They say it takes two to tango.
But Saturday night at Carthage College, it will take a lot more than that.
Argentinian composer Martín Palmeri will be in Siebert Chapel for a performance of his masterwork “Misa Tango.”
The epic piece was composed in a traditional Mass setting with a twist — the style is that of an Argentinian tango.
Palmeri has been in Kenosha all week and will play piano on “Misa Tango.” Also performing is Daniel Binelli, a master of the bandoneon and also a composer.
The two did presentations Wednesday at Tremper High School, where Binelli played the bandoneon for band students and Carthage professor Eduardo García-Novelli explained the history of the instrument and the tango.
“The tango in Argentina is much like jazz in the United States,” García-Novelli said. “Little by little, jazz became respected and is now considered quintessentially American. Tango is the same in Argentina.”
And where the tango goes, so goes the bandoneon, an accordion-like instrument that has become essential to the tango.
As Binelli played the bandoneon in the Tremper band room, García-Novelli talked about how the sound is created “by pulling the instrument together to get air in the chamber. To produce sound, you have to be moving the air chamber and pressing one of the buttons on the sides of the instrument.”
Those buttons, eight on each side, “give different pitches, depending on whether you’re pushing in or out on the instrument,” he said.
The versatile bandoneon can create sounds close to an oboe, cello and alto saxophone, among others, García-Novelli said. It can also cover a wide range of notes and octaves.
“The bandoneon sound is very sophisticated,” he said, “which is why the instrument has made its way into orchestras.”
While García-Novelli called the bandoneon “the quintessential tango instrument,” he emphasized that “you can play all types of music with it. Contemporary music is written for it.”
Composer Palmeri said tango music “can be written very square but then the performers ‘swing’ the notes and play in the style of a tango. It’s brought to life in performances through accenting the offbeats, similar to jazz.”
Tremper band director Kathryn Ripley said her students “were very interested in the bandoneon. They had so many questions. It was really good for them to hear a professional musician, and they were so impressed by his musicality.”
Bringing in guests from the music world at large “opens so many doors for our students,” she said. “They begin to realize that we are part of a bigger world. Music is a language that crosses all cultures.”
Ripley sat down and played the bandoneon during the presentation and said it’s “actually pretty difficult to play. This isn’t something that they taught us in college technique classes! While it isn’t hard to push a button, it was interesting how the pitch changed when you pushed or pulled.”
“We are lucky in Kenosha to have a lot of connections with the colleges in town,” she added, “which helps our students broaden their horizons.”
Bridging two music worlds
Saturday night at Carthage, Palmeri will be the pianist on his “Misa Tango” piece, which took him about nine months to compose. (“Like having a baby,” he said, laughing.)
Since the piece premiered in 1996, it has become a worldwide hit and is performed, Palmeri said, 60 to 70 times a year, mostly in Europe. The Kenosha performance will be the piece’s Midwest premiere; Palmeri has also performed it in Carnegie Hall, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, along with India and China.
“I’m very lucky that it’s such a popular piece, so I can spend all my time writing music and performing,” said Palmeri, who was a choral director for 26 years. “I never suspected this music would prove so popular.”
It’s very difficult, García-Novelli said, “to make a living as a composer of classical music.”
“Misa Tango” was written in a traditional Mass setting (in the context of music, not a religious service) with five sections, García-Novelli said.
“It’s written like a fugue, with the choirs — the tenors, the altos, the sopranos — coming in at different times,” he said.
Palmeri developed “Misa Tango,” he said, “because I couldn’t make a good arrangement of choir music for the tango style; it needs to be more structured. You can’t improvise with 50 sopranos singing, and the tango needs some freedom. So it was better to write music for a choir but together with the tango.”
While he calls the piece “a tango orchestra in a Hollywood way,” Palmeri said “Misa Tango” is “real choir music. It bridges those two universes.”