With the Sky in Our Hands

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"…Sky in Our Hands is an invitation into the visceral experience of tango…"

With the Sky in Our Hands

Julie and Andreas: Julie Rokseth, harps, and Andreas Rokseth, bandoneon. JAR Records, 2018.

Is it just me or are we all feeling like it’s time to hear music from Argentina that is not written by Astor Piazzolla? Full disclosure: I have recorded and published arrangements of music by Piazzolla, and so I am well-placed to recognize his singular importance as a composer of tango. If it weren’t for Piazzolla, perhaps many of us would never have developed a taste for the sensual music of his homeland or even known the effect a bandoneon could have on our hearts. But Piazzolla isn’t the only composer to write tango, and it is with utmost glee that I discover and share with you a spectacular new album of, for lack of a more deferential way to say it, other people’s tangos. Julie and Andreas’ remarkable With the Sky in Our Hands is an invitation into the visceral experience of tango, guided by the traditional Bandoneon coupled with a newcomer to this world, the harp.

The journey began when classically trained harpist Julie Rokseth was struggling finding her own musical voice. Everything in her world felt constrained as though it always had to be correct and controlled. She looked upon her brother Andreas’ easy connection to his musical world, but then he played the bandoneon—or concertina—an instrument, especially in his expert hands, that reflects not just sound, but soul. She wanted some of that magic, and so dove straight into a world that had mostly been entirely closed to the harp. But she did so with intention, to find a way the harp could sing as an authentic voice, fitting in organically, as though the harp had always been there, and not as a “tango tourist.”

What she discovered is that tango allowed her to use all the tools as a harpist, the grittier side of the harp, extended techniques as well the rhythmic role of harp. Her participation in the duo is as a full-fledged member of the ensemble, not by performing transcriptions per se, but rather deeply thought-out, unique, and altogether new ways of hearing this music.

Favorites are the opening track, an original work Noctillique del Tango that immediately fires up the energy with its toe-tapping spark as though the two challenge one another to find ways to keep the fire stoked, not afraid to be aggressive. Anibel Troilo’s La Tempera is old-school, the duo giving us that exact feeling the dancers have of never fully touching the floor. You will swear you are hearing an orchestra – and a roomful of skilled tangoistas. Julie’s wrenching original Alma herido is indeed a tortured soul that moves seamlessly into Los Mareados by Juan Carlos Cobian, the first to take tango out of the smoky nightclubs and place it front and center as music that stands on its own. Particularly moving are the more experimental works that include nature sounds, like Rosita Melo’s Desde el Alma with gently lapping waves and shore birds, a longing waltz that could only be written by an Argentine. And yes, there is one piece by Piazzolla, at the very end. Well placed, as it acts as a kind of galvanizer for all that’s been said up to this point by this superb duo, showcasing their finest skills as musicians who sing our deepest longings. 

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About Author

Alison Young is a classical music host and producer at Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media. She left a successful career as a flutist a decade ago after she developed a neurological disorder, but before then enjoyed many years traveling the world giving recitals, performing concertos, playing with some of the finest orchestras, and recording her own discs. Nowadays, Young spins discs and is always on the lookout for the next best thing. You can contact her at ayoung@mpr.org.

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