ASTOR PIAZZOLLA: Libertango
ANTÔNIO CARLOS JOBIM: Wave
HEITOR VILLA-LOBOS: Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5
LOUIS BANFÁ: Mahnã de Carnaval (“Carnival Morning”) from Black Orpheus
CARLOS GARDEL: Por una cabeza (“By a Head”)
ASTOR PIAZZOLLA: Primavera (“Spring”) Porteña from Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
ASTOR PIAZZOLLA: Vuelvo Al Sur (“I’m Going Back to the South”)
ERNESTO LECUONA: La Comparasa (“Carnival Procession”) from Danzas Afro-Cubanas
ANTÔNIO CARLOS JOBIM: Bonita
BURT BACHARACH: The Look of Love
EDWARD K. (“DUKE”) ELLINGTON: Caravan
GERARDO MATOS RODRIGUEZ: La Cumparsita (“Little Street Procession”)
Artists & Insights
John Morris Russell, Pops Conductor, Louise Dieterle Nippert & Louis Nippert Chair
John Morris Russell, A.K.A. "JMR," has consistently won international praise for his extraordinary music-making and visionary leadership. This Ohio native is also Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina where his commitment has yielded a new level of artistic excellence. He has also served as the Principal Pops Conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic since 2015. A popular guest conductor throughout the United States and Canada, he also holds the title of Conductor Laureate with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra in Ontario, Canada, where he served as Music Director for eleven years.
With the Cincinnati Pops, JMR regularly leads sold-out performances at Cincinnati’s Music Hall. Additionally, he conducts the Pops at the Riverbend Music Center and in concerts throughout the Greater Cincinnati region and on tour.
JMR has collaborated with generations of great performers including the late Ray Charles and Rosemary Clooney, as well as Idina Menzel, Vince Gill, Branford Marsalis, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Megan Hilty, Common, Cynthia Erivo, Amy Grant, Brian Wilson, Steve Martin, Katharine McPhee, Rhiannon Giddens, Rosanne Cash and Marvin Winans, among many others.
A sought-after guest conductor across the continent, John has conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. Other recent engagements include the New York Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Orchestra and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, among many other ensembles.
If It Sounds Good, It Is Good
As winter grinds on here in Cincinnati, my thoughts drift southward to the warmth and festivities of Carnaval season in South America and the Caribbean. The celebration of Carnaval originated in Europe as a crescendo of parties between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday culminating in “Fat Tuesday,” or as they say in French, “Mardi Gras.” Such revelries in Quebec and New Orleans still retain a bit of French flavor; however, Carnaval celebrations in South America with their raucous parades, bright colors, outlandish costumes, and rollicking music have an essence all their own—especially in Brazil. The music of Carnaval, like much of the music of Latin America, is a mélange of African, Indigenous and European musical styles, with a sound that is distinctive to every region of this massive continent.
In Argentina, the unique sound of the tango is as essential to the ethos of the country as jazz is to the USA. Steeped in African and Spanish musical and dance traditions, the tango is as edgy as it is alluring. African and traditional Portuguese musical styles are blended in Brazil, the birthplace of the suave Bossa Nova and lively Samba. Afro-Cuban styles have been a distinctive voice in jazz, as have Caribbean styles like Soca, Mambo and Calypso. All of these “New World” sounds (and many, many more) couldn’t happen anywhere else on earth. It’s that distinct blend of music and cultures we’ll be celebrating on our program, and, let me tell you, it’s going to be a PARTY!
Joining us for these concerts is bandoneon virtuoso Héctor Del Curto. The bandoneon (which looks like an accordion that was left in the dryer too long) is as much a part of the tango sound as the pulsing rhythm that pervades the style. It is remarkably versatile—well-suited to a wicked accompaniment one moment and a tender melodic line the next. The bandoneon will be featured on two of the pieces composed by Astor Piazzolla, who was also a stunning player on the instrument. Born in Italy and raised in Argentina, Piazzolla spent much of his career in New York City. Like Scott Joplin, who gave the rough-and-tumble ragtime style a new level of sophistication, Piazzolla imbued his tangos with a detailed artistry that made them a world-wide sensation. His Primavera Porteña (“Spring”) is based upon themes from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (we performed Piazzolla’s “Autumn” movement on our Autumnal Celebration livestream a couple months ago), and Libertango is an unofficial Argentinian national anthem.
Soprano Camille Zamora makes her debut with the Pops and is featured on several tango numbers, but she will most notably sing the “Aria” from Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5. This is one of those pieces whose title few people know, but which EVERYONE recognizes. It’s been used in countless films and soundtracks because of the sultry and mysterious blend of Brazilian folk music and the Baroque stylings of J.S. Bach. Speaking of films, we’ll be performing many pieces popularized in a wide variety of features, including “Por Una Cabeza,” by Carlos Gardel from True Lies and Scent of a Woman; the jazz classic “Manhã de Carnaval” by Luiz Bonfá from Black Orpheus; and “The Look of Love” by Burt Bacharach, which you'll know from the 1967 film Casino Royale. Camille will be singing this smooth bossa nova, which became a hit for Janis Hansen and Brasil ’66 after they performed it at the Academy Awards in 1968.
I’m especially looking forward to presenting the music of Antônio Carlos Jobim, who, like Piazzolla and the tango, ingeniously fashioned the humble bossa nova groove into an international phenomenon. We’ll perform two of his most popular songs, “Wave” and “Bonita,” featuring our own Julie Spangler on piano and Cristian Ganicenco on trombone. Guitarist Tim Berens and violinist Paul Patterson will also have solo turns on Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” which is infused with Afro-Cuban style—with a wink and a nod to Georges Bizet. We finish the program with Gerardo Matos Rodríguez’s La Cumparsita, the quintessential tango classic—sure to have everyone dancing…in your seat of course(!).
