If music be the food of love, feast on ‘Latin Lovers’

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Valentine’s Day, in case you’ve forgotten, is Feb. 14. And as you bask in the romantic afterglow, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra will stoke the glowing embers of love for a little longer with its “Latin Lovers” concert.

This program of romantic music performed by the symphony from Feb. 15 to 17 at The Bushnell includes Aaron Copland’s “El Salón México,” Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango,” and “Aconcagua: Concerto for Bandoneón,” Frank’s “Three Latin American Dances,” and Márquez’s “Danzón No. 2.’

“Aconcaqua” will feature Julien Labro, who is known primarily for his accordion work that mines the musical realms of classical and jazz. For the piece, Labro will be playing thebandoneon, which is from the same instrument family as the accordion.

Labro’s love affair with the accordion reaches back to when he was 9 years old.

“In Europe, the accordion isn’t as uncommon or unique as it is in North America,” said Labro in an email interview. “In fact, it is used quite pervasively throughout Europe, especially in the folk/traditional music setting. Because of this, I had grown up with the sound of the accordion in my ear as part of my cultural upbringing.”

However, the accordion came into his performance life when he was 9. “I saw an accordion player on TV and for some reason, that day, the movement of the instrument completely fascinated me.”

“After the show ended, I asked my parents for lessons and the rest is history,” said Labro

The Hartford Symphony concert is dubbed “Latin Lovers.” And the theme of romance is fitting when it comes to Latin music, explained Labro.

“I find Latin music to be very sensuous in a ‘heart on your sleeve’ kind of way,” said Labro. “There are no reservations. It can be fiery, romantic, melancholy, exuberant. It captures raw emotions and moods extremely effectively and therefore is very good at evoking feelings in the performer and the audience.”

“Also,” said Labro, “the rhythm and swing of Latin music almost begs whoever is listening to dance and very often, you will see people moving to the music without even realizing it.”

Labro also said the accordion is the right tool for evoking these feelings of amore.

“The accordion… is an instrument that should be a hallmark of European romanticism,” said Labro.

“The funny thing is that because the accordion is so rare in North America, when people hear it, they often don’t realize it’s the accordion… However, when most people imagine a soundtrack for Paris or Tuscany, what they are really imagining is actually the sounds of an accordion,” said Labro.

“When you combine an instrument like the accordion and use it to play sensual provocative Latin music,” said Labro, “what could be better to set the mood for Valentine’s Day?”

Although he is known for his accordion playing, for the Hartford Symphony concert, Labro will be playing the bandoneon.

“The bandoneon was invented in Germany and originally was intended to mimic the sounds of a church organ and serve as a mobile organ for smaller churches,” explained Labro. “[T]he resulting sound is a lot more melancholy and somber in comparison to an accordion, which can be quite light and jovial in tone.”

“The bandoneon moved to Argentina as a result of the sailors who brought the bandoneon with them in their travels,” said Labro. “The Argentines fell in love with the melancholy tone of the instrument and it was quickly adopted into tango music because the tone was able to enhance the passionate nature of the tango dance.”

The bandoneon and the accordion often can be found as solo instruments. But for this series of concerts with the Hartford Symphony, Labro will be accompanied by a full orchestra.

“I love the sound of both the accordion and the bandoneon against the backdrop of an orchestra,” said Labro. “I think both instruments work beautifully in the classical setting… Both instruments have such rich sounds that they bring unique textures, depth and tones when layered with big or small classical ensembles.”

For “Latin Lovers,” Labro will be performing “Aconcagua” by Astor Piazzolla.

“Piazzola [is]… without a doubt [was], the best bandoneon player that has ever lived,” said Labro. “He completely revolutionized how people understand the bandoneon, tango, music, etc.”

“The piece, specifically, is beautiful and very uniquely reflects the voice of Astor Piazzolla, whose influences crossed genres and cultures,” said Labro. “Astor himself was of Italian heritage. He was born in Argentina, spent a lot of his youth in New York City before he returned to Argentina, and even spent a lot of time studying in Europe.”

“Musically,” said Labro, “he was influenced by jazz, Latin, and classical music… [He] melded these influences together, creating new and interesting music.”

When the audience listens to “Aconcqua,” Labro said, “It is every musician’s goal to transcend the actions of simply playing notes on an instrument and to bring out emotions, connections, memories and feelings in the listener, thereby creating an experience.”

“However, at the end of the day,” said the bandoneon player, “I think that romance is a subjective experience so people will have to just come and find out for themselves [how it makes them feel].”

Hartford Symphony Orchestra presents “Latin Lovers” Friday to Sunday, Feb. 15 to 17. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday.

For tickets, call (860)987-5900 or visit www.hartfordsymphony.org

Julien Labro will play the bandoneon with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra Feb. 15 to 17.