Reinventing Tango – New European Ensemble at Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague

The New European Ensemble, led by Emlyn Stam, tonight presented a programme of new compositions and arrangements on the theme of tango by Gustavo Beytelmann, Barbara Varassi Pega, Diego Schissi and Martin Sued. It certainly sounded intriguing.

In Argentina and Ecuador, in a melting pot of ethnicities made up of Europeans and former African slaves, hundreds of thousands of people were looking for entertainment. Theatres and street barrel organs spread both Tango music and dance style across the working-class slums. Often it was just men dancing together in Milongas as women were scarce among the work force.

By 1912, Tango dancers and musicians from Buenos Aires travelled to Europe. The first European tango craze took place in Paris and soon spread across European capitals and from there to New York. The body contact style and suggestive leg work of the Tango scandalised many.

When in the 1960-80s the prolific Astor Piazzola’s music conquered the world the Tango seemed set in stone. But, possibly to break out of this schematic idea, musicians have attempted to update or incorporate elements of classic Tango music into new works.

Tonight we were invited to a whole new approach to the subject. Though the famed bandoneon was present in the line-up it was often overcome by the rest of the orchestra, excellent though it was. The accomplished ageing Gustavo Beytelmann, who extensively toured with Piazzola, endearingly explained his motivation to create a dialogue between the traditional and his own compositions.

Tonight’s world premiere of his 5 Instantanéas was certainly a departure from what audiences might expect from an evening of tango. For me, in any case, the same applied to a lesser and greater extend to some of the other compositions by Diego Schissi, Juan Carlos Cobián, Marian Mores, José Razzano and Agustin Bardi in whose pieces one caught, here and there, certain tango phrasings or rhythms.

The highlight of the evening came in the world premiere of the composition Celebratión by Barbara Varassi Pega. Though entirely new, it treated us to a full-blown, red-blooded tango imbued piece which earned her and the New European Ensemble three curtain calls.

I also much enjoyed the energetic playing by Emlyn Stam on viola who, in the heavily rhythmic parts, struggled against gravity to remain on his chair.  Astrid Burchardt, 23rd September 2022