Massachusetts native Michael Gandolfi (b. 1956) taught himself to improvise on the guitar starting at age 8. As his skills grew through his teens, he found himself drawn towards composition, which he later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music (both BM and MM degrees) in Boston. He has subsequently received many fellowships (Yale, Tanglewood) and awards. His music has been played by ensembles all over the US and Britain, and has been recorded on the Deutsche Grammophon and CRI labels. He has been on the faculty of Harvard University, the New England Conservatory, and the Tanglewood Music Center. Vientos y Tangos (2002) was his first piece for wind band. He says:
Vientos y Tangos (Winds and Tangos) was commissioned by The Frank L. Battisti 70thBirthday Commission Project and is dedicated to Frank Battisti in recognition of his immense contributions to the advancement of concert wind literature. It was Mr. Battisti’s specific request that I write a tango for wind ensemble. In preparation for this piece, I devoted several months to the study and transcription of tangos from the early style of Juan D’arienzo and the ‘Tango Nuevo’ style of Astor Piazzolla to the current trend of ‘Disco/Techno Tango,’ among others. After immersing myself in this listening experience, I simply allowed the most salient features of these various tangos to inform the direction of my work. The dynamic contour and the various instrumental combinations that I employ in the piece are all inspired by the traditional sounds of the bandoneon, violin, piano and contrabass.
I would like to express my gratitude to Mr. Battisti for his inspirational leadership as director of the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble for over thirty years. I first heard Mr. Battisti’s work when I was a student at the New England Conservatory in the late 1970’s. I was instantly moved by his high artistic standards, his ability to motivate young musicians, and the respect for composers, past and present, that he always eloquently expressed to his students. I would also like to thank Dr. Frederick Harris, Jr. for his professionalism, collegiality and adept work in organizing the commission project.
I’ll get to those various tango styles he mentioned in a minute. First, let’s hear the piece itself as performed by the UCLA Wind Ensemble:
Now some authentic tango, Gandolfi’s source material. Here’s something from Juan D’Arienzo, a tango called “De Puro Curda”, recorded in Uruguay in 1964, very late in D’Arienzo’s career:
Astor Piazzolla changed everything in the tango world. For more on him, see my blog post on the subject. For now, listen to one of his livelier tangos, “Escualo”, which apparently is supposed to portray a shark fishing expedition. This was recorded at the 1985 Montreux Jazz Festival, also very late in Piazzolla’s career:
Finally, I have to admit that I’m no devotee of post-Piazzolla tango trends. So I’ve tried to find something (anything!) that sounds more modern and that might have inspired Gandolfi. Here’s an attempt: a song that seems to have techno beats and bandoneon. Those must be all of the ingredients for Techno Tango, right?
Read up on the tango, Argentina’s main musical export, on Wikipedia.