JUNE 2015: Talking about Music: Estela Telerman in Conversation with Ray Picot

JUNE 2015: Talking about Music: Estela Telerman in Conversation with Ray Picot


Estela Telerman, a renowned teacher and concert pianist who has been exploring the development of the Argentine Tango for some years, returns to London to present a lecture recital on this most alluring of modern dance forms. Estela’s work has lead her to unravel its past and trace development from a popular dance to classical credibility, without entirely losing its rebel air.

Estela explained that her interest in the Tango was fired when she and her colleague Lucio Bruno-Videla, with a group of pianists, decided to organise a short recital series devoted to the piano music of Ernesto Drangosch (who I shall return to later), a forgotten pioneer of Argentine music, on his 107th anniversary! Estela was supposed to perform Drangosch’s tangos, amongst other works, which made her start to wonder why nationalist composers used Argentine folk melodies and rhythms from different regions but with little interest in Argentine urban folklore, namely the tango. She thinks this may have been due to the tango not being well considered in some social milieus at the end of the 19th century.

So Estela started to search among the 19th and 20th century Argentine classical composers those who had written tangos, and in the process of doing so uncovered a wealth of music, which she will share with us. Although Estela started out as an explorer rather than a researcher, her discoveries have undoubtedly been useful for some researchers.

However, Estela’s interests musical interests are very wide including a great interest in contemporary music and musicians. She recently returned from China as a member of the jury for the Piano Chair at Suzhou Academy of Music - an experience she clearly enjoys, encouraging young talent, though she says that it came a surprise to find that Google, Youtube, Facebook etc are all prohibited! What is so refreshing about Estela is that she wears her extensive knowledge and undoubted authority so lightly.

Some of you may be familiar with Estela Telerman through the invaluable work she has done through Argentmúsica, which led directly from her pioneering work with Grupo Drangosch, co-founded with Lucio Bruno-Videla in 1999. For those unfamiliar with Ernesto Drangosch, he was a composer, pianist, conductor and teacher in the early 20th century, who along with others like Alberto Williams, helped to promote music education in Argentina and, using folklore and national dance forms, paved the way to achieving a recognisable musical identity. His Piano Concerto in E is an outstanding example of its genre and deserves a commercial recording (there is currently only a private recording available).

Drangosch was also one of the first classical musicians to write tangos and was a determined champion of contemporary music. Estela’s colleague Lucio Bruno-Videla recounts an incident that perfectly captures his indomitable spirit. Drangosch conducted the premiere of a symphony by Felix Weingartner, and despite a lukewarm public response repeated the piece later proclaiming the work to be by Grieg, reversing its fortunes!

A disc of music devoted to the music of Drangosch was released in 2002 with international critical success and though a Tradition disc was later issued including his six Opus 14 Studies (available on iTunes) the Drangosch Group recording is the one to get. The next two CD projects led by Estela were released on Argentmúsica’s new label, exploring the history of the Tango, which also brought us up to date with contemporary contributions. At this point one should note that these recordings could only be made with a financial grant, but a third is being planned and hopefully will come to fruition.

In the meantime Estela has recorded as part of Trio Sine Nomine (with colleagues Amalia del Giudice, clarinet and Rafael Delgado, cello) Los Premios Municipales y algo más, on another notable disc which explores music for this trio combination by Angel Lasala, Norma Lado, Irma Urteaga, Washington Castro and Nino Rota. She also participated in a project, El Americanismo Musical, produced by pianist Guilermo Carro who recorded most of the tracks, with Estela and soprano Silvinia Martino as his guests, in a traversal of more forgotten byways of the solo piano music and songs by Pascual de Rogatis and Enrique Casella. Regretfully not all these recordings are easy to obtain but those interested should contact ILAMS or at least come along to Estela’s recital.

Sidetracking Estela at this point I enquired about the Argentine public’s appetite for music by these notable pioneers and the absence of modern recordings from her country covering this rich repertoire. She observed the public interest was directed to music from abroad but that the tide was slowly turning, with a team at the UNA (University of the Arts) undertaking research work on Argentine romantic piano music, under Professor Manuel Massone, who has already recorded some works for the label IRCO. One can understand how difficult the task is when she explains the public show scant interest in their musical heritage. For example, the orchestral Dances from the iconic opera Huemac by the early/mid 20th century composer Pascual de Rogatis are very well known, but amazingly the manuscript of the opera has vanished. A contemporary of de Rogatis, Enrique Casella (both mentioned above) wrote 12 operas but only one, Chasca, was performed only once in Tucumán province in 1939 and recorded by Lucio Bruno-Videla in 2010.

