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Classical Album of the Week: A New Take on Tango with Harpist Ann Hobson Pilot

October 5, 2020. Philadelphia native Ann Hobson Pilot became one of the first Black musicians to win a position in a major symphony orchestra when she joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1969. A graduate of Philadelphia Girls’ High School and the Cleveland Institute of Music, Ms. Pilot was principal harp of the BSO for almost four decades.

Our Classical Album of the Week, Escualo, features Ann Hobson Pilot in music of the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla.

Piazzolla created a new form of tango, called tango nuevo, which blends elements of jazz, classical music, and fusion with the Argentinian popular dance form. Melodic, sometimes edgy, sometimes dark, always full of emotion, many of his most popular compositions have entered the classical repertory.

In our Classical Album of the Week, Ann Hobson Pilot brings her harp playing to Piazzolla’s memorable music, and is joined by the more traditional tango instruments violin and bandoneón, with violinist Lucia Lin and bandoneónist, J.P. Jofre.

The album opens with the album’s namesake “Escualo,” (Shark,) in a vigorous performance by Hobson, Lin and Jofre. The entrancing Histoire du Tango (Story of Tango) explores four eras of tango’s history: from its origins in the Buenos Aires bordellos of the 1900, to 1930’s cafés, the 1960s nightclub scene, and finally “today’s concert hall.” The role normally taken by the guitar is played by Pilot on the much more resonant, more diffuse concert harp, and brings a rounder sense of atmosphere to this familiar piece of Piazzolla’s.

The languid Valsissimo shows the gentler side of Piazzolla in a lovely duet by Pilot and Lin. Lin’s solo violin brings us a dancy "Tango-Etude No. 3 "with its sudden mood changes, and a nod to Paganini’s solo violin Caprices. Pilot’s solo harp tells the story of a poor boy selling roses outside a popular Buenos Aires restaurant, in Chiquilin de Bachin, originally a song by Piazzolla set to words of Horacio Ferrer.

Pilot, Lin and Jofre join forces for Ángel Suite, drawn from incidental music Piazzolla wrote for a play by Alberto Rodriguez Munoz, about an angel who heals the spirits of characters who live in a run-down Buenos Aires apartment block. The Milonga, a more relaxed dance form than the tango, begins the suite, followed by the agitated La Muerte del Ángel (Death of Angel,) in which Piazzolla develops his tango melody into a 3-voiced fugue. The suite ends with the memorable, and healing Resureccion del Ángel (Resurrection of Angel.)

Our Classical Album of the Week highlights Hispanic Heritage Month, with music by one of Argentina’s greatest composers performed by a groundbreaking American musician, and two of her outstanding colleagues from the worlds of classical music and tango nuevo.

Watch this interesting documentary about Ann Hobson Pilot:

Debra's last day on the air at WRTI was September 21st, 2021. She's now the radio host for The Metropolitan Opera. Read more here.