Spoleto overview: Carlos Aguirre stole our hearts

A quiet respite

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COURTESY OF SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA
  • Courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA

It comes as a little bit of a surprise to me that the event currently jostling with the Scottish Ballet's Streetcar Named Desire for its spot as my favorite production is a show on the complete opposite end of the spectrum: a concert by Argentine pianist, singer, and guitarist Carlos Aguirre. Where Streetcar was big and dramatic, Aguirre's show was simple and understated; where Streetcar went for the gut as well as the heart, Aguirre's effortless, flowing music rested squarely in the heart (and the intellect, for those with a music theory background).

A composer and musician whose music is strongly rooted in his native river-fed province of Entre Rios, Aguirre is known as one of Argentina's most important contemporary musicians. While he is a student and lover of all musical traditions, for some time he's been steeping himself in the music of the Littoral, or coast.

Water — the sound it makes, the way it moves and flows — is integral to his work, and you can hear it in the gentle way his pieces move between chord and melody. Our reviewer David Lee Nelson said he "seemed to coax the music into existence as if he was in collaboration with the instrument." I completely agree, and I find it fascinating that Nelson noticed this, as one of Aguirre's musical intentions is to reinvent the role of the solo performer. I learned this while researching the artist for my preview of his show (for which I am greatly indebted both to Michael Grofsorean, director of Spoleto's jazz program, who gave me lots of information and explained several concepts for me, as well as CofC professor Michael O'Brien, who served as translator during my interview with Aguirre as well as during Aguirre's concerts). 

What Aguirre is focused on doing as a soloist is developing a more symbiotic relationship with his instrument. As he said during our interview, "the instrument is equally a protagonist with the performer. The instrument isn't just playing chords and accompanying."

Much as I loved this idea, I honestly wasn't sure whether I, as a non-musician, would be able to notice that particular aspect of Aguirre's playing in performance. But I absolutely did (and obviously so did others). There was never a moment when Aguirre seemed to be at odds with his instrument — instead, performer and piano, performer and guitar seemed to be working together effortlessly to produce beautiful music. 

As for the pieces themselves, they ranged from tunes that the average listener would recognize as distinctly South American — you could hear Latin rhythms in pieces like "Milonga Gris," for example — to a waltz, as well as pieces that had a strong classical influence. Every single one was just beautiful.

COURTESY OF SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA
  • Courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA

Aguirre also sang a few songs, and his singing matched his playing perfectly: it's soft, pleasing, and seemed delivered without the slightest hint of resistance or effort. 

I came out of that show feeling like a new person, refreshed, content, and perfectly happy with life. If that's not an advertisement for why you should see Aguirre's performance — he plays his last show today at 5 p.m. — then I don't know what is.

I should add, too, that this is his North American debut and his CDs aren't all that easy to get here, so this may be one of very few chances to see him in the U.S.

I would guess, and hope, however, that given how much everyone here seemed to enjoy his playing, he'll be back again before too long. 


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