The tragedy of forgotten composers enters symphonic proportions with Alberto Williams and Jacobo Ficher who respectively composed 9 and 10 symphonies. Estela vehemently comments that no Argentine orchestra plays these pieces, which though heavily influenced by European models were very important and left their mark on the development of a national music identity. In terms of recorded performances we have a Spanish orchestra recording of Williams’ 7th, and two Youtube live performances of the first two symphonies and also Ficher’s 7th.

Jacobo Ficher emigrated from Russia and whilst his music never fully shakes off the influence of his homeland, over time he rather incidentally approaches Argentine nationalism. Estela considers his most lasting legacy was through his work as a teacher, and the composers that followed in his path.

Alberto Williams founded several conservatories and is now better known for his pioneering piano music kick-starting Argentine musical nationalism in 1890 with his Op. 35, En La Sierra suite. This suite includes the iconic piece, 'The Forlorn Hut', built from the Argentine folk rhythm, the huella. However, the French influence which pervaded Williams’ early style lessens as his style matured into what Estela describes as a blend, and his music does make for rewarding listening.

I asked Estela how she viewed musical nationalism and its relevance nowadays. She observed that Argentina is a melting pot, and in that context musical nationalism is just one aspect. It bears no relationship with what was being written over a hundred years ago, but more with Latin Americanism, which she describes as the music of the different cultures that populated the continent and with tango.

Today she considers two of the most important Argentine composers to be Oswaldo Golijov and Esteban Benzecry. Golijov has achieved an international following, with many of his latest pieces being recorded by international labels, including DG, and we can look forward to new releases following some exciting recent premieres. Benzecry may be a new name to many people but his music is very distinctive and approachable being frequently influenced by pre-Columbian cultures. Estela adds that Esteban’s father, Mario Benzecry is a well known conductor, having strong connections with the Venezuelan Sistema, and created the Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil José de San Martín. Many years ago he worked with youth orchestras in Venezuela, the member of one being the now well-known conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, who at the age of 17 played the violin.

I mention two composers synonymous with her home and international fame from the last century, namely Alberto Ginastera and Astor Piazzolla. She admits to being a fervent admirer of both, but that there are other excellent Argentine composers who have recently passed away. Although they contributed to the richness of our musical life they have not been recognised abroad and she quotes a few examples: the Italian-Argentinian Salvador Ranieri (1930-2012); Roberto Caamano, Gerardo Gandini (1936-2013) a pianist, a composer and a very influential professor, Virtú Maragno (1928-2004) who was also an excellent professor. Another composer is Luis Mucillo (1956), who is particularly interesting, having no connections with musical nationalism but developed a style that is universal and closely connected with world literature (particularly medieval), and influenced by Scriabin, Berg, and Debussy. Though we are unlikely to hear his music live in this country there are some performances worth listening to on iTunes and Youtube.

Estela has done much to champion female Argentine composers and she mentioned a few who she holds in high regard: Irma Urteaga (1929), Alicia Terzian (1934) and Marta Lambertini (1937). She also told me of two notable pianists and teachers, Dora Castro and Lía Cimaglia Espinosa. Dora Castro (1926) was Estela’s teacher and a pioneer in playing Argentine piano music from all styles and generations. She was a main influence in Estela’s interest in exploring Argentine piano music, and she describes her playing simply as beautiful. Although Dora Castro no longer performs publicly she has left a fine legacy of recordings for us to enjoy. Lía Cimaglia Espinosa (1906 - 1998) is also much admired by the current generation of pianists with her understated interpretations that go to the heart of the music. Her playing of the music of Alberto Williams and Julian Aguirre was very fine and despite few commercial recordings now being available some interesting readings can be found on the web.

The digital dissemination of recordings is a mixed blessing for the classical record industry in Argentina, with the loss of several key record labels in recent years, including Tradition and Pretal. This clearly makes it much harder for artists like Estela who are clearly making a difference and perhaps deserve more international support for their endeavours.

In the next part our conversation we talk in more detail about her life-work in exploring and performing the Tango, although Estela with her considerable modesty is happy to explore this wonderful music with other Argentine musicians who have made notable recordings in which context she mentions Valentín Surif, Natalia González Figueroa and Haydée Schvartz.



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