Saturday, 13 February 2010

Alejandro Ziegler quartet - Piazzolla unplugged

The Alejandro Ziegler quartet had between them a bandoneón, a double bass, a violin, the Conway Hall's Bosendorfer piano, a samurai hairstyle, two red shoes and one Borat moustache. And Danny persuaded them to play their concert set without amplification.

They sounded absolutely stunning. Every note clearly heard, and all the colour, shape and texture. A violin, a bass, a bandoneón and a top-quality concert grand piano, in a hall designed on purpose for concerts of classical music, don't need any electricity beyond what the human nervous system provides. They sound far, far better without it; if you haven't heard a violin without amplification I just don't know how you'd know what a violin is supposed to sound like; it's very different, and much better. And not noticeably quieter, either.

It was a privilege to hear powerful instruments and brilliant playing on their own terms. They played the whole of Piazzolla's four seasons of Buenos Aires. It was a privilege to have this really treated as a concert set, so that people sat down and listened properly, respecting the music, too, on its own terms and not mocking it, ignoring it or distorting it into something it's not. It was absolutely clear that you might as well dance to Vivaldi.

I wasn't as crazy about their dance sets - but then I'm not usually. Apart from the flatness produced by the amplification, bands whose priority is musicianship never play in tandas, and the pieces they play tend not to be the ones you'd probably choose for social dancing, or ordered in the way you'd choose (I seem to remember that Sexteto Milonguero were an exception).

They were also very expensive. The entry price of £18 was a bargain of a concert ticket; but a lot of dancers aren't interested at all in music as such, and certainly not in concerts, so they tend to stay away from events like this. The subset of dancers who are interested may not be big enough at the moment to make it viable. I hope that in future it might be possible to market events like this at least partly to a concert audience as well. A couple of people said to me that this band should be playing at the Barbican - I don't entirely agree because when I went to a tango concert at the Barbican last year the sound quality was awful. I think I'd prefer it if they filled Conway Hall and then the concert goers left and there was just some time for dancing, for those who liked, from say half past 12 till 2. That means you still need a DJ too. It's a puzzle. The layout would be a puzzle too. If you lay it out as a concert hall you can't have dancing. A compromise would be to have a lot more tables and a much smaller floor - but does that make it viable? I'm not sure.

Practical matters - if you go to a concert in this format at the Conway Hall (so that it's laid out for dancing rather than as a concert hall with a lot more people), wear enough clothes, it can get cold. I've been there before and know how this works, so I'd brought a cardie, and I enjoyed being able to sit at a table and sip my drink while I listened, but I wouldn't have minded a hot cup of tea.


Tangocommuter said...

Totally agree on everything. The musicianship was wonderful, the unplugged sound impressively powerful and the tonal range beautiful.

I wonder about the relative flatness of the dance sets. My guess, for what it's worth, is that they're 'conservatoire' musicians who learned to play in classes and got together to form a tango quartet, much as two violins, a viola and a cello get together to play string quartets. Hence their amazing performance of Piazzolla's Four Seasons. Sure, they have the sheet music and can play dance music too, but it didn't quite feel like dance music. Color Tango play dance music, and the Orquesta Escuela de Tango has had a policy of training with surviving musicians of the Golden Age and has learned to make dance music, despite the absence of living orquestas in which they can train. Perhaps an academic approach, playing just from written scores, doesn't create the energy and swing that dance music needs.

David Bailey said...

Yes - the quality of the music was lovely, very precise. I loved the "riverside" track. Not keen on the four seasons thing - I thought it draged a bit - but I liked the "traffic jam" track.

I also agree that Sexteto were great, and Color Tango also. I'd add Otros Aires to that list. Other live bands have done little for me though.

msHedgehog said...

@TC - you could be right (like Tanguarda - I wish, for comparison, that I'd heard them unplugged as well). I thought this lot were outstanding as a concert band but I don't know their history. What I meant about the flatness was really just sound - I find it much harder to engage with the details when there's all that amp.

@DB - I got really engrossed in the 4 seasons but I liked the riverside tone poem too, and the trafficy one! Great stuff and totally deserves a concert audience. I'd forgotten about Color Tango, yes of course. Haven't heard Otros Aires. I think I enjoyed Sexteto's Milonguero's set the most but I don't remember exactly why.

Tangocommuter said...

Sexteto Milonguero play for dancing! They set out to create the rhythmic energy that makes you want to move!

Tango en el Cielo said...

I agree with all your comments about last night. And so does the man close to me.

Game Cat said...

Was a treat to listen to, and I agree less so to dance too.

I recall Colour Tango, as pointed out, were great at making the same music dance-able, as it was their raison d'etre. I recall 3 things they did that struck me as different from other concert-type groups:

1) They hit the compas sharper and could feel it through your feet. Maybe that's the point!

