Thursday, November 13, 2014

Lured by Bandoneόn’s Intersection of Tango and Classical

Ástor Piazzolla with his bandoneón in 1971.
Ástor Piazzolla with his bandoneón in 1971. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Well, the concerto has been held, and the CD has been released, but I hope that like music, this musician and his obra will remain...


J.P. Jofre, the 29-year-old master of the bandoneόn, started out as a drummer. At the Escuela de Musica in San Juan, Argentina, he also studied the double bass, bassoon, vibraphone, voice and piano. But everything changed when he was 17 and an uncle played him a recording by Astor Piazzolla, the great Argentine bandoneόnist and composer.

“I said: ‘Whoa! This is amazing,’” said Mr. Jofre, who moved to New York from Argentina five years ago. “Piazzolla’s music was classical, and it was tango, and it had the power of heavy metal. It was a lot of things mixed together.”

Mr. Jofre, whose full name is Juan Pablo Jofre Romarion, has just released his first CD, “Hard Tango” (Round Star), which includes several of his own classical-tango hybrids, as well as a handful of arrangements, among them a quirky, sharp-edged arrangement of John Lennon’s “I am the Walrus.”

“He’s a very creative composer,” said the reed player Paquito D’ Rivera. “He’s trying to do something different by learning from musicians who play in different styles, and cross-pollinating those styles with tango.”

Though it looks and sounds like an accordion, the bandoneόn is actually in the concertina family. German immigrants brought it to Argentina, Mr. Jofre said.

He remembers being surprised by the bandoneόn’s complexity when he first tried to play one. The instrument has rows of buttons on each side of the bellows. Each set of buttons produces a distinct timbre; moreover, the buttons’ pitches differ depending on whether the instrument is being opened or closed.

Musical worlds merge between a young composer’s fingers.

“The first thing I did,” Mr. Jofre said, “was sit at the piano and figure out what note every button on the bandoneόn played. It took me a week, and then as soon as I was finished, I found a book that explained it all.”

A touring bandoneόnist whom Mr. Jofre approached for lessons arranged for an introduction to Daniel Binelli, who had played in Piazzolla’s sextet. Mr. Benelli encouraged him both as a bandoneόnist and as a composer.

Mr. Jofre has taken Mr. Binelli’s advice, creating versions of his works for different ensembles to ensure performances. His “Milongon” exists for his quintet, jazz band and string orchestra. His biggest work so far, a bandoneόn concerto, will have its premiere next March when he performs it with the Symphony Silicon Valley, in San Jose, California.

Like Piazzolla, he is interested in exploring tango as a classical form, a notion that still divides.

“My music theory teacher didn’t like tango at all, but my harmony and orchestration teacher used to say that tango was chamber music,” Mr. Jofre said. “For me, tango has to do with secrets, with beauty and mystery, and simplicity as well. But one of the main things is the bandoneόn. Yes, you can have a tango without it. But it’s the sound that gives the music its stamp.”

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, July 6, 2013