Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 20, 2017

Music for Forbidden Dances

Aston Magna Music Festival
Saint James Place, Great Barrington, MA
Saturday, June 17, 2017
by Rebecca Phelps

Last Saturday an audience of enthusiastic fans greeted the first musical delight of Aston Magna’s 45th season. Music for Forbidden Dances was a departure from purely Baroque and early music genres, featuring some obscure instruments; i.e. the bandoneon and a chalumeau (precursor to the clarinet), along with traditional instruments.

Daniel Stepner
The first half of the concert followed the development of two dance forms primarily known as movements in baroque dance suites: the sarabande and the chaconne. The opening medley, “Ensalada,” entertained us to the syncopated, raucous rhythms of the early roots of these dances, brought from the New World back to Spain and Europe, and considered to be too provocative for proper society.

The most famous chaconne ever written was performed by Daniel Stepner, Aston Magna artistic director and violinist extraordinaire: the “Chaconne in d minor” from the Second Partita for violin, by J.S. Bach. This tour-de-force of stamina, skill and mental concentration, lasting over 15 minutes, was performed with great vigor by Stepner.

The second half of the concert brought us into the 20th century, and the world of the tango, featuring the bandoneon, a concertina-like instrument invented in Germany which caught on like wildfire in Argentina. Hector del Curto is a virtuosic player from a long line of Argentinian bandoneon players; both his grandfather and great-grandfather were bandoneonists. Musical talent runs in the family as was evident when he introduced his wife, a wonderful cellist, and his young son, a clarinetist. Together they played the evocative “Oblivion”, by Astor Piazzolla, bringing us into the other deliciously forbidden dance form featured in the program: the Tango.

The final piece, “Tango” by Robert Xavier Rodriquez, was a theatrical work narrated and sung by the talented Frank Kelly. It told a history of the tango in the 20th century through news clippings and actual sermon quotes from Cardinal Pompeii.

Clearly some very imaginative programming and fine musicianship went into this program, the first of Aston Magna’s summer series.