2) Their timing was sensitive to dancers. Compas and melodies were not too fast/ slow, and there weren't any unpleasent surprises in the music (esp. for Pugliese).

3) Interestingly, they spent less time looking at scoresheets and were sometimes keeping a watchful eye on the dancers. I've heard that it was not uncommon of the orchestras of the past to modulate their playing to how the dancers were responding. Just my imagination?

msHedgehog said...

@Game Cat that would totally make sense - it's a matter of priorities, I think, not skill. Dance bands do watch the dancers and work with what's happening. Andreas pointed out that the swing band were doing the same thing in the comments to this post. I remember Tangocommuter saying that he felt Joaquín Amenábar was doing it when he played.

Social Dancer said...

My friends & I had a very wonderful evening with "Alejandro Ziegler quartet" at Carablanca last Friday.

The orchestra was loyal and true to the spirit of the music they played, and there were no gimmicks in order to please the common listeners/dancers.

In my opinion, Carablanca has chosen the right formula for such evenings. Some might have thought the evening was too pricey. I felt that the price barrier kept "The Meat Market Crowd" both Buyers/Sellers, as well as many tango voyeurs at bay. This resulted in a fabulous well behaved dance floor with most dancers loving and enjoying the experience of dancing to live music during both dance sets.

The Piazzolla pieces were rich, magical and beautifully presented. I only wished that one couple who were also sitting on the balcony would have taken their private whispering conversation outside and left the rest of us to indulge in enjoying the concert even further.

This was the second in Concerts organised by Carablanca which was presented in such format. I am very much looking forward to many more of the same.

The combination of very rich tango music played as a concert set when sandwiched between two dance sets like we had last Friday makes such evenings truly memorable.

David Bailey said...

@Social Dancer:
"In my opinion, Carablanca has chosen the right formula for such evenings. Some might have thought the evening was too pricey. "
£18 is a hike, but for 2 extra hours and a live band it's reasonable. As I recall, Negracha's charged around £25 for a similar setup.

"I felt that the price barrier kept "The Meat Market Crowd" both Buyers/Sellers, as well as many tango voyeurs at bay."
There's a Meat Market crowd? And voyeurs? Cor, why does no-one ever tell me this stuff? :)

"This resulted in a fabulous well behaved dance floor with most dancers loving and enjoying the experience of dancing to live music during both dance sets."
It reflects the sad state of affairs with regards to London floorcraft that the only way to have a well-behaved floor is when there's a lot of space in which to dance. That said, I was guilty also, I used the space to do lots of open dancing...

Social Dancer said...

@David Bailey
I am not sure about Negracha having charged £25 for a normal milonga concert, please tell us which night this was!

What I recall is The River Tango Festival nights charging something like £25 last year. They used few premises including the corrientes and the Negracha's.

Talking of the ridiculous prices, there was one that topped all and that was not very long ago. Fire & Flame, they advertised wanting to charge £28 for a milonga evening with Tango Siempre which is a local London Orchestra (no Flight/visa/accommodation costs etc) and there was no classic concert set according to their flyer!

Our normal evenings are generally not that bad for example I can see this Friday Negracha has a live milonga orchestra concert (from Argentina ), the evening including lessons etc is advertised for £14 with dancing till 3 am!

My comments on price was what I heard being communicated to the organiser himself at Carablanca.

I am fortunate to afford being choosy but I know some can't be choosy and that is despite being able to afford any evening - pricey or otherwise ;)

On a different point, could you please tell us which major club outside of London (commuting distance) has a regular weekly crowd of 150 to 250 or thereabouts attending it and that such club has a better floorcraft than our London ones? I am asking this because your comment suggested there may be some that we have not heard or know about!

msHedgehog said...

There appears to be a consensus so far, above, that £18 was reasonable for the quality of the concert. The question is, would enough other people agree with that (if they knew in advance about the quality of what was on offer) to make the whole thing worthwhile for the people who have to do all the work and take the loss if not enough people turn up?

It would certainly be very nice to have more concerts of this quality in a hall so well suited to them.

David Bailey said...

@Social dancer:
"I am not sure about Negracha having charged £25 for a normal milonga concert, please tell us which night this was!"
It was one of our First Fridays last year I think, as I vaguely recall a £2 discount... Or possibly the price was £23... Was it Sexteto? Something like that. MsH will probably know :)

In reality, of course, even £25 is peanuts for a central London venue with two rooms, live music, and open till 3am. It's just that we're used to paying peanuts so we tend to whinge if we have to pay a couple more peanuts.

I agree about the FaF ball - it did seem overpriced; Tango Panda did a review of it here:

I'm not _entirely_ sure what the difference is between a milonga with a band and a "ball". More dressy, and more expensive?