a friend in Berlin.
She is a pianist and we used to play Piazzolla music together.”
It took a while, but the dream eventually took on corporeal form. “[Felicja Blumental Festival artistic director] Annette [Celine] got in touch and said she had wanted to put on a production of Maria de Buenos Aires for a long time. It was as if I’d willed it to happen.”
Life began for Pitango with a debut gig at Tel Aviv’s iconic alternative music venue Hagadah Hasmalit in 2003. “It was a great gig,” Avisar recalls. “I remember people getting up to dance while we played.”
The quartet made rapid progress, and a couple of years later it won a slot at the Israel Festival. “That was our first big show,” says Avisar. “[Israel Festival supremo] Yossi Tal-Gan really liked what we were doing and he gave us a good budget, and he wanted dancers and great props.”
That was a pretty steep career trajectory although, in the interim, the members of the quartet had invested quite a bit of hard graft in honing their instrumental skills and feeding off the source of the discipline.
“In 2004 we went to Argentina and rented an apartment in San Telmo. That’s the artists district of Buenos Aires – sort of their Neveh Tzedek,” she says. “We stayed there for a month, and every day we took private lessons with some of the leading teachers of tango.”
It was a period of intense study and artistic progress. “We also performed in Buenos Aires and other places around Argentina, and when we were not performing, we went to see other people’s tango shows.”
The foursome’s efforts were well received by the local audiences rather than considering Pitango a bunch of young upstarts from Israel. “We thought that might be the case, but they really liked what we were doing. We all came from a classical background, and we came to tango with good playing skills. Anyway, Piazzolla also started out with ambitions to become a classical composer,” says Avisar.
The Israelis’ progress was even appreciated by official quarters. “We won a prize from a museum of culture in Buenos Aires,” she notes proudly. “We never expected to get a prize for music work while we were in Argentina. That was a nice surprise.”
There were other things to learn, in addition to getting their playing skills down pat. “We learned some Spanish, although I don’t know too much, and a little bit of lunfardo,” says the bassist. The dialect in question developed in the late 19th century among the lower classes and criminal elements of Buenos Aires. Later phrases and words in lunfardo were incorporated into the lyrics of tango numbers.
Pitango, indeed, hit the ground running.
“It was clear from the very first notes we played together that there was a special bond among all four us and that something special was happening,” she recalls.
It appears that Pitango was just meant to be. “I was in Berlin doing a master’s degree when Amichai [Shalev] called me after he was given my name by a third person. He told me he was thinking of putting together a tango band, and I told him I had a couple of months until the end of my degree and that he shouldn’t call anyone else. I was definitely up for it.” A pianist and a violinist were duly found, and Pitango embarked on its musical odyssey.
Avisar says the quartet’s path has undulated and meandered over the years. “After the Israel Festival show, we did a lot of big productions, with all sorts of topline guests from Israel and from abroad, but we got a bit tired of that after a couple of years. We started doing smaller shows, just with one or two dancers, and the four of us. We reconnected with smaller audiences, at more intimate venues. We really enjoyed that. We also performed for Argentinean audiences here, which was great. With big shows, you have all this lighting, and it’s hard to see the audience. The smaller productions allow you to connect with the people who come to see you,” she says.
Avisar may have to forgo that intimacy with the Maria de Buenos Aires show, but there is some benefit to be had here too. “As I said, I have dreamt of doing this production for a long time. It’s nice when dreams come true.”For tickets and more information about tomorrow’s show: (03) 620- 1185 and www.blumentalfestival.com For tickets and more information about Pitango’s other performances of Maria de Buenos Aires : 077-616-1618 and www.pitango4.com.