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"For the music I was oblivious to the world. I crossed lines for it. And between those lines there are gaps, ravines, an endless fall, a fall from grace."


Astor Piazzolla - the man who revolutionized 20th century music with his Nuevo Tango - was as complex and unforgettable as his melodies.


Piazzolla's personal story is the stuff of novels: a mix of brutality, innocence, defiance, triumph and loss. His childhood did not destine him to become an artist. He hung out with hoodlums and was kicked out of school for fighting. He knew firsthand the violence and cruelty of life growing up on the mean streets of New York's Lower East Side in the 1920s and '30s.


But surprising musical encounters sparked a fever in him. Bach played by a protege of Rachmaninoff's filtering from another apartment in his tenement. Klezmer emanating from the synagogue next door. Jazz pouring out of the clubs in Harlem. And, from the scratchy records his father played... tango. He inhaled it all.


In the end, this wild child grew up to be the most interpreted composer in the world. En route, he encountered an array of musical greats, Artur Rubinstein, Alberto Ginastera, Anibal Troilo, even Carlos Gardel, each of whom pushed him to the next level, culminating with the legendary Nadia Boulanger who urged him on to his true calling: the radical reinvention of tango.


Today, his music is performed across the globe by the finest classical, jazz and tango performers in the world. But who was Astor Piazzolla?


Art may offer the promise of immortality, but what of our mortal obligations?


"Music is more than a woman, you can divorce a woman."

In That's Not Tango - Astor Piazzolla, A Life in Music, we meet Piazzolla after his death, in a place resembling purgatory. Alone, unable to play his beloved bandoneon or write his music, he is forced to wrestle with his memories.


He knew he was destined to make music even if it meant sacrificing the hearts of the people who loved him. Was it enough to give to the world what he could - his music? Or is there always a price to pay


Irreverent, funny, searingly honest, Piazzolla's dramatic story illuminated by his extraordinary music is brought to life in That's Not Tango.


Conceived by Lesley Karsten and written by Karsten and Stephen Wadsworth, the production is directed by Sarah MeyersThat's Not Tango features Karsten as Piazzolla. The musicians: Brandt Fredriksen (piano), J.P. Jofre (bandoneon), Nick Danielson (violin), and Pablo Aslan.


March 11, 1921 – July 4, 1992


At this moment, somewhere in the world, the music of Astor Piazzolla is being played.

The emergence of New Tango master Astor Piazzolla is a Horatio Alger story for our time. Here’s a small, would-be hoodlum, the lame son of immigrants living on New York City’s Lower East Side, who grows up to become one of the foremost composers of the 20th century. And in that becoming, he contains multitudes.

He’s a porteño, as inhabitants of Buenos Aires are called, but a porteño born in Mar del Plata, a seaside town 250 miles south. He’s a New Yorker, but not quite an American. He’s an Argentine who, when he returns home, is 16 and doesn’t speak Spanish.

He knows his De Caro and Troilo and Vardaro, he studies his Bach and his Bartók, he holds onto the rhythms of Jewish weddings and the swing of Cab Calloway, and of all that and more, Piazzolla creates a music so personal that it touches a global audience.

And thus, the kid who once hated the scratchy tango records his father played every night, to feed his nostalgia for what it once was, grows up to be modern tango’s most important composer and to give the music a future.

His music speaks of roots and displacement, hope and loss. It’s the music of a street fighter, generous but rough, always on guard, always as close to love as it is to anger and always, always, on the move. It’s a music in which tenderness has an unsentimental edge. It’s a music of beauty, seductive mysteriesand hard truths, and as it speaks of struggle but alsopossibility, we hear our humanity.

Tóquese un tango, maestro. Play a tango, maestro. No, not one of the old ones, one of yours.   


Fernando Gonzalez

translated and annotated Astor Piazzolla, A Memoir (Amadeus Press), as told to Natalio Gorín.

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