South America pays tribute to the historic and contemporary ingenuity of musicians and composers from South America. We celebrate the sundrenched and often intoxicating music from this continent, pay homage to Astor Piazzolla, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Carlos Gardel, Antonio’s father the violinist Alberto Lysy, and new work by the Argentine bandoneon master Coco Trivisonno.
Antonio won Yarlung’s first GRAMMY® Award, for our first project together, Antonio Lysy at The Broad: Music from Argentina in 2011. Antonio’s son Aidan served as Yarlung’s mascot on stage with Antonio at the GRAMMY Awards. He stood at half Antonio’s height for his GRAMMY acceptance, and Aidan is now a grown man at his first year at university.
This recording breaks new ground for Yarlung in several ways. This was our first opportunity to work with Coco Trivisonno, one of the last living members of Piazzolla’s intrepid ensemble, one of the titans who transformed Argentine music. We commissioned Coco to create new arrangements of three songs made famous by Carlos Gardel, for cello and bandoneon. These arrangements commissioned by Rinchen Lhamo and Linda Attiyeh, pay homage to the popular roots of tango in Argentina, before Piazzolla changed it forever. In homage to Carlos Gardel and to this album’s executive producers Carlos and Haydee Mollura, Antonio and Coco chose three tunes, Volver, written by Gardel in 1935, Yo Te Bendigo, written by Juan de Dios Filiberto in 1900, and Divina, written by Joaquín Mora in 1928.
Coco sent me a note while arranging these pieces. He said «A estos temas se los conocía como “Tango Canción” por el destacado sentido romántico, tanto de sus letras como de sus músicas». This translates approximately “The distinct romantic mood in these songs comes as much from the words as from the music. The themes are historically known as sung tango, or ‘tango songs.’”
Tango originated in New Spain, in what is now Uruguay and Argentina, in the cities surrounding Rio de la Plata, the “River of Silver.” This is the estuary emptying into the Atlantic Ocean that forms the border between the two countries. Montevideo, Uruguay, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, are the two principal cities on either side of the river. Tango evolved from candombe, barely vocalized humming dominated by drummers playing African polyrhythms. Musicians, African slaves and their descendants, came together at an open spot in the city, called a tangó. The word tangó means gathering place for African slaves. It also refers to the African drum used in these dances, and later referred to the houses where these dances and rituals took place in secret. The ruling families in what is now Uruguay tried to ban tangó in 1808. The dances were considered lascivious and degenerate because of their African provenance. Think of the similar horror “civilized Europeans” felt at the overtly sexual nature of the Chaconne, or Ciaconna, another provocative dance imported to Europe from the New World. When we consider the Chaconne as it was artfully celebrated in dance suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, we may marvel at Bach’s genius but wonder what all the fuss was about.
Not to be deterred, and drawn by this irresistible tango music, gypsies soon joined these African festivities in the tangós surrounding Rio de la Plata, and added guitar. Remember these roots when you hear Antonio and Coco play the beautiful songs at the conclusion of this album.
One of the reasons I enjoy working with Antonio so much is that he pushes musical, technological and endurance boundaries with every project he creates. After our first album, Antonio and ensemble took our repertoire on tour to three continents (three continents so far!) adding dancers, video and still photography. He called this performance Te Amo, Argentina, after which we named his second LP. Undaunted, Antonio created an audiovisual marathon masterpiece performance of all six of Bach’s suites for solo cello in a single concert, utilizing video and still images, and performing the cycle on a Luis & Clark carbon fiber cello instead of the Carlo Tononi cello from 1700 used in our recordings. Antonio has recently begun a tour performing all of the Beethoven cello sonatas, presented in one concert, with cello and forte piano.
In South America, Antonio and Yarlung break new ground once again, using SonoruS Holographic Imaging technology to enable Antonio to play every part in a cello orchestra. Arian Jansen’s SHI technology and Antonio’s meticulous preparation with the help of his rehearsal assistant Chloe Knudsen-Robbins made this possible. To learn more about how SHI works, please visit yarlungrecords.com/sonorus/
This recording also enabled Antonio to introduce us to talented and generous harpist Marcia Dickstein Vogler and flutist Anastasia Petanova, for the performances of Villa Lobos’ Black Swan for harp and cello which opens this album, as well as Jet Whistle for flute and cello. As standard in Yarlung albums, these, and the performances with Coco Trivisonno, are all single takes.
