Review: Owen Salomé and Brisbane Tango Orchestra

Owen Salomé (far right) and the Brisbane Tango Orchestra perform at the Old Museum, photographed by Alex Jamieson

Brisbane Tango Orchestra presented a unique and engaging afternoon of music at the Old Museum, performing a concert of original compositions by Owen Salomé with the composer himself as a guest soloist. Salomé and the Brisbane Tango Orchestra performed 10 pieces commissioned especially for this collaborative concert series.

Founded by Artistic Director and double bassist Chloe Ann Williamson, the Brisbane Tango Orchestra (BTO) is an eight-piece ensemble specialising in Argentinian tango music. A tango orchestra typically includes a string section, double bass, piano, and several bandoneóns, a concertina quintessential to Argentine tango but rarely heard in Australia.

For this Queensland concert series, Brisbane Tango Orchestra collaborated with Argentina-based Australian composer and multi-instrumentalist Owen Salomé, including the commission of brand new tango works. Now based in Buenos Aires, Salomé is the first Australian to be selected for the bandoneón section of the Orquesta Escuela de Tango Emilio Balcarce.

Salomé was a very candid stage presence, speaking to the influences and inspirations of each piece before it was performed as well as sharing some of his personal journey with music; he has spent the last four years in Argentina and spoke of it as a melting pot of rhythms and influences, with rich musical traditions. It was explained that there are three key tango rhythms: the sharp two-beat milonga, the classic four-beat tango, and the three-beat vals, similar to the European waltz. Salomé also joked about the construction of his instrument, and showed the audience the repair kit kept next to his seat onstage in case emergency repairs were required during the concert.

The opening piece was a lively tango written for a friend of Salomé’s, titled A Luciano Nobati (To Luciano Nobati), followed by Desde Lejos (From a Distance).The third piece was titled Amae, a Japanese word used to describe dependency on others, and used the folkloric gualambao rhythm invented by Argentine guitarist Ramón Ayala. Gualambao uses two polka rhythms chained by a permanent syncopation, written in 12/8 time signature. The piece began with hand percussion, with the rhythm picked up by the other instruments as the music progressed.

The concert then changed pace with a slow milonga, Como Me Siento (How I’m Feeling), which Salomé described as a big, complex ball of emotions. This was followed by a vals, Nuestro Viajecito (Our Little Journey), a jumpier and cheerful waltz that Salomé had written for his partner’s birthday.

In addition to his expertise with the bandoneón, Salomé also played the quenacho in one of the later pieces, a flute from the Andes with a breathy sound. One of these pieces was an Argentinian zamba, Buceo (Diving), another musical portrait – this time, of a jazz pianist and free diver – that included only the piano, double bass, and quenacho.

Owen Salomé (far right) and the Brisbane Tango Orchestra perform at the Old Museum, photographed by Alex Jamieson

Returning to the bandoneón, Salomé performed the bright and bobbing tango Abecedario, which featured only the bandoneón and double bass and drew out a range of interesting sounds from the former. Salomé explained that the piece had been written specifically for a performance on the ABC, hence the title which is the Spanish name for the alphabet.

The title of the next tango, Mi Linda Tetera, translates to My Pretty Teapot and Salomé explained that this was a play on words, sharing an anecdote about when he was first learning Spanish and confused the term for teapot for a colloquial term. Salome then left the stage, and the Brisbane Tango Orchestra performed a fast-paced, light-stepping “tango rhapsody” titled De Dos Mundos (From Two Worlds) with mesmerising cohesion and harmony.

The concert concluded with an encore, another musical portrait of a friend of Salomé’s, this one a quick and spritely milonga titled Una Milonga para Savvas (A Milonga for Savvas). The audience also had the opportunity to stay on after the concert and chat with the musicians and composer.

Owen Salomé and the Brisbane Tango Orchestra delivered not only a unique performance and listening experience for Brisbane audiences with impressive skill and cohesion but did so in a way that felt approachable and personable regardless of the listeners’ familiarity with tango.

Owen Salomé and the Brisbane Tango Orchestra performed at the Old Museum, Fortitude Valley, on 12 February, and also toured to Maleny, Tugun, Redland, and Beaudesert

Click here for more information about Brisbane Tango Orchestra, including their upcoming concerts

Brisbane Tango Orchestra is progressively releasing recordings from the concert performed with Owen Salomé at Brisbane City Hall on 14 February 2023 – view them here on the Brisbane Tango Orchestra YouTube channel

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