Music and dance, specifically, the tango, come together next Wednesday, Sept. 22, for the latest instalment of Music Niagara Festival’s At Home Concert Series.
Let’s Tango!, recorded in front of a live audience of about 70 under the marquee at Chateau des Charmes Winery earlier this month, sees the return of the much-loved Quartetto Gelato as they take on the music of Astor Piazzolla.
On the phone from his Hamilton-area home, oboist and band leader Colin Maier talks of the enduring appeal of the dance that originated in the 1880s along the Río de la Plata, between Argentina and Uruguay, and that of the master of the music that accompanies it.
“Piazzolla took this form of music, and developed it in a way that no one else had really done,” Maier says. “It was this dance form that came from the bordellos in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He comes along and starts to give it this fresh look that almost sounds classical at times.”
“His tangos don’t have the cliches the music is often associated with,” he continues. “There’s so much intensity and honesty in his music. As much as tango is about the dance steps, it’s about the feeling you get from tango — the passion, the emotion, the moodiness and the darkness. You get that from listening to his music, without even seeing the dance.”
In addition to Quartetto Gelato, violinists Rebekah Volksteen and Drew Jurecka, of Toronto’s Payadora Tango Ensemble, perform with Music Niagara founder and artistic director Atis Bankas and harpist Erica Goodman.
“There is a piece Atis does during the show, with Erica, The History of Tango, the first three movements,” explains Maier. “It’s amazing. Without any dance, you know it’s a tango. You know there’s a storyline of passion, or lust. When words don’t work, that’s when music is important.”
Of course a program focusing on tango can only be improved with the addition of a dancer. Toronto-born Andrea Ciacci, a dancer, choreographer, actor and motion capture specialist, takes on that role in this show.
Maier himself may cut a rug during Let’s Tango! as well.
Before he became a full-time musician, the 45-year-old Maier worked professionally for 15 years in musical theatre. Maier played the devil fiddler in the flying blue canoe for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremonies. His theatre credits include work in the stage version of The Lord of the Rings, and roles in Amadeus, Cats and A Chorus Line.
Fans of Quartetto Gelato are familiar with his four-tool arsenal of singing, playing, dancing and acting skills.
“Dance is a regular part of a Quartetto show,” he says. “I usually do some Ukrainian dancing, or do the splits. I try to throw those in because it’s a use-it-or-lose-it kind of thing. I try to regularly keep up those skills.”
He recalls one on-stage dance incident that almost resulted in one of those embarrassing moments to which all can relate.
“Over the years I’ve gotten more tailored pants,” Maier laughs, “and those ones are not stretchy. I made the mistake once of putting those on and trying to do the splits. When I heard the rip I decided I’d stop there, halfway down.”
Maier is impressed with the risks Bankas and the Music Niagara board have taken with this year’s programming. The 2021 At Home Concert Series has featured the music of avant garde composer John Cage, and an upcoming show called Shaw and Music focuses on the rarely heard German composer Hermann Goetz. The tango is certainly another example of the festival stepping out of its comfort zone.
“Every year he and his team come up with new material and multiple concerts,” he says. “They take artistic and musical risks. You have to try something new. People want to hear that. The easy way would be to do the greatest hits of Beethoven, but they go beyond that.”
Another risk that is coming later this winter once again includes Maier and his quartet. They will be reuniting with local comedian Joe Pillitteri, with whom they collaborated last year on Music Niagara’s show Music and Laughter.
“It’s a talk show,” Maier explains. “We received a grant (through the recent provincial Reconnect Festivals and Events Program) to put this together. Gelato will be the house band, and Joe is the host. It will be like a late-night talk show.”
He continues, “the possibilities are endless. We get to work with local businesses and interview them. We’ll talk to local musicians and artists. The focus will be on local businesses and hospitality as well as on music. I’m convinced it will go over really well.”
Maier expects to record the talk show segments in November or December of this year.
The multi-instrumentalist welcomed the opportunity to perform for the larger audience at Chateau des Charmes this month, and knows that viewers of next week’s At Home Series instalment will feel the energy it brought to the performances.
“The entire tent was full,” he remembers. “You didn’t see any empty seats. The energy is very symbiotic.”
The entire world lost the ability to have an audience and performers together, he says. “We took it for granted. I think it’s pretty obvious. What both sides of the equation get is pretty special. The live performance industry will never, ever go away.”
In three weeks Quartetto Gelato will be performing in the U.S. for the first time since the pandemic started. He’s a little nervous about the trip to Zanesville, Ohio, but also excited. And the quartet is putting finishing touches on a new CD, Tasty Tunes, to be released in November.
Let’s Tango! premieres on musicniagara.org and the Music Niagara Festival YouTube channel Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 4 p.m.