HÉCTOR DEL CURTO, bandoneonist
Praised by The New York Times as a “splendid player,” Argentinean bandoneonist Héctor Del Curto’s career, spanning more than 25 years, has encompassed the traditional Tango, New Tango, Jazz, Classical and World music. As one of the most sought-after bandoneonists, he has performed with luminaries across many musical genres, including the tango legends Astor Piazzolla and Osvaldo Pugliese, latin jazz giant Paquito D’Rivera, jazz violinist Regina Carter, saxophonist Joe Lovano and violinist Cho–Liang Lin, and he has appeared with prestigious orchestras such as The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Mobile Symphony and Buenos Aires Symphony Orchestra.
Born into a family of bandoneon players, Del Curto was introduced to the world of tango and bandoneon by his grandfather, Héctor Cristobal. By the age of 17, he had won the title “Best Bandoneon Player Under 25” in Argentina and was invited to join the orchestra of the legendary Osvaldo Pugliese, the “Last Giant of Tango.” In 1999, Del Curto received the Golden Note Award from the Italian-American Network in recognition of his artistic achievements. As a music director, he directed the spectacular show Forever Tango on Broadway and founded the Eternal Tango Orchestra, a 10-piece ensemble. Since its Lincoln Center debut in 2003, the Eternal Tango Orchestra (now the Hector Del Curto Tango Orchestra) returned to Lincoln Center for three more engagements and performed at other venues including the Skirball Center for Performing Arts.
His celebrated quintet has appeared in venues and festivals such as Lincoln Center, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, Eastman School of Music, Bay Chambers Concerts, National Folk Festival, Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts, Fiesta Iberoamericano de las Artes in Puerto Rico, Festival Internacional da Safona and Copa Fest in Brazil, among many others.
A musician who is dedicated to the education, outreach and preservation of tango music, Del Curto founded the Stowe Tango Music Festival, the premier tango music festival in the United States, noted both for its unique series of performances and its high level of musical training. As the festival’s Artistic Director, he directs the Stowe Tango Music Festival Orchestra, a 20-plus-piece tango orchestra comprising an extraordinary group of selected students from all over the globe and world-class artists, including guest tango legends from Argentina.
Del Curto recently produced and released his second album, Eternal Piazzolla, featuring his quintet, with a sold-out CD release concert at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City. He was featured along with his first CD Eternal Tango on BBC News, which was televised nationally and internationally and on Public Radio International’s The World.
He appears in numerous recordings with artists such as Osvaldo Pugliese and Astor Piazzolla on Finally Together (Lucho); Pablo Ziegler on the albums Asphalto, Quintet for the New Tango (BMG) and Tango & All That Jazz; Paquito D’Rivera on Funk Tango, Jazz Clazz and Panamericana Suite; Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri on Masterpiece; Plácido Domingo’s Encanto del Mar (Sony Classical); Erwin Schrott on Rojotango (Sony Classical); Denyce Graves’ The Lost Days (BMG); Absolute Ensemble on Bach Reinvented (Sony Classical); Fernando Otero on Plan, Vital and Pagina de Buenos Aires; Ricardo Arjona’s Quién Dijo Ayer and Santo Pecado (Sony International); and Shakira’s Laundry Service.
Camille Zamora, soprano
In collaboration with artists ranging from Plácido Domingo to Sting, Camille Zamora has garnered acclaim for her “dramatic and nuanced” (The New York Times) interpretations of repertoire ranging from Mozart to tango. Equally at home in concert, recital and on the operatic stage, Zamora is known for her “dignity and glowing sound” (The New York Times) in “luminous, transcendently lyrical” performances (Opera News) that “combine gentility and emotional fire” (Houston Chronicle).
The past season featured her Kennedy Center debut, performances at the US Capitol with Yo-Yo Ma, concerts of classic tango with Fort Worth Symphony and Florida Orchestra, and five new operatic roles, including the tour de force double-bill of La Voix Humaine and I Pagliacci with Opera Columbus. She also re-created the principal soprano role of Lucia in Hindemith’s The Long Christmas Dinner with American Symphony Orchestra at Lincoln Center, the live recording of which topped the New York Times’ Classical Playlist and was chosen one of Opera News’ Best Recordings of the Year for 2016.
Other highlights include the music of Granados with Yo-Yo Ma and Cristina Pato in The Music of Strangers, the 2016 documentary film by Academy Award winner Morgan Neville about Yo-Yo Ma and his musical collaborators; American Songbook classics with Late Show bandleader Jon Batiste for the Spring 2016 opening concert of NYC’s new Steinway Hall; Twin Spirits: Robert and Clara Schumann with Sting and Joshua Bell at Lincoln Center and LA’s Music Center; Mozart heroines with Boston Lyric Opera, Anchorage Opera, Glimmerglass Opera and Virginia Opera; performances with Orchestra of St. Luke’s, London Symphony Orchestra and Guadalajara Symphony; live recital broadcasts on NPR, BBC Radio, Deutsche Radio and Sirius XM; and the title role in Anna Bolena, of which the Houston Chronicle wrote, “Camille Zamora digs deep into Anna Bolena with the richness of her colorful and unwaveringly powerful soprano instrument.…a consummate actress whose ability to get inside her character is phenomenal.”
A champion of zarzuela, Camille Zamora has been cited by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and NBC Latino as a leading interpreter of classical Spanish vocal repertoire. A Kennedy Center Citizen Artist, she is a graduate of The Juilliard School, the co-founder of the arts non-profit Sing for Hope, and one of CNN’s Most Intriguing People.
Meet the Orchestra
Learn more about the artists of the Orchestra.