Think of a synonym for "piercing" but without any negative connotations, and you're on your way to describing the sound of the bandoneon. It's sort of like an accordion with a Type A personality. It's an instrument with a keen sense of purpose, that purpose being perhaps to lure you down the path into the sensual delights of both pleasure and anguish. It's the sound of the tango.
The Richmond Symphony was joined by Latin Grammy-winning bandoneon player Raul Jaurena, as well as members of the Latin Ballet of Virginia, for a Pops concert at the Landmark. RSO Candidate #4, Marc Taddei, conducted.
Jaurena and his 1905 bandoneon didn't force their way into the performance, though. He played 6 of the 9 pieces on the program, and 2 or 3 of those were short dance numbers with the bandoneon simply fronting the orchestra rather than explicitly soloing. I almost wished we could have heard more solo cadenzas, or whatever they're called when a bandoneon plays them.
My two favorite pieces with Jaurena were "A Media Luz" by Edgardo Donato--which began with a beautiful bandoneon/oboe duet--and "Adios Nonino" by Astor Piazzolla, which also had elegant, narrative choreography by Latin Ballet Director Ana Ines King. (Dancers performed on all the same pieces as Jaurena, with as few as 2 and as many as 12 on stage.)
The orchestra also played Piazzolla's "Las Cuatro Estaciones Portenas"/"The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires," with Concertmaster Karen Johnson soloing--another standout piece on the program. Oddly, even though the full orchestra sounded a little lost in the too-big Landmark Theater, their best sound came during the parts of this piece (and a few others) when a small group of musicians played a passage, concertante-style. All the Piazzolla works (they also played his "Concerto for Bandoneon") were the most interesting to listen to, with a more complex structure than a straight dance tune.
Taddei--who planned the well-put-together playlist--seemed capable enough but not extraordinary. In general, the orchestra could have done the snappy parts a little snappier, but it really was a hard space to work in. More than anything, it was simply a pleasure to listen the music, to watch the dancers, to allow my imagination to wander all over the world, and then to walk the 8 blocks home in a gentle rain, hearing the bandoneon in my mind while the streetlights glistened in puddles and made dance partners of the shadows of bicycles and signposts.