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November 7, 2014

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Tango music played with bandoneon is his life passion

WITH a bandoneon on his lap, 59-year-old Hector Ulises Passarella seems like a magician playing a cheerful melody through brisk movements of his hands.

Together with his son, Roberto Passarella, Hector Ulises Passarella presented a bandoneon duo concert at Shanghai Concert Hall last Wednesday that impressed local music fans.

It was the first time for many in the audience to hear the sound of a bandoneon. The instrument, resembling a small accordion, was invented in 1835 in Germany for church music. But it was widely used for tango music when entering Argentina and Uruguay at the end of 19th century and is said to be the instrument that gave birth to real tango.

Hector Ulises Passarella, a Uruguayan, is widely recognized as one of the best bandoneon players and is a famous composer of modern tango music, with excellent skills and interpretations.

He was nominated for a Grammy in 2001 for the record “Misa Tango” as a soloist with the Orchestra of Santa Cecilia. “I was born in the cradle of tango and my father is a big tango fan,” says Passarella.

Though his father was accomplished at playing bandoneon and composing tango himself, he insisted the young Passarella get professional training.

Passarella started learning at the age of 8 under the instruction of Oscar Raul Pacheco, a master of bandoneon at the time. But it was not until four years later that he really discovered his passion for the instrument.

The solo “Danzarin” from “Anibal Troilo,” which he listened to one day when he was 12, inspired him to take a grand leap both in playing skills and music interpretation. Even at such a young age, he was assigned to teach the instrument at a local music school.

The bandoneon player moved to Italy in 1979 and settled in Macerata, the hometown of his wife. His work with Luis Bacalov for the music of the movie “The Postman” (1994) got him and the instrument better known in Europe.

For years, Passarella spread the instrument in Europe through compositions, concerts, festivals and related music education.

He set up a small bandoneon school in Rome with some friends. Every year, they enroll eight to 10 students, teaching them to play bandoneon as well as some basic knowledge of tango music. He says he’s often touched by the passion of the students, including one boy who flew to Rome from the Sardinian capital of Cagliari every Monday for class and never missed one.

“I’m always moved by their love and respect for music, by their desire to lead an emotional life with music and also by their interest and curiosity to tango,” says Passarella. “The bandoneon gives us Uruguayans a lot. What we can pay back are our sincere love and the faithful fight for its continuity.”

As a composer of modern tango, he agrees with Uruguayan composer Jaures Lamarque Pons that tango is the source of inspiration for most musicians in the River Plate Region. Like many other tango musicians, Parrarella feels a responsibility to reserve and enrich tango music in the Uruguayan and Argentine way.

“I hope that one day this kind of music can be called ‘River Plate tango’ rather than tango or only Argentine tango,” he says. “I love tango dance, but only when it is not made just for commercial amusement.”

His son, Roberto, also works with orchestras. The father says that there is no difference between cooperating with his son and with other masters since they all have the same passion for bandoneon.


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