Accomplished pianist and admired NEC educator Tatyana Dudochkin created the Annual Composer’s Celebration Concert in 1991, each year featuring the work and life of a major composer. This weekend the 30th finally took place in Jordan Hall after a two year pandemic pause. The dazzling program, introduced by Dudochkin and long-time BSO commentator and CRB host, Ron Della Chiesa, celebrated the centennial of Astor Pantaléon Piazzolla’s birth, wowing a discerning crowd.
The event showcased the inventiveness of Piazzolla with works spanning his musical life in varied moods and modes, revealing a composer-performer who straddled both old and new worlds. With his international experience—born in Argentina, brought to New York as a toddler, returned to Argentina as a teen, and studied in Paris, lived for years in Italy—Piazzolla created nuevo tango, a complex genre with jazz, dissonant harmonies and baroque and classic techniques. An accomplished bandoneon player, he performed from early adolescence. Prone to depression, he suffered deeply yet was able to create memorable music. This long-anticipated occasion succeeded by covering the breadth and depth of Piazzolla, the man and the artist. The audience bestowed cheers and enough bouquets to stock a florist for a day or two.
Dudochkin, who emigrated in 1986 from Ukraine, dedicated the event to all that is being endured in the ongoing war there, opening the afternoon with Ukraine’s National Anthem, with the audience standing in empathic attention. Then the concert commenced with a duo-piano version of Libertango, a title blending “libertad” and “tango” played by Dudochkin and Victor Cayres with flare intrinsic to this combination of tango and jazz.
La Muerte del Angel, an Allegro Vivace, part of the “new tango” movement, largely created by Piazzolla in the 1950s was popularized in a 1973 recording of the same name and describes an angel’s power to heal restless souls of youth who died in a neighborhood knife fight. Many subsequent instrumental combinations have told this musical story with its edgy bravado and mourning; here, the spell-binding guitarist Zaira Meneses brought clear lines and beauty to an arrangement by Baltazar Benitez.
Dudochkin alone offered Gulinay, a musical microcosm of a life beyond hope, which also has been adapted for many instruments, and in this pianistic instance, arranged by Phillip Keveren. It seems a song without words, with evident regret, recall of happy, colorful times in the mid-section, and nostalgia and tristesse that followed. Dudochkin’s take effectively communicated the entwined moods of Gulinay.
The signature and soul shaking Adios Nonino, an elegy to the composer’s father, who died while Piazzolla was on tour, conveys an aural version of the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—with a pervasive piercing, lingering sound. Piazzolla considered the melodies within it as his best ever. Classically trained jazz pianist Eyran Katsenelenbogen, bandoneon master Julien Labro, and the Boston-based Balourdet String Quartet (Violinists Angela Bae, Justin DeFilippis, Violist Benjamin Zannoni, and Cellist Russell Houston) brought many in the audience to the verge of tears.
A knock-your-sox-off version of Grand Tango (dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich) found Sam Ou’s cello and Dudochkin’s piano in dialogue. This single-movement composition’s three sections furnished the players opportunities they seemed to relish, and they conveyed the accented tango rhythms of the initial section with verve before launching into the libero e cantabile middle with lyrical phrasing, and the giocoso last to its bravura conclusion. Ou charmed with his electrifying mastery of the double-stop and glissando challenges.
Oblivion (J’Oublie) from 1982, composed for the Italian film, Enrico IV, contains an unforgettable memory. Soprano Yelena Dudochkin’s voice embodied, even haunted the piece, supplemented by Labro’s bandoneon and the Baloudet string quartet, with Oleg Oseonkov on bass and Maxim Lubarsky, piano..
A breathtaking dance diversion ensued by soloists from Studio Todos. Imre Gombkoto, Mariam Izmaydova, Peter Munoz-Bennett and Margarita Rudyak enthralled the audience with their sensuous and commanding tango personae.
The conclusion of the centennial fête featured the Piazzolla String Orchestra, an ensemble of ten (5 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos and a bass viol), plus coordinator and soloist Maria Ioudenitch, violin with a spirited performance of the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, a compendium of four individual Piazzolla compositions written from 1965-70 for piano, electric guitar and double bass bandoneon. Following Piazzolla’s death Leonid Desyatrukov arranged them for the violinist Gidon Kremer and string orchestra, creating a coherence that includes nods to Vivaldi, but respects Argentina’s Southern Hemisphere location, where winter is summer, and summer, winter. Never mind the provenance! Ioudenitch’s elan kept the crowd clapping and stamping between movements.
Despite this year’s success, Tatyana Dudochkin shared with me that she does not know whether her series will continue, owing to funding needs and changing times. But the energy, quality and joy of this year’s event should clarify for Greater Boston music lovers that these Composer’s Celebration Concerts should—must—continue. There is a ready audience, many musicians willing to play (including talented youth from NEC’s Preparatory Program), and Boston can only benefit from imaginative artistic events such as this one. Brava, Tatyana!