Two of Toronto’s finest musicians, violinist Conrad Chow and pianist Michael Berkovsky share their versatility and brilliant technique in an enthralling afternoon of tango and jazz with live dancers. Tango & Jazz Nuevo will takek place Sunday, May 22nd at the George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto Centre for the Arts.
Berkovsky, Chow, and dancer Anjelica Scannura took time from their busy teaching and rehearsing schedule to speak more about their work together, the Tango & Jazz Nuevo concert, and more.
HM: How long have the two of you been performing together?
Michael B: We met a few years ago as working buddies at the Taylor Academy and realizing we had many things in common, performed [together for the] first time in 2013, I believe. Conrad is an amazing musician so working with him is absolutely fun! Since then, we’ve collaborated a few times in various venues, as well as the important occasional beer night.
Conrad C: That’s right – I think we collaborated together with some chamber music (Schumann, Brahms) first, which is always the best way for musicians to get to know each other; and since then we’ve even had our respective students featured together in recitals over the last few years. It is energizing to have a counterpart not only in the performance world, but also on the teaching side of things as well. It was only a matter of time until we ended up partnering as impresarios as well!
HM: For this particular concert, how did you pick the pieces the ensemble would perform? Can you speak more about the chosen pieces by Astor Piazzolla & Claude Bolling?
MB: It was my dream for many years to perform Piazzolla’s tangos with dancers. I was a student of Emmanuel Ax at Juilliard, when in 2001 he released a CD of 2 piano music by Piazzolla. I was obsessed with that recording and heard it dozens of times. Anjelica Scannura, I met at another concert in 2012 and was taken by her passionate flamenco dancing. After seeing her show in downtown Toronto I swore to have her at my tango concert. These tangos are full of sentimentality, passion, sensuality, and love. Although I’m not a jazz musician, these works bring a wonderful fusion of the different elements in both classical and jazz works. Besides, I’ve never played with drums and always wanted to try it – I absolutely love it now!
CC: I first performed Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires as a member of the iPalpiti Chamber Orchestra with Maestro Eduard Schmieder, while on tour in LA, and later again at the American String Teachers Association conference in Santa Clara. Pieces like this have an infectious energy – and they capture the imaginations of listeners in much the same way Vivaldi’s Four Seasons did 250 years earlier. Many audience members later say “it’s like I’ve loved this music all my life, even though I just heard it for the first time today!” When I gave a TedX talk about what makes a “classic” last year – these pieces came up as having that x-factor that keeps them timeless and universally loved regardless of genre or style.
HM: How do you blend the genre of music in your concerts; in this case, tango and jazz?
CC: I think the tough work has already been done by the composers themselves. Claude Bolling, who was commissioned by famous violinist/violist/conductor Pinchas Zukerman to write a suite for Jazz violin and piano in 1977 is really masterful in the seamless way he blends classical, dance, and jazz idioms into one piece. He goes through a wide variety of forms (i.e. Hora, Ragtime, Tango, Slavonic Dance) and blends them in some really unexpected ways (eg. Baroque Gavotte, Caprice, Sinatra-style waltz ballad), and like bananas and peanut butter, it totally works!!
On the other hand, there are aspects of tango and jazz that are so different, we celebrate the contrast. The sheer heat and passion of tango needs to be cooled off with some cool jazz to give the audiences some room to breathe and rest their souls! In both cases, in completely opposite ways, we hope audiences will be transported our of the relentless hustle of life, into something they can enjoy and sink into.
HM: Please share how the ensemble works together with the dancers, Anjelica Scannura and Damian Norman?
MB: Anjelica choreographed all the works in the first half. The only challenge is to not get distracted by their exciting dancing. Here and there, we need to watch them with greater attention to sync our tempos with theirs, but truthfully we all feel the music with equal passion so working in such an ensemble seems very organic.
Anjelica S: For me, the choreographic process begins with the music. When I was presented with it, the inspiration flowed naturally. Because the music is experimental, I felt compelled to introduce vocabulary from my previous dance backgrounds. Another key is having a great dance partner, who can physically translate and realize ideas. The end result culminates in a contemporary + traditional hybrid, which complements the music and helps it visually come to life.
HM: For those who have not attended one of your concerts, how should they expect?
MB: We strive to connect with our audiences. Many of our listeners are our students whom we hope are inspired to keep music in their lives after hearing their teachers perform. We will be talking during the concert with our audience to tell them some personal stories about ourselves as well as the works we’re performing.
From the sounds of it, Tango & Jazz Nuevo is sure to be a visual and musical treat. I have not had the pleasure of hearing Berkovsky nor Chow play live, but I am very much looking forward to an afternoon filled with lovely sounds.
Tango & Jazz Nuevo
Sunday, May 22, 2:30 pm
George Weston Recital Hall
Toronto Centre for the Arts
Conrad Chow, violin
Michael Berkovsky, piano
Anjelica Scannura & Damian Norman, dancers
Andrew Ascenzo, cello
Lorne Grossman, drums
Bob Mills, bass
Tickets: $27 – 55
Tickets: online or by calling 1-855-985-2787