A new program at the National Concert Hall will illuminate a lesser-known side of four-time Grammy Award-winner Lalo Schifrin.
In his twenties, Schifrin left his native Buenos Aires to play piano for Dizzy Gillespie in New York. He went on to flourish in Hollywood, churning out jazzy scores for over 100 movie and television shows like Mannix — a detective series from the 1960s — Cool Hand Luke, Mission: Impossible and the Rush Hour comedies.
Letters from Argentina is a departure from Schifrin’s big-screen soundtracks, said Shih Shun-hsin (施舜馨) of the Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center (中正文化中心), which programmed a performance of the suite for chamber orchestra.
Uncharacteristically for the composer, Schifrin’s Letters is a personal work based on memories of childhood.
“These are Schifrin’s own memories,” Shih said. “At this point they are distant, so the aural scenes are idealized.”
“Tango del Atardecer,” the first of eight movements, is a picture of a perfect Argentine sunset. Like the others, this movement works happily with a classical compositional grid but folds in idioms of Argentine dance, such as a tango rhythm and the accordion-like bandoneon (performed by Hector del Curto).
“La Calle y la Luna” reenacts a moonlit night, while “Pampas” evokes horsemen making their way across a vast plain, contrasting a rugged piano (Octavio Brunett) with a youthful and athletic cello part by Felix Fan (范雅志).
Other instrumentalists are clarinetist David Shifrin, Lin Cho-liang (林昭亮) on violin, Pablo Aslan on double bass and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi — members of the Lincoln Center chamber group that performed Letters at its world premiere in 2005.
Also during next week’s program, the ensemble will perform selections from the late Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla.
Adios Nonino, Piazzolla’s best-known piece, was written shortly after his father’s death. It soared to an unlikely popularity when chosen as part of the entertainment at a royal wedding in Holland, Shih said. The composition opens with frantic lines from the bandoneon, expands into a lush melody on strings, and then brings back the bandoneon.
Piazzolla has been credited with introducing jazz counterpoint to native tango, Shih said.
In La Muerte del Angel, one of his five compositions inspired by angels, he adopted a subtle jazz swing and a baroque ostinato, the device of a repeated theme.
Michelangelo ‘70 also uses the ostinato. In the piece, the bandoneon, violin, electric guitar, piano and double bass take turns carrying a raucous three-note theme, building up to a breaking point. Michelangelo ‘70 was his tribute to a Buenos Aires tango club dated for the year that he left Argentina, Shih said.