Néstor Pinsón

Requena - Interview to Osvaldo Requena

ike in all the talks I’ve had with Osvaldo Requena, along over 10 years, he is seated at the piano. On this occasion he has just played two unpublished tangos. One written by the tenor singer Tito Schippa in 1913, “El coquetón”. The other: “Volcán” by Eduardo Arolas, an original handwritten copy from Bruno Cespi’s collection.

His complete name is Osvaldo Francisco Requena and was born in Buenos Aires on June 29, 1931.

«Look, when I hear Arolas’s name I stand up. His oeuvre is wonderful. His inspiration was outstanding and all his tangos allow beautiful arrangements. I also like Agustín Bardi because of his splendid way of writing.

«My main work is arranging. Since 1985 I lead a group. It is a trio which sometimes is expanded into a larger number of players according to the circumstances. It is called Tango Sessions. It was lined up by Reynaldo Nichele, the bandoneonist Carlos Pazo and I. The idea and the trio sprang up in a show titled Jazmines with the choreographer Ana María Stekelman and the dancer Miguel Ángel Zotto for the venue Michelangelo. The initial line-up was with Suárez Paz and Daniel Binelli. It was successful and we traveled to North America for a very interesting tour. Let us say that this was the definitive launching, because its true birth was around the mid- sixties when someone thought of making some money with the car races held in the national routes which by then nearly every week were organized in different cities and attracted many people. We traveled to play from Thursday evening until Saturday to great acclaim. The featured artist was the singer Floreal Ruiz and the musicians were Hermes Peresini on violin, Enrique Marchetto on double bass, and I. We played instrumentals and we used to ad lib. Once my wife made a comment saying that what we did seemed a jam session. We liked it and so the name remained: Tango Sessions.

«As orchestra leader, including the accompaniments to different singers, I cut over 400 records and as a pianist, over 800. But there is something many people don’t know: I also played folk music and a little jazz.

«For 14 years I was director of a record company and I spent my time in the studios from morning till night. As for my activity as arranger, here at home I have over 8000 music charts and on the TV Channel 11 there must be around 11000 more.

«A couple of times I worked for Zubin Mehta, I keep his letters of gratitude. The same happened to me with Piazzolla. Once Astor had to appear at the SODRE of Montevideo and he had no time to arrange a number of his piece titled “Tonto” with lyrics by Homero Expósito. He asked me to write it. It was for symphonic orchestra. With that number he won the contest. An article published in the El Día newspaper congratulated the composer of the piece and the arranger. Astor acknowledged it to me.

«I composed the music for the Torre Nilsson’s movie, Los siete locos. It was quite a heavy work. On a Thursday the producer Jorge Álvarez called me urgently, he needed the music for the following Monday. I answered yes. I had no time to sleep, but the work was done. I knew the Roberto Arlt’s novel but not its adaptation for the film. I imagined a quartet of the old style featuring the bandoneon. I composed three numbers: “La milonga del rufián melancólico”, “El vals del encuentro” and “Tango del desorden”, besides the soundtrack. The combo was lined up by Leopoldo Federico, Domingo Rullio on flute, Ubaldo De Lío and Ricardo Domínguez on guitars, on double bass were either Omar Murtagh or Quicho Díaz and I was on piano.

«Tango is important in its history, but it should have an evolution, if there is not evolution you miss it. A good example I had in Indonesia, in Jakarta. There they didn't know the bandoneon, then I made the history of tango, from when it was danced among men until arriving to Piazzolla. Step by step, so that it could be understood and the grand finale came at the end. In the whole Asian southeast area they know the European tango and also as the North Americans play it, the Valentino's way. To change that idea there was no other way but to portray a history of tango.

«The discussion on the music of Piazzolla is endless and has already become tedious. It is necessary to accept what the public says, I like it or I don't. Fiorentino?... Look, as a singer he was out of tune, but I liked the way he was out of tune. He was out of tune so nicely! His voice seemed a bandoneon exactly by the way he phrased, there you found his ability as musician.

«Once Sassone invited me to the Marabú to see Carlos Di Sarli. I was a kid and I already knew the styles of the orchestras but it was difficult for me to enter their intimacy. Florindo had influences of Di Sarli and Fresedo and I wanted to define something more. When we began to talk I asked him: «Maestro, how did you get those features so characteristic of yours? Look, to learn it's necessary to look at the dancers». As he was sort of reluctant to reveal his tricks he didn't play the piano. He gave me an example with his voice making his slide similar to the drag of the dancers' feet. On the piano he played it with the left hand and then, with the right, he was adding his licks. Orlando Goñi was more orillero (of the outskirts), he marked the beat with a legato left hand.

«The pianist was the orchestra's driver. Everything was reflected in him. The contrabass was the one that marked the beat. It is the case of Fulvio Salamanca with Juan D'Arienzo, or that of Biagi. Each one had his way of playing. For me a great pianist was Emilio Barbato. He defined the style of an orchestra with Fresedo... Look, there was an important pianist in North America, Carmen Cavallaro, and I think that his style had already been played before by Barbato. All those little legato things he played were his invention. Afterwards, when the pianist stopped playing the orchestra leaned on the violins. By that time Elvino Vardaro was with Fresedo. Di Sarli leaned on Guisado who had tango deep in his soul. An extraordinary human being, I was with him in Japan in 1966, he knew of tango more than anybody else and we leaned on him many times. There is also a Requena's style that is based mainly on composing. My uncle Paquito Requena was the teacher of Leopoldo Federico, Arturo Penón, Juan Carlos Bera, Rovira, Libertella and many more. He was lead bandoneon with Maffia, leader of the staff orchestra of Radio Belgrano, he was alumnus of Juan José Castro, he was a great musician. Later he devoted himself to teaching.