The Kodály Duo and Antonio’s father Alberto Lysy
Along with Martha Argerich, Alberto Lysy remains one of South America’s most celebrated classical concert musicians. He was the first South American to win a coveted prize at the Queen Elizabeth competition in Brussels in 1955. Alberto met his future mentor and teacher, Yehudi Menuhin, at the competition. Menuhin was serving as a member of the jury. Years later, Alberto founded the International Menuhin Music Academy in Gstaad Switzerland in 1977, and remained director of the school for thirty years, teaching there until shortly before his death in 2009. Our executive producers, Carlos and Haydee Mollura, also from Argentina, knew Alberto as a young violinist (and later as a superstar). The Molluras expressed their delight when Antonio and I mentioned that we might release a recording of this famous duet recorded in Switzerland when Alberto was still in his prime.
Zoltán Kodály wrote his Opus 7 Duo for Violin and Cello in 1914. Antonio’s father Alberto Lysy had the privilege of learning this work with the composer in advance of a performance with Gaspar Cassadó in 1958.
Later, Antonio and Alberto became major performers of the work in both formal and informal settings. I asked Antonio to share some of this history:
I first heard my father playing the Kodály Duo for violin and cello when I was 15. It made me really want to learn it with him, but his proclamation was, “No, it’s too difficult Tonino. Maybe in a few years… when you have hair on your chest.”
A few years later, I got my hands on the part when I was studying at the Yehudi Menuhin School. I practiced so hard to prove him wrong, and brought it to his attention strategically, during the summer vacation. He was suitably impressed, which was a rare occurrence, and my father agreed to play it with me (I can’t remember if he checked my chest hair). We worked on it little by little, tenaciously. Little did I know it was to become the piece my father and I would perform most frequently together.
As the young protégé of Yehudi Menuhin, my father learned this work for a performance at Villa I Tatti, in Fiesole outside of Florence, with the Spanish virtuoso Gaspar Cassadó in 1958. Zoltán Kodály himself was staying in Florence at the time, creating a unique opportunity for the musicians to work with the composer in preparation for the performance. My father told me what Kodály shared with him and Cassadó. The composer inspired them on so many levels and they fell in love with the work. My father’s first main stage performance was with Jacqueline du Pré at the Sermoneta Pontino Festival south of Rome in 1963.
This rhapsodic piece is infused, as most of Kodály’s works, with a deeply-rooted folk style, emanating from his well-known ethnographic research, collected from the countryside of his native Hungary. As he coached my father and Cassadó he often spoke of limitations in notating the music. “You just have to know the style, and recreate the improvisatory nature of the rustic, or gypsy, folk traditions. I can’t write that out even if I tried. You may want to improvise, adding some of those short cadenza-like repeated notes, or play fewer notes there, depending on your mood,” my father remembered him saying. In other passages, the opposite was true: “Here you have to be extremely precise – I have written it this way for performers to do strictly what is written.” While these directives may sound contradictory at first, they become clear after one has studied the music carefully. Kodály’s varied, yet structured musical language unites the rigid and flexible sections harmoniously to create a masterpiece.
As Alberto’s son, I was thus introduced to this work through a unique aural tradition, learning a different musical language and intricate subtleties practically from the horse’s mouth. This was a privilege I knew not to take for granted, and a lesson about teaching music which I have carried with me ever since.
I value these aural traditions all the more dearly now, whenever they emerge, working from the source. I take pleasure in passing them on to the next generation when teaching my own students. Speaking and writing about them is important, but communicating convincingly through the music itself is the ultimate goal.
We recorded the Duo in 2001 just before my father injured his left hand. We used Paul Sutin’s studio in Switzerland. Having by then played it so often, we felt it was now time to record it. This recording is a loving tribute to my father and what I learned from him. I am very proud to share it, as a crowning of the efforts that went into its making. Bob Attiyeh and I give our thanks to Paul Sutin and to the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music for letting engineer Eric Swanson and me edit the takes in the new Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center. As with the cello choir tracks on this album, we used Arian Jansen’s SonoruS Holographic Imaging technology to mix the recording into the form you can now enjoy.
Since we celebrate great South American musicians and composers in this album, Antonio suggested we include one of my favorite Brazilian composers, Heitor Villa-Lobos. Antonio’s choices include O canto do cisne negro (The Song of the Black Swan), originally written for cello and piano. This is a delicate piece, rarely performed, which we offer as our first track with Antonio’s friend the eminent harpist Marcia Dickstein Vogler.
