Session Report: Weathering the storm

Karen Session Shot 4 pc Thore Brinkmann and Hans Kipfer

Violinist Karen Gomyo’s new album, dedicated to Astor Piazzolla and recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic, was a profound and personal project for all involved, writes Rita Fernandes

Tango isn’t what comes to mind when picturing the gang-ridden New York City of the 1920s. It was, however, the city that nuevo tango composer Astor Piazzolla called home for most of his childhood. ‘It has a fighting spirit,’ Japanese–Canadian violinist Karen Gomyo explains, referring to both the city and Piazzolla’s music. Both have a special place in the violinist’s heart. She began her studies at the Juilliard School aged eleven and became deeply attached to the city. As for Piazzolla’s music, Gomyo recounts, ‘It was when I was 14 that my mother came home with a stack of Piazzolla CDs and said, “You have to listen to these!” My mother was not a musician, so for her to come home and say this was memorable.’

The album’s original plan had included Pablo Ziegler – once Piazzolla’s pianist – and bandoneon player Héctor del Curto, both of whom Gomyo had already worked with extensively. With Covid-19 rendering the necessary travel impossible, a new plan was drafted: join forces with string players from the French Orchestre national des Pays de la Loire for an orchestral arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. The rest of the programme grew organically from there. ‘I drove down to France from Germany with a friend for the recording in June 2020. It was on that journey that I discovered Stephanie Jones through some of her recordings on YouTube’ – Jones being the Australian guitarist with whom Gomyo performs the album’s second work, Histoire du Tango. As for the Tango Etudes, which finish off the album, Gomyo says, ‘I knew them well, so I felt it would be the right to include these on the CD’.

The album’s programme is an interesting mix. On one hand it was dictated by practical considerations, but on the other, it stemmed from Gomyo’s own discoveries along the way. It is almost as if a certain freedom was found within a now-restricted world – something Gomyo also relates to Piazzolla’s music: ‘His genius as a bandoneon player was very much down to his unyielding sense of rhythm, which creates a very strong structure. Within it he finds this freedom – a freedom that is informed by the emotional context…

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