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Café Buenos Aires: A Voyage Through the Style of Tango

Jose Franch-Ballester, an award-winning international soloist, is considered one of the finest classical soloists and chamber music artists of his generation. He has performed with top orchestras and chamber music ensembles around the world, including the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Camerata Pacifica, and various orchestras in his native Spain. In addition to his extensive soloist career, Jose Franch-Ballester holds the role of Assistant Professor of Clarinet and Chamber Music at the UBC School of Music.

The Chan Centre will feature Jose Franch-Ballester on October 1st, in the upcoming tango concert, Café Buenos Aires. Featuring passionate tango music, exceptional live dancers, and a unique stage setting, this concert will transport the audience to an Argentine tango café located in the heart of Buenos Aires.

Student of Prof. Franch-Ballester, Felix Rowe, sat down with his teacher to learn more about Café Buenos Aires and the inspiration behind it.

Cafe Buenos Aires

Felix Rowe: What is the idea behind Café Buenos Aires?

Jose Franch-Ballester: When the Chan Centre first approached me to play a tango concert, I started to think about how to give this concert a certain atmosphere. I didn’t want a “regular” concert experience: I wanted to create an atmosphere where the Chan Centre stage looked similar to and had the style of a café in Buenos Aires. I wanted to give the audience a flavour of one of those Argentine tango cafés where people go to drink, listen to tango music, and watch live dancers. It’s a wholly immersive experience! This is the idea that I wanted to share.


FR: What is your experience with Buenos Aