Tango legend Walter Rios to perform in Hong Kong concert supported by local cellist Justin Siu and pianist Stephanie Fung

Violinist Momoko Aida, guitarist Nobel Queano, double bassist Eliza Chen and singer Mariel Dupetit – Rios’ wife – complete hand-picked line-up for show featuring both traditional tango and Astor Piazzolla’s pioneering ‘nuevo tango’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2017, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 July, 2017, 6:08pm

Organising tango music concerts in Hong Kong is no mean feat – local musician and impresario Justin Siu can attest to that. But following last November’s well-received Tango Apasionado show at the Sheung Wan Civic Centre, Siu will be presenting, as well as performing in, another live concert on Sunday, featuring the world-famous tango composer, arranger and virtuoso bandoneon performer Walter Rios.

Siu says the “soul of the tango” is the bandoneon, a concertina-like instrument originally from Germany that somehow found its spiritual home in Argentina. However, because it is fiendishly difficult to master, good players are in short supply – particularly in Asia.

Since Rios, 74, is among the leading exponents of contemporary tango music, and is particularly admired for his prowess on the bandoneon, it fell to Siu to assemble musicians who can play authentic tango music alongside him. To do that, the classical cellist and jazz bassist turned to YouTube.

Siu says the online video platform is perfect not so much for auditioning but for making “remarkable” discoveries.

“Auditioning can be done via other digital platforms. What sets YouTube apart is that it is just so immensely vast and resourceful on all fronts, ready to be discovered,” he says.

“YouTube has everyone from amateurs to the very best professionals across the globe. The [search] process is typical of any online research: I came up with certain keywords, made the search, identified certain individuals [and] further looked up their performances on YouTube.

“If I ended up liking what they did, I would then research further. That would result in me reaching out to the musicians, sometimes via the person who posted the video in the first place. I usually receive a response within a couple of months.”

It was through this method that Siu found Taiwanese bandoneonista Mark Wu for Tango Apasionado. “I listened to his playing and thought, ‘He is properly good.’ I’d listened to authentic recordings from Argentina and he was up there with those,” he recalls.

It also turned out that Wu had been a student of Rios, and was arranging to bring him to Taiwan for a concert. “He asked me if I’d be interested in bringing him to Hong Kong. Of course I jumped at the opportunity,” Siu says.

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Rios was sent links to video clips of performances from Tango Apasionado so that he could choose the ensemble for his Hong Kong concert. From the musicians who played that night, he chose Siu on cello and Stephanie Fung on piano from the Hong Kong performers, and violinist Momoko Aida from Japan. Other videos convinced him of the suitability of guitarist Nobel Queano from the Philippines and double bassist Eliza Chen from Taiwan.

Rios’ wife and regular concert partner, singer Mariel Dupetit, also from Argentina, completes the ensemble.

They all met as a group for the first time in Taiwan this week, ahead of their Taipei performance on July 14. Rios performed as part of a longer bill featuring Taiwanese musicians and dancers.

Tango is the grooviest music that doesn’t have drums. Even the violin becomes a percussive instrument
Justin Siu

Dance will not be an element of the Hong Kong concert,at Rios’ request, to allow the musicians to play a longer programme. The first half will consist of traditional tango music, with the second featuring nuevo tango pioneered by Astor Piazzolla.

“The programme I’ve chosen for this opportunity is like a musical promenade,” Rios says, “from our most beloved classics like Horacio Salgán with his A Fuego Lento, Responso by Aníbal Troilo and … others – and then the music of Astor Piazzolla.

“All these pieces will be from my own perspective and inspiration in the moment of writing the arrangements. I want to show the incredible universe of different sensations our music achieves – the colours, the emotions, the feelings each human being has.”

Rios is particularly keen to pay tribute to Piazzolla, who died in 1992 and was a close friend and inspiration to him.

“The second part, dedicated to Piazzolla, commemorates 25 years since he passed away. It’s a celebration of his music, his dreams, his legacy, and for that, I will play the bandoneon Astor gave me in 1967. I will also play my own pieces with these extraordinary musicians and I have no doubt that to share the stage with them will be a real pleasure,” he says.

Siu, a classically trained jazz musician, says he feels that elements of both jazz and tango come together in nuevo tango, which eschews the steady tempo dancers require. Piazzolla’s music, he says, is virtually undanceable.

“Tango – especially nuevo tango with Astor Piazzolla – has a lot of jazz influences. Tango is the grooviest music that doesn’t have drums. Even the violin becomes a percussive instrument, and this Japanese lady [Aida] can really do that,” Siu says.

“The bass is very rhythmic, and the staccato on the bandoneon is stronger than on any other accordion-like instrument. That’s what the tango is. Every instrument contributes, but then there is the classical side as well, because the groove changes tempo as it does in classical music.

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“It’s very organic. There are periods of strong groove, and very fluid groove. To me that’s like classical music and jazz meeting in the middle in terms of rhythm.”

The music has certainly come a long way from the brothels of Buenos Aires, and the evening of Tango Apasionado 2 presents an opportunity to hear it performed at an exceptionally high level.

Tango Apasionado 2, July 16, 7.45pm, Hong Kong Jockey Club Amphitheatre, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Tickets: HK$100-HK$350. Inquiries 3188 2466