Gaspar Astarita

Sexteto Mayor - Time passes and it does not grow old

ll artistic endevour must be accompanied, unavoidably, by a commercial effort in order to be stable and with the possibility of projection. And the founders and leaders of the Sexteto Mayor (José Libertella and Luis Stazo) understood this reality from the very beginning when they emerged with this group.

They saw, without ever disregarding the artistic aspect, that the intent was backed by a coherent and constant enterprise attitude. They, as professional musicians, knew beforehand that the instrumentalist must have secured, at least, an income which allows him and his family to live with dignity to later devote himself to the artistic aspect of his profession.

In a few words, to forget about household matters and be able to go, with enough time and an untroubled mind, to rehearsals, performances, tours and every engagement which requires a temporary removal from his relatives.

And Libertella and Stazo, a quarter of a century ago, when, almost inadvertedly, they joined as a group, knew how to interpret this need to be able to go ahead. Without disregarding even the most unimportant details connected with the task of assembling an orchestra and provide it with a style, they were their own impresarios.

They did not do as De Caro, D'Arienzo or Canaro, who gave up the playing of their instruments (coincidentally, all three were violinists) to be concerned with assuring a solid commercial cover, and wisely directed, to the orchestral enterprise. On the contrary, these two extraordinary bandoneonists engaged in both things: music and income. And they admirably did both, if not, today the Sexteto Mayor would not be twenty five years old and would not be traveling around the world, requested to perform at shows of the highest artistic level, either playing in embassies or fulfilling individual contracts.

Since those old days when for their promotion they went out to buy their own records, or sometimes to sell them themselves after the concerts, nothing proved improper for them. They knew what they wanted and how to achieve it. And they did. That is why today this formidable sextet is alive, for the pride of tango and their country.

The Sextet

Maybe the introducing commentary leads to thinking that the Sexteto Mayor´s members are more impresarios than musicians. Nothing more removed from truth.

El Sexteto Mayor, at the very outset, had two original features: the first, it recovered the early and precursor orchestral scheme of the sextet —two bandoneons, two violins, piano and doublebass—, a characteristic established by Julio De Caro in 1924, when he formed his famous sextet, the evolutionist stream of tango.

And the second, it dispensed with the singer. All its career was within the purest instrumental tango (save for some exceptions when for reasons or conditions at some shared shows they had to provide background for some vocalist). And they allowed themselves the pleasure of playing and recording tangos with lyrics in an exclusively instrumental way, leaving anthological samples of this manner, such as "Nostalgias", "Trenzas", "El día que me quieras", "La casita de mis viejos", etc.

It is admirable what they have achieved through arrangement and interpretation.

A sextet such as those we had heard in other groups' cases, was always perceived with a mellower sonority, that of six instruments at the service of a composition. However, the Sexteto Mayor has attained a sound density which makes us imagine, when listening to it, that it is a more numerous unit. It is because they have known how to apply to tango all the knowledge and the technical and emotional combinations, to obtain that solid and vibrant tango temperature which has allowed them to consolidate something so difficult in the orchestra field: artistic personality. To attain it, Libertella and Stazo, marvelous bandoneonists and arrangers themselves, endeavored to always surround themselves with first level instrumentalists.

Throughout all its career, the Sextet evidenced a careful and severe choice judgment to replace pieces in case of casualties or withdrawals of certain members.

Today, beside the founder bandoneon team, we find two exceptional violinists, Mario Abramovich and Eduardo Walczak, while Eduardo Aulicino had the responsibility of replacing the mythological Kicho Díaz and Omar Murtagh on the stringed bass, and the notable pianist Oscar Palermo had to take the seat of Armando Cupo and Juan Mazzadi.

Violinists of the hyerarchy of Mauricio Mise, Fernando Suárez Paz, Reynaldo Nichele and Hugo Baralis were part of the group as well. They were all professionals to whom the Sextet gave the opportunity of personal showcasing and imposed on them, at the same time, the need to be at the group's service.

Even though Libertella and Stazo were its creators and supporters, all the above mentioned players brought prestige to and made possible the Sexteto Mayor.

Another factor which has influenced on its fame and reputation, and has strengthened general acclaim, is the choice of repertory.

Traditional or modern pieces have been wisely selected from the huge repository of our city music —even many compositions by the members— and taken to the music stands after a process of arrangement and instrumentation on which the composer's stamp and the melodic line of the work have never been distorted.

And, to end this commentary, I will make use of an expression in vogue nowadays: the Sexteto Mayor "does not swallow glass" (they are not deceived). The ones with responsibility know that certain audiences, especially abroad, are composed of many snobs and of people interested in tango and in other gymnastic-dancing seasonings. In a word: show. Then, for those occasions, they put forward "a stage tango". Bandoneon players who all of a sudden stand up, vehement gestures some other times, with bellows spred out at their full length to convey an air of drama, more studied than spontaneous, to the interpretation.

On the other hand, for the recording studio and the more refined tango-fan ear, they are once more the Sextet we love and admire. The interpreters of an exquisite music, of ours, very rioplatense (from the River Plate), dear to our ears and our feeling.

They keep on their working line. Developed tango, with avant-garde meaning and purpose, but retaining the essence of the genre.

We think that, in that progression, they arrived at a border line which they, themselves, might have assumed as a limit. To tresspass it, would not be tango. It would be an argument.

Originally published in Tango y lunfardo, Nº 146, Year XVI, Chivilcoy 16 November 1998. Director-owner: Gaspar J. Astarita.