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Matt Irwin

Sidney Myer Free Concert Program: The Tang of the Tango

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The Tang of the Tango

Saturday 27 February

MSO’s Sidney Myer Free Concerts have been a much loved tradition in the Orchestra’s calendar since the iconic Sidney Myer Music Bowl opened in 1959.

This year, the Orchestra will perform popular classical works during the course of the series, with works by Falla, Rodrigo, Gershwin, Piazzolla and Ginastera featuring in The Tang of the Tango concert.

So sit back and relax on your rug, break into that picnic, and enjoy the gorgeous sounds of the MSO!

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Photo Booth

Join us at the top of the hill to get your photo taken at the photo booth for your chance to win one of three FujiFilm Instax Polaroid cameras!

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About the Artists

Benjamin Northey


Since returning to Australia from Europe in 2006, Benjamin Northey has rapidly emerged as one of the nation’s leading musical figures. Since 2011, he has held the position of Associate Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. In 2015, he became Chief Conductor of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.

2015 engagements included returns to all the major Australian orchestras, the HKPO, the NZSO and Turandot for Opera Australia; in 2016, he will lead both the MSO and Christchurch Symphony on several occasions – as well as appear with HKPO, ASO, WASO and throughout New Zealand.


Benjamin Northey

Northey studied with John Hopkins at the University of Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and then with Jorma Panula and Leif Segerstam at Finland’s prestigious Sibelius Academy where he was accepted as the highest placed applicant in 2002. He has appeared with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, Hong Kong Philharmonic, National Symphony Orchestra of Colombia, New Zealand and Christchurch Symphony Orchestras, Auckland Philharmonia and the Southbank Sinfonia of London. He has collaborated with acclaimed artists including Julian Rachlin, Alban Gerhardt, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Arnaldo Cohen, KD Lang, Kurt Elling, Tim Minchin, Barry Humphries, Slava Grigoryan and Emma Matthews.

In Australia, Northey has made his mark through his many critically acclaimed appearances as a guest conductor with all the Australian state symphony orchestras as well as opera productions including L’elisir d’amore, The Tales of Hoffmann and La sonnambula for State Opera of South Australia and Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte for Opera Australia. Recordings include several orchestral releases for ABC Classics with the Melbourne, Sydney, Tasmanian, Adelaide and West Australian Symphony Orchestras.

Northey is the recipient of numerous awards including the 2010 Melbourne Prize Outstanding Musician Award, the Brian Stacey Memorial Award, the Nelly Apt Scholarship and the 2007 Limelight Magazine Best Newcomer Award. In 2009, he was selected as one of three conductors worldwide to the Allianz International Conductor’s Academy where he conducted the London Philharmonic and the Philharmonia Orchestras under the mentorship of Vladimir Jurovsky and Chritoph von Dohnanyi.

Northey is an Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne Conservatorium where he is also a lecturer in conducting. He currently lives in Melbourne with his wife (the accomplished French Horn player Joanne Montesano) and their children.

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Slava Grigoryan


Slava Grigoryan was born in 1976 in Kazakhstan and immigrated with his family to Australia in 1981. As a major prizewinner at the Tokyo International Classical Guitar Competition, Slava was signed by the Sony Classical Label in 1995, and has since released six solo albums and many collaborative recordings.

He has appeared with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the London Philharmonic, BBC Concert Orchestra, the Northern Sinfonia, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Israel Symphony Orchestra, Dresden Radio Orchestra, the Klagenfurt Symphony Orchestra in Austria, the Hallé Orchestra, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, the New Zealand Symphony, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and all of the Australian Symphony Orchestras. He was a founding member of Saffire – The Australian Guitar Quartet with whom he toured Europe, North America and Australia.


Slava Grigoryan

Slava’s debut classical album for ABC Classics, Sonatas and Fantasies, was released in March 2002 and was awarded Best Classical Album at the 2002 ARIA Awards. Subsequent releases have included Play (with Leonard Grigoryan) and Saffire (The Australian Guitar Quartet) – the latter winning the Best Classical Album ARIA, two albums with Saffire, the Rodrigo Concertos with his brother Leonard and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, an album of music composed by Nigel Westlake entitled Shadowdances, and an album of baroque guitar concertos with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra under Benjamin Northey.

Since 2010, Slava has been the Artistic Director of the Adelaide International Guitar Festival.

