Why is there a squeezebox on stage with Pacific Symphony this week? Well, that’s not just any button accordion—it’s a bandoneón, the rich, dark-voiced squeezebox that was born to sing the blues of Buenos Aires: the tango. The bandoneon is a type of concertina popular in Argentina and Uruguay. It’s considered to be the musical heart and soul of the tango.
The famed Argentine-American composer Astor Piazzolla used to tell audiences the instrument’s background by recounting that the bandoneon was invented in Germany to be used as a small organ in churches, but ended up in the brothels of Buenos Aires before moving on to the international tango scene. “Yes, this instrument has had an interesting tour,” Piazzolla would say smiling.
“Sinfonia Buenos Aires,” the final piece on the program (May 2, 3, 4), is by Piazzolla, who was a virtuoso bandoneonista. He wrote a part for himself and, in fact, this sinfonia was accomplished enough to win Piazzolla a scholarship to study in France with noted composition teacher Nadia Boulanger. It was Boulanger who told Piazzolla that his true creative voice was in composing for the bandoneon. He went on to revolutionize the traditional tango into a new style termed “nuevo tango,” incorporating elements from jazz and classical music.
Playing the bandoneon part for these concerts will be Daniel Binelli, direct from Buenos Aires. Binelli is widely acclaimed as the foremost exponent and torchbearer of the music of Astor Piazzolla. Watch this video of Binelli playing, and notice that the instrument when fully open is over three feet wide!
– by Jeanne Quill