Arts Classical attitude

News and notes from San Antonio’s other music scene

Art critics and historians — visual, musical, or otherwise — often look at how stylistic and aesthetic shifts instigate or reflect larger social phenomena. So what does it mean that in the past few years everything’s coming up tango?

An easy answer is that the tango is downright sexy when it’s played right. The epitome of intense passion, love, anguish, and stylized violence come together in the well-crafted tango. Perhaps the classical chamber musician, long categorized as conservative and stuffy, feels compelled to throw off the shackles of squaredom. But there are many ways to accomplish that feat, from high-end photo shoots to the selection of a far more edgy, slick, innovative repertoire than the tango.

Classical musicians and artistic directors do, however, make an attempt to appeal to the general public. Tango’s broad appeal since the beginning of the 20th century has often been tied to political and social upheaval. Its roots in the late 19th-century brothels and bars of Buenos Aires have been linked to the urban influx of workers and speculators that ended up broke and stranded in the slums. Spurned by the social elite as a degraded and depraved dance form, tango’s socially critical song texts may have made the ruling class even more nervous. By World War I, the tango was the rage in Paris and New York, and it may have been precisely that depraved, sensual nature that has assured tango’s place in the popular and classical imagination.

Interest in the music of Latin American composers has expanded the range of music available to classical musicians, particularly the nuevo tango of Argentinean composer and bandoneón player Astor Piazzolla. Amid the influx of 1960s political pop, Piazolla resuscitated the musical relevance of the tango and left a huge repertoire for contemporary ensembles. Local performances include last year’s Cactus Pear Music Festival, with more scheduled this summer. Camerata San Antonio, Musical Bridges, and SOLI have all included his works. Musical Offerings’ ongoing Taste of Tango series is increasingly popular, perhaps due to their traditional instrumentation of accordion, violin, piano, and bass. Their upcoming concert at 7 p.m., February 18, at the Instituto de México, accompanied by Puro Tango co-founders Josue Vazquez-Garcia and Loreen Alvarez, includes several works by Piazzolla and other classic tangos. $10 suggested donation.

For a flashier, more dance-oriented tango experience, Arts San Antonio is bringing Julio Bocca’s Argentinean Bocca Tango to the Lila Cockrell Theatre Friday, February 24. Ticket prices range from $20-40. For info or tickets: 226-2891.

For more info on local tango dancing, including Puro Tango, SA Tangueros, and Tango Argentina de SA, visit There’s plenty of tango action out there; pick your poison.

Diana Roberts


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