Devoted tango artist heads to Bainbridge for concert
July 7, 2008 · Updated 10:27 AM
The bandoneon may be a musical cousin to the accordion. But as Bertram Levy describes it, when Argentine Tango began to gel in the early 1900s, some felt the accordion was too happy for tango; it didn’t possess the necessary darkness.
“The bandoneon has the weight of the tango in it, and it also has the voice,” Levy said.
A renowned musician who began in folk but has spent the better part of a decade devoted to tango, Levy will bring his Tangoheart quartet to Bainbridge next weekend, the first program in this year’s series of Bloedel Reserve summer concerts.
Levy comes from a family in which dual careers – musical and professional – were par for the course. So even as he developed a medical practice and settled in Port Townsend, he engaged in “a massive juggling act,” touring the U.S. and Europe.
Levy’s career as a folk musician resulted in over a dozen albums and enough recognition that he still receives royalties from the one he first recorded in 1967.
Back then, he was a fiddler who moved on to the concertina – another hand-held relative of the bandoneon – then wrote a book about the instrument and shifted into the realm of world music.
In 1989, the musician met the legendary Astor Piazzola, who with his bandoneon spearheaded the modern tango movement. The encounter was transformative.
“I abandoned all my other pursuits to study his music,” Levy said. “But having been a folk musician all my life, I understand that unless you understood the roots of tango, it would be very stiff and not sound like the real thing.”
So he moved the study of tango to the center of his musical universe, traveling to Buenos Aires and studying under maestro Cesar Stroscio. In 1999, he formed Tangoheart.
Originally, the group toured as a sextet with dancers to present a history of tango through the dance itself. When it became increasingly difficult to get South American dancers into the United States on artistic visas, the group focused more on the musical acts and reformed as a quartet, which includes Bainbridge musician Todd Gowers on bass.
Levy was able to sell his medical practice in 2005 and now splits his time between Buenos Aires and Port Townsend. He points out that while some people work on their 401Ks during their careers, “I worked on my music as a portfolio instead.” Which has paid off plenty.
“I feel like I have the kind of life now that money coudn’t buy,” he said.
The Bloedel Reserve’s summer concert series begins at 7 p.m. July 11 with the Tangoheart Quartet. Admission, $32, includes light hors d’oeuvres and beverages. Other performances include the Northwest Puppet Theater, Rouge, Onyx Chamber Players, odeonquartet, Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra, Git Hoan Tsimshian Dance Group, Latin Soul and Gypsy Soul. For times, details and admission prices for all shows, see www.bloedelreserve.org, and click Concerts.