From Costa Mesa to Costa Rica

When Carl St.Clair had the idea of a video project that would bring together the principal trumpets of the two orchestras where he is currently the music director, he approached Barry Perkins, Pacific Symphony’s principal trumpet. As Perkins tells it, “Carl asked if it were possible for me to collaborate on a video project with Juan Carlos Meza, principal trumpet of the National Symphony of Costa Rica. I was certainly more than happy to get something together for this musical endeavor and fortunately, I stumbled upon an arrangement I had done for my group, The Barry Perkins Collective, called ‘La Muerte del Ángel’ by Astor Piazzolla. I thought if I could re-arrange this for 5 to 7 trumpets, it would fit perfectly as a musical mosaic for Juan and me.”

Perkins continues the story, “Also, now that video creation and editing is my new passion, I thought this was a great way to put these skills to work! Seeing that both of our orchestras were not performing because of the pandemic, we were able to get this recorded in a relatively short amount of time. The result so far has been very well received both here in the United States as well as in Latin America.”

“La Muerte del Ángel” turned out to be a fortuitous choice for this Costa Mesa-Costa Rica collaboration. Astor Piazzolla was born in Buenos Aires, but grew up in New York City. He returned to Buenos Aires to play tango and study with Alberto Ginastera. As an Argentine-American composer he represents both American and Latin American cultures. Piazzolla, who was a master of the bandoneón (the tango accordion), revolutionized the traditional tango into a new style called nuevo tango, which incorporates elements from jazz and classical music. As an added bonus, Juan Carlos Meza had actually experienced Astor Piazzolla himself performing “La Muerte del Ángel” in Buenos Aires.

Piazzolla composed “La Muerte del Ángel” as incidental music for the three-act play “El tango del Ángel” (1962) by the Argentine dramatist Alberto Rodríguez Muñoz. The work tells the story of an angel who comes down to earth to heal broken human spirits in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, but ends up dying in a brutal knife fight with the devil. “Death of the Angel” is a startling example of the manner in which Piazzolla pushed the limits of traditional tango. It is a five-voice fugue with a propulsive bassline. The rhythms and harmonies are uncompromising, and the piece itself is exhilarating.

Barry Perkins’s arrangement is completely faithful to the energy of Piazzolla’s original composition. In fact, the intensity of five trumpets seems to emphasize the angular muscularity of the fugue. Listening to this arrangement, it’s easy to imagine the desperate knife-fight to the death between angel and devil.

Watch Barry Perkins’s video here!

In the 1950s, Astor Piazzolla became a pariah back home for his unconventional, complex tangos.

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