Villa-Lobos also wrote Assobio a Jato (The Jet Whistle), which remains one of the few original pieces written for flute and cello. Jato’s Brazilian folk influences shine brightly in this three-movement work, and Antonio’s colleague Anastasia Petanova, one of UCLA’s most talented and accomplished flutists, joined us as Antonio’s esteemed partner and “whistler.”
Antonio Lysy has been playing Bach’s cello suites for his own enjoyment and in concert for many years. Villa-Lobos’ arrangements of selected preludes and fugues from The Well Tempered Clavier gave us an excuse to include more South American magic on this recording. Early Yarlung fans may recall David Fung’s interpretation of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in B Minor from Well Tempered Clavier Book I. So I was delighted when Antonio suggested Villa-Lobos’ arrangement of this work for cello orchestra. In preparing for this project Antonio studied a recording conducted by Villa-Lobos himself and he appreciated the lush tone created by the cello choir led by one of Antonio’s heroes, Bernard Greenhouse.
Antonio’s friend Johannes Moser has released a set of YouTube videos wherein he plays all the parts mixed together into a chamber ensemble. Antonio asked me if we could give this a try, and I said “sure!” I felt we could minimize the phase overlap and cancellation problem inherent in mixing multi track recordings if we used the SonoruS Holographic Imaging processor developed by Yarlung’s recording engineer Arian Jansen. More on this at yarlungrecords.com/sonorus/
Studios and most record labels use multitrack recording techniques every day, but we wanted to attempt this same thing without phase incoherencies. Chloe Knudsen-Robbins helped Antonio prepare for these multi track sessions, did test recordings with him and then Chloe helped us keep track of every cello voice in our recording sessions.
Antonio started by recording a first track, often the bass line, and layered the other cello voices on top, one by one. Antonio said this made him apprehensive at first, but he soon found that he enjoyed the process, which one can certainly hear in this album. Antonio found that the process of creating a blended, balanced, ensemble sonority with a unified interpretation was illuminating and ultimately rewarding for him as a musician. Antonio quipped “While it may seem like a purely narcissistic endeavor to play every part oneself, it is not unlike the experience any pianist has, of being able to play each part – the melody, the bass, and all the harmony in between – on the one instrument, not to mention not having to discuss, argue, or compromise with anyone else! And, in my own defense, any excuse to get to know Bach better, is a good one.”
In the case of Villa-Lobos’ rendition of Bach’s Prelude and Casals’ Les Rois Mages (The Three Kings), Antonio’s orchestra is between 16 and 28 cellos playing 4 to 7 parts. The flexible acoustics in Cammilleri Hall enabled Arian and me to record everything from intimate chamber music to a full lush orchestra in the hall. When Antonio was nine years old, he used to listen to a Pablo Casals recording of this piece conducted by Casals himself when he was 90 years old. This is the huge ensemble Antonio had in his mind while preparing for our recording.
We included another gem, one which made me particularly happy to include in our recording, Piazzolla’s Resurrección del Ángel, for four cellos, arranged by the cellist Emilio Colón. When Antonio plays this piece, I can almost see tango dancers on stage with the quartet of Antonios playing in sync with them.
Yarlung Records has been fortunate to record and give live concerts in Cammilleri Hall at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, thanks to generous support from Antonio and Hanna Damasio. Dr. Damasio hired Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics to design the sound in this intimate concert hall. This is the same Yasuhisa Toyota who designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, Suntory Hall and Musiikkitalo in Helsinki. We are fortunate indeed and look forward to any opportunity to hear music in this space. Warmest thanks go to Carlos and Haydee Mollura and to Antonio, Anastasia, Marcia and Coco, who bring the glories of South America to us anytime we want to play this album.
–Bob Attiyeh, producer
Recording engineers: Bob Attiyeh & Arian Jansen
Recording engineer for Kodály: Paul Sutin
SonoruS multitrack mixing engineer: Arian Jansen
Mastering engineers: Steve Hoffman & Bob Attiyeh
Executive Producers: Carlos & Haydee Mollura
Recorded at the Brain and Creativity Institute’s Cammilleri Hall, April 1-3, 2017
Multitrack associate producer and cover photo montage: Chloe Knudsen-Robbins
Assistant producer: Cliff Harris
Layout: Eron Muckleroy
Liner Notes Editor: Cliff Harris
Cooper Bates photography
Multitrack recordings (Piazzolla, Casals, Villa-Lobos) made using SonoruS Holographic Imaging Technology by Arian Jansen
Recorded with SonoruS ATR12 analog tape recorder and Merging Technologies Hapi using Pyramix software