Tango through the ages

The Tango Factory puts its own spin on the Argentinean classic at the Voice of Music Festival.

The Tango Factory 370 (photo credit: La Roche Salter)
The Tango Factory 370
(photo credit: La Roche Salter)
Next week’s spring edition of the Voice of Music Festival in Kfar Blum offers music lovers a wide range of entertainment from various genres and in different formats. One of the more dynamic slots in the three-day program is the Tango Factory concert, which will take place next Friday at 9 p.m. It features clarinetist Chen Halevi, pianist Matan Porat, double bass player Rinat Avisar and Polish-Argentinean bandoneon player Marcelo Nisinman.
The Tango Factory quartet came into being almost three years ago, since when it has maintained a busy globetrotting schedule. As the name suggests, the core of the ensemble is tango music and feeds off Nisinman charts, as well as nuggets by Astor Piazzolla, who created the nuevo tango style, which incorporates elements of jazz and Western classical music and others. .
Despite his leader role, the 41- year-old Jewish Argentinean bandoneon player says the quartet is very much a collaborative outfit. “Tango Factory adds our personal view about tango to the music,” he says. “I suppose it is an original and different one, since we all have different personalities.”
Nisinman says that when the four get together, it is all systems go. “Chen Halevi has very specific ideas about interpretation and the pieces to choose and to develop, and he brings a unique way of speaking tango music through his clarinet playing Matan Porat, he is crazy like Chen but in a totally different way. He has his own personal structures, and he often walks that fine line in music, where all can go quickly from a kind of virtuosic type of composition and playing to a totally funny and popular music feeling.”
For his part, Nisinman says he is always looking to push the envelope. “I come from the Buenos Aires tango background, but I always have the impulse of making it new in order to move on with this music that sometimes can stay too conservative. I love the contrast in music, and that’s what we like to do – contrasts.”
Nisinman received a good musical grounding from a very young age. “I grew up with a lot of instrumental tango music, the best tango music, thanks to my father, but also some classical Austrian music, thanks to my mother.”
The bandoneon player says there are also some extraneous strains in there, too. “My maternal grandparents came from Warsaw, and on my father’s side from Kishinev. I suppose that influenced my musical development, but not in a kind of genetic way. I don’t believe in that, but certainly the culture and the family history influenced my way of understanding and the way I made or didn’t make some decisions in my life. And it is not only about being Jewish but also about my city and the city of my grandparents in Europe and other factors.”
Even so, Nisinman says his early music diet had a formative impact on his professional output. “That definitely influences the way I play and compose in every sense. All that music I was listening to as a child was the base of what I am today, both as a performer and composer.”
Piazzolla certainly had a telling impact on Nisinman’s early learning curve. “He was almost the continuation of the so-called traditional tango, so that is really a lot!” notes Nisinman. “So he gave a totally fresh wave to that music that was looking into the past too much. Piazzolla was a genius, and he managed, by expressing himself as an artist, to give this music the necessary impulse it was missing.”
In fact, Nisinman got to see the nuevo tango master work at very close quarters. “I did not play with him, but I saw him play a lot, especially during a two-month period when he rehearsed every day for five hours a day at my parents’ house.”
Nisinman’s path crossed that of Halevi’s at a musical event in England. “We met thanks to the great [British] violinist Priya Mitchell at her Chamber Music Festival in Oxford some years ago,” he says, adding that the two hit it off straightaway.
“After that, we started an intense collaboration together. At the time I was composer in residence at that festival, so we played many of my compositions with Chen. Then he commissioned a composition for clarinet, bandoneon and chamber ensemble (Chen’s Tango I), and later we started our own Tango Factory project.”
The quartet and Nisinman’s other projects have provided the bandoneon player with solid substrata for furthering his everevolving take on tango music.
One presumes that purists might have a problem with the Argentinean’s penchant for casting his musical net across genre boundaries – not that it overly bothers Nisinman.
“Honestly, I don’t know exactly what the people really think about what I do. That is a complex matter, since people can be complex and also so different. Anyway, the puritans and the extremists probably might criticize me the most. That means I’m doing the right things,” he says.
Nisinman says that whether tango fans with more Catholic tastes like it or not, the art form is anything but static.
“I think tango has developed a lot, starting with when I was a kid,” he observes. “There were really just a few young bandoneon players back then, and today there are many more. And the young generation really influenced the development of the tango today, so the tango language is in permanent evolution, like the language of Buenos Aires.”
He says it is also very much down to the way artists convey their individual take on the material. “It depends on your capacity to make those new ideas clear enough, to transmit that to the audience. So it is a lot about the ‘way,’ the ‘how’ you show all those new ideas.”
And, although audiences tend to bring their cultural background to their understanding of what Nisinman does, it is not necessarily to the detriment of their enjoyment or willingness to embrace his ideas. “I think both European and South American audiences appreciate my music, only they do it in a different way.”
While some people may tend to associate the sound of the bandoneon with the accordion and, hence, conjure up images of lighthearted soirees around a campfire, Nisinman and the quartet play bona fide “serious” music. Nisinman says he focuses on what he and his colleagues do, compositional difficulties notwithstanding.
“What I know is that I take the bandoneon seriously. Sometimes the problem is that the instrument is very complicated to play and to write for, so maybe composers get downhearted when they try to learn the instrument. But I don’t have a problem with that,” he says.
Still, in the end, it is about the performance, and Nisinman and the Tango Factory exude a strong sense of onstage dynamics. “We just try to be ourselves, and we can be maybe be a little like a comedy,” laughs Nisinman, “but that is just how we are. We know we are a little crazy, and we break the borders while playing this music.”
Next Friday’s concert will be a mixture of original and revisited material. “We will perform my own tango compositions for Tango Factory, some old tangos but renewed by me, and a new composition written by Matan Porat especially for Tango Factory,” says Nisinman. “So there will be a lot of new music, but always tango. At the end of the day, tango is also music.”
The Tango Factory concert will take place on March 30 in Kfar Blum at 9 p.m. For more information about the Spring Voice of Music Festival: www.kolhamusica.org.il