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Leonard Grigoryan


Leonard Grigoryan was born in 1985. His elder brother Slava had already forged a career in music when Leonard was growing up. It was inevitable that once Slava returned to Australia – after several years working overseas – that the two would perform together.

In 2001, Leonard was the only guest artist on Slava’s ARIA award-winning album, Sonatas and Fantasies. The following year they released their first duo album Play, which was also nominated for an ARIA. Subsequent releases include Rodrigo Concertos for ABC Classics; Impressions – which featured the music of Debussy, de Falla and Mompou; and Distance on the Which Way Music label. Leonard and Slava have now released their fifth duo recording, The Seasons, and have performed together in the UK, USA, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Spain, Russia, Estonia, Croatia, Hungary, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa and the UAE as well as playing regular tours of Australia.


Leonard Grigoryan

Leonard also performs and composes for the groundbreaking contemporary jazz ensemble FGHR, which has released two albums – Stationary and Going Home. In June 2013, Leonard released his first solo album, aptly titled Solo, through Which Way Music.

In October 2015, This Time (featuring Slava and Leonard Grigoryan) was nominated as Best Classical Album for the ARIA Awards.

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About the Music

Manuel de Falla (1876-1846)

The Three-Cornered Hat: Suite No.2

Seguidillas (The Neighbours’ Dance)
Farruca (The Miller’s Dance)
Jota (Final Dance)

Manuel de Falla’s ballet The Three-Cornered Hat, based on the novel El corregidor y la molinera (The magistrate and the miller’s wife) by Pedro de Alarcón, is a manifestation of Spanish humour, biting and ironic.

The plot is simple: the miller’s attractive young wife is being pursued by the pompous old magistrate (the corregidor), whose amorous designs are eventually confounded by the miller. The second suite begins, as does Part 2 of the ballet, with a seguidillas, as the townspeople celebrate St John’s night. The miller then dances a vigorous farruca, before being arrested so that the corregidor can get at his wife. But the doddering old fool ends up in the millstream. He hangs up his clothes and three-cornered hat to dry off and the miller, having escaped, returns and puts on the corregidor’s clothes. The corregidor ends up in the miller’s clothes and is promptly ‘re-arrested’. All is eventually sorted out, but the corregidor is tossed in a blanket as the townspeople dance an exhilarating jota.

An earlier version of the work was performed as a pantomime in Madrid in 1917; Falla revised it for Sergei Diaghilev, whose Ballets Russes presented El sombrero de tres picos (‘The three-cornered hat’) in London in 1919, with sets and costumes by Picasso and choreography by Massine.

© Symphony Services International

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Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)

Concierto madrigal for two guitars and orchestra

I Fanfare (Allegro marziale)
II Madrigal (Andante nostalgico)
III Entrada (Allegro vivace)
IV ‘Pastorcico, tú que vienes, pastorcico, tú que vas’ (Allegro vivace)
V Girardilla (Presto)
VI Pastoral (Allegretto)
VII Fandango (Molto ritmico)
VIII Arietta (Andante nostalgico)
IX Zapateado (Allegro vivace)
X Caccia a la española (Allegro vivace – Andante nostalgico)

Slava Grigoryan guitar
Leonard Grigoryan guitar

Joaquín Rodrigo is the most important among Spanish composers of concertos; the Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) alone secures his lasting reputation. But he wrote an unprecedented 14 concertos, including five for guitar or groups of guitars with orchestra.

The Concierto madrigal is based on the 16th-century madrigal O felici occhi miei (O my eyes, how happy you are). Rodrigo’s title, however, is perhaps misleading. The ‘concerto’ (which in its ten brief movements is structurally really more a suite than a concerto) does indeed take O felici occhi miei as its starting-point and inspiration, but the madrigal itself appears in less than half of the movements. It is stated clearly in the second movement, where the flute sings the melody to a lute-like accompaniment from the guitars. The flute melody is heard in movement VIII, in a triple-time version, and fleetingly in movement IX as the guitars kick off a frenetic perpetuum mobile of staccato quavers; its opening motif provides the material for the swirling chase of the last movement, and the whole madrigal returns briefly in its original form to bring the Concierto to a tranquil close. The rest of the piece draws on an eclectic mix of sources, including a 15th-century villancico, Rodrigo’s own Concierto de Aranjuez and, of course, his beloved flamenco. The madrigal of the title has a unifying function, but most of the work inhabits a sound-world far removed from that of Jacques Arcadelt’s plaintive love song.

The Concierto opens with an almost defiant call to attention. Rodrigo’s setting begins in the second movement with the guitars alone; the melody, carried mostly by the flute, is Arcadelt’s.

The third-movement Entrada is a variation on the madrigal theme. Entradas, as the name suggests, were traditionally entrance pieces, but in mid-16th-century Spain the description had also come to indicate a polyphonic piece in which the various voices ‘entered’ one after another.

For the fourth movement, Rodrigo turned to the villancico, a medieval dance form which, by the mid-16th century, set to sacred texts in the vernacular, had become part of the liturgy of the church on feast days. (In modern Spanish, the word refers to a Christmas carol.) Pastorcico, tú que vienes, pastorcico, tú que vas (‘Little shepherd, you come and go’) becomes the subject of a dialogue between the guitars and the woodwinds (with trumpet); in movement V, it turns into a wild Andalusian Girardilla or ‘spinning dance’.

Following the Pastoral, the Fandango positively struts with flamenco pride; a haunting Arietta reintroduces the madrigal melody over a constant stream of cascading semiquavers. Emphatic accents perfectly match the heel-stamping of the Zapateado. The final movement is a Caccia or ‘chase’ in which the first guitar takes the lead, with the second guitar rushing after; there is a brief quote from the Concierto de Aranjuez before the pristine timbres of the madrigal return.

The Concierto madrigal was created for husband-and-wife duo Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya, who planned to give the premiere in 1966. Presti’s sudden and untimely death – she was only 42 – made this impossible, and the work had to wait until 1970 for its first performance, in the Hollywood Bowl with Angel and Pepe Romero.

Adapted from a note by Natalie Shea.

Reprinted by permission of ABC Classics © 2005

This is the first performance of the Concierto madrigal by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

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George Gershwin (1898-1937)

Cuban Overture

Cuba was American café society’s playground for many decades before Fidel Castro’s revolution. In the 1920s and early 1930s, its many natural attractions were enhanced by the American holidaymaker’s ability to drink alcohol in public at a time of Prohibition at home.

Gershwin’s Cuban holiday of 1932 was as much about wine and women (and of course, cigars) as it was about song. He frequented the nightspots, lay in the sun, gambled at the casinos, caroused with his cronies and was seen in the company of many attractive women. He also found the inspiration for his next orchestral piece.

On his numerous spins on Havana’s dance floors he became intrigued by the many special Latin percussion instruments featured by the native dance bands. He brought some of these back with him to New York in July and began work on the Cuban Overture immediately. The 1932 edition of his concert at New York’s Lewisohn Stadium was imminent, and he wanted to have the work premiered there. Writing at speed, he finished the whole piece in three weeks, completing the orchestration just a few days before the first performance.

Gershwin called the work ‘a symphonic overture which embodies the essence of Cuban dance’. It is constructed in three parts, the two outer, dance-inspired sections framing a central idyll that might be regarded as the Cuban equivalent of the ‘Blues’ section in Gershwin’s other musical travelogue, An American in Paris.

The work’s novelty lies in the changes Gershwin’s musical language had undergone as a result of his recent studies with the teacher and theorist Joseph Schillinger. His work with his new teacher brought to the Cuban Overture a greater textural diversity and harmonic complexity than in many of Gershwin’s previous works. Of course the other major innovation for Gershwin was his use of Cuban percussion instruments, including gourds, bongos and maracas. These are the work’s driving force, and dominate many of its most memorable passages.

Phillip Sametz © 2000

The Melbourne Symphony first performed Gershwin’s Cuban Overture in March 1996 with conductor William Southgate, and most recently in 2007 under Marko Letonja.

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Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)

Milonga del Ángel

In 1954 Astor Piazzolla won a scholarship to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He was by this stage acknowledged as a great composer of tangos and performer on the bandoneón (concertina) in his native Buenos Aires (though, incidentally, he spent many of his earliest years in New York) and had already studied with Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera. But Piazzolla, like Gershwin, yearned to be a serious composer and played down the importance of tango at first. Boulanger, however, showed her usual perspicacity. Hearing Piazzolla play tango on the bandoneón she famously said ‘Astor, your classical pieces are well written, but the true Piazzolla is here, never leave it behind,’ echoing Ravel’s advice to Gershwin that there was nothing he could teach the American.

Piazzolla took Boulanger’s advice, but at the same time his interest in ‘classical’ music allowed him to enrich his tango composition and move freely between popular and ‘serious’ musical worlds. He composed for Rostropovich, the Kronos Quartet and Gidon Kremer among others, and maintained an interest in ‘classical’ genres.

Despite Piazzolla’s distinguished career, tango was originally far from high art, and while its origins are complex it was the music of the porteños and porteñas – inhabitants of the slum port areas of Buenos Aires – in the early 20th century which is the root of Piazzolla’s art. (And, we might note, plenty of traditionalists believed that Piazzolla had ruined tango by developing it into a ‘classical’ genre as he did.) Piazzolla forged a style uniquely his own, often referred to these days as nuevo tango, which initially met with resistance but has since received the critical and popular acclaim it richly deserves.

Milonga del Ángel (the milonga is a kind of forerunner of the tango) belongs to a series of five ‘angel’ pieces written at various times by Piazzolla upon his return to Argentina after studying in Paris (he complemented this with an equivalent set of diablo pieces). The first, Tango del Ángel, dates from 1957 and was used as incidental music in a 1962 play of the same name by Alberto Rodríguez Muñoz. For this production Piazzolla also provided Milonga del Ángel (Dance of the Angel) and Muerte del Ángel (Death of the Angel). The play concerns an angel who, having come down to heal the souls of a Buenos Aires slum neighbourhood, is slain in a knife fight.

Oblivion is one of the numbers Piazzolla composed and recorded for Marco Bellocchio’s 1984 film Henry IV, a screen adaptation of Luigi Pirandello’s classic play. Bellocchio felt that Piazzolla captured perfectly the essence of the delusional central character, and this is encapsulated in the nostalgia-drenched, long melodic lines of Oblivion, arguably the soundtrack’s high point.

Libertango, composed shortly after Piazzolla’s move to Italy in 1974, was a response to his agent’s request for a series of short pieces suitable for radio. The resulting compositions, including the similarly named ‘Meditango’, ‘Undertango’, ‘Violentango’, ‘Tristango’, ‘Novitango’ and ‘Amelitango’, subsequently appeared on the album Libertango, whose rhythmic complexity and expanded instrumentation signalled a new direction for Piazzolla’s music. He later described the title track as ‘a sort of song to liberty’ – an expression of his intention to take tango to a new audience. ‘Libertango’ later achieved wider commercial success in a vocal version recorded by Grace Jones.

© Symphony Services International

Dianne Heywood-Smith and David Backler from Sidewalk Tango, specialists in Tango Argentino, will join the MSO onstage to dance to Piazzolla’s Oblivion and Libertango.


Sidewalk Tango

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Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)

Estancia: Suite, Op.8a

Los trabajadores agrícolas (The Farm Workers)
Danza del trigo (Wheat Dance)
Los peones de hacienda (The Cattle Men)

Once described by Aaron Copland as the ‘great white hope of Argentinian music’, Alberto Ginastera was born and educated in Buenos Aires, where he also later held several important teaching posts. He made frequent visits to the United States and Europe, finally settling in Switzerland in 1971.

Estancia dates from early in Ginastera’s career, a period the composer himself called ‘objective nationalism’, characterised by presentation of overt Argentine musical materials in a direct, tonal manner (his later music drew on more avant-garde influences).
In 1941, Lincoln Kirstein commissioned Ginastera to compose a ballet for his American Ballet Caravan, due to make a tour of Argentina. This was to be Estancia.

The ballet was overtly nationalistic in its adoption of the ‘gauchesco tradition’. The original ballet called for a baritone soloist who intoned passages from Martín Fierro, the great epic poem by José Hernández (1834-1886) which extolled the life of the gauchos, those distinctive Argentinian cowboys, who led their lives according to an unwritten code of honour. The scenario was a celebration of rural Argentina, set on an estancia or ranch, with its hard-labouring agricultural workers. Into this setting comes a city slicker who falls for one of the local peasant girls. She despises him, until he proves that he, too, is up to the most arduous tasks.

Ginastera selected four of the ballet’s main dances to make up his concert suite. While Wheat Dance provides the suite’s clearest expression of the more contemplative mood which Ginastera evidently associated with the solitude and immensity of the pampas, we get a clear sense of the folkloric energy of the ballet from the other dances, particularly the virile malambo, the energetic dance of the gauchos, which was to provide a model for many of Ginastera’s later rapid toccata-like movements.

Symphony Australia © 2008

The only previous performance of the suite from Estancia by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra took place in 1980 under the direction of Thomas Mayer.

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