Music to mark World AIDS Day from the great Cuban-born pianist Jorge Bolet
On this World AIDS Day, there's an unusual amount of optimism that important corners are being turned in the search for preventative measures, but that is small comfort compared to the appalling toll the disease has taken across the global. Members of the young generation are, thankfully, growing up without knowing the pain of losing friends and family members in rapid succession. The rest of us will carry those scars for the rest of our lives.
I will never forget the shock of hearing John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1 for the first time. In that work from 1989, subtitled "Of Rage and Remembrance," the composer found exceptionally inventive and moving ways to memorialize many of his own friends, weaving their lives literally into the score. A particularly close pianist friend inspired the most haunting reflection in the symphony. Corigliano made use of a venerable keyboard chestnut, the endearing Godowsky transcription of Albeniz's "Tango," a favorite of his friend; the piece is played off-stage in the outer movements.
If you have never heard that symphony, please check it out. We may live in a less rage-driven time when it comes to AIDS, but the symphony's way of capturing the raw emotions of the '80s has hardly lost its power. World AIDS Day got me thinking about that symphony again, but I found myself focusing specifically on that subtly sensual, wonderfully nostalgic "Tango." And, if you'll pardon the convoluted reasoning, that's the piece I'd like to offer here as a musical reflection on this solemn day.
I found a superb interpretation of the Albeniz/Godowsky "Tango" played by
Jorge Bolet, the patrician Cuban-born pianist who died 20 years ago at the age of 75. (Though never official, it was widely reported in the industry that his death was due to complications from HIV. UPDATE: See comment below that clarifies the issue.)
This performance, recorded in recital two years before he died, captures the essence of Bolet, one of my all-time favorite pianists, and the essence of this gentle "Tango." Since hearing it in the context of Corigliano's symphony, I'll always associate the piece with all the artists, from the just-budding to the most seasoned, lost to the disease over the decades.
It also has come to mean for me a way of remembering those I held dear in my own life. I hope you'll find that it does the same for you.