«I was a close friend of Aquiles Roggero's. He was blessed with a unique melodic vein but he is not very well known. The only thing that people know is that he led the Orquesta Símbolo Osmar Maderna and that he composed some beautiful tangos like “Mimí Pinsón”. Once I found in a publishing company this tango of his: “Tus ojos lejanos”, a beautiful piece. (He plays it)

«I composed many things, I have over 100 unpublished pieces. Whenever I have spare time I write. Maybe in the future they will be discovered.

«Canaro was much criticized, there were many who did not like that he had included a brass instrument in his orchestra or had put together those large ensembles. You can't imagine what awful things Julio De Caro was told! He was not accepted. Today he is the leader that established a milestone, a point of departure in the history of tango. The same happens with Piazzolla, he was the alma mater of writing. Among his many charts I mention one he wrote for Troilo: “Chiqué”... that is a sum of virtues. Troilo's fans liked it but with much apprehention. The same happened with Enrique Delfino's “Recuerdos de bohemia” arranged by Galván. People did not understand it at all. This is a piece that can easily be regarded as classical music, even though I don't make a difference between concert music and popular music. Music is only one, the good music.

«As for my arrangements, all of a sudden a hit sprang up and I had to write it for different orchestras, then each one had to be different, with other personality and I had to stick to other standards, to other forms, to other styles. To achieve that I had to forget the previous ones. I wrote about 20 charts of “La cumparsita” and I myself recorded 5 renditions of it and they are all different.

«The bandoneon was created to play chorales, Argentinians used it to play tango. At the beginning the player was seated and the instrument was on his two knees held together while his hands were tightly fastened by the straps. Everything was somewhat stiff, the bellows was scarcely opened, the easy movement of the hands was hampered. Until the time when someone had the idea of leaning it on one knee so that he would be able to open it with a greater ease. One of the first ones must have been Laurenz. So the fingering was better, it was lighter, it made possible better variations. By the way, Laurenz's variations cannot be improved, they must be played exactly as he wrote them. Piazzolla, when he played Laurenz's tangos, he always respected his variations. “Berretín” is one of them. The same happens with the solos that De Caro created. Nowadays, many singers have become a problem because they change the melodies.

«As for the De Caros, I regard Francisco as greater than Julio, he was a creator. He had the style of a consecrated pianist, full of chords, of subtleties, just like in composing.

«About singers? Floreal Ruiz. Also Francisco Fiorentino, Ángel Vargas, Oscar Serpa. Floreal starts in the Alfredo De Angelis Orchestra, to which he is growing accustomed and he reaches his peak when he joins Troilo. As well Jorge Durán was a great singer. I discovered him lately.

«What is an arrangement? Look, each one has his conception about it, but it's not difficult to define it. It is an attempt to embellish and to highlight the melody, without distorting it, on the contrary, always trying to respect it as much as you can. First comes the melody, later you have to write a variation of it and then, as it is popularly called, you have to introduce a violin harmony (counterline) inside it. Otherwise you are destroying the composer's concept. You always have to respect the melodic line. When I sit at the piano I first make a sketch of what I want to do, I write the chord symbols and with a fountain pen —I cross out, I do not erase—, I write the arrangement, I am fairly fast. The arranger is a creator too, because there are so many harmonies as you can think of. But you never have to miss the tango essence.

«As pianist in an orchestra I began in 1951 with Raúl Kaplún. With him I wrote my first arrangement. It was a waltz I composed, “Solo de vals”, it was in the songbook but was never recorded. The following year I joined Eduardo Del Piano who had just split with Ángel Vargas. My first arrangement with him was “El cantor de Buenos Aires”. Later I joined briefly Edgardo Donato, Carlos Demaría, Ángel Domínguez, Alberto Mancione, Eduardo Rovira when he accompanied Alfredo Del Río, Juan Sánchez Gorio, Atilio Stampone —his first group—, Leopoldo Federico, the greatest friend I found in tango. I also was with Sassone, nine years going to and fro.

«When in 1968 I was appointed director of the Microfón label, I conducted the orchestra that backed everybody who recorded there: Alfredo Zitarrosa, Los Quilla Huasi, Los Hermanos Cuesta and many more. As from 1984 I conducted for a time the Orquesta Nacional Juan de Dios Filiberto. We made our debut at the Teatro Cervantes.

«Now? I'm working on some arrangements for several collections that will be released, I guess, from the United States to the rest of the world. It is for a well-known producer. I have 2 tours ahead, one of Israel and the other, already signed, for the eighth time to Japan. Probably I am the musician who traveled most. I was in around 90 countries.

«Lastly, to renew oneself is very good, but you have to know how. You cannot change the great musicians and composers of tango. You have to make them known without modifying their essence. «If a rose is beautiful let her as she is». It's not necessary to possess a polished technique and to play a thousand notes. It's better to play only one note but well sung. Troilo was not a virtuoso, but he sang with his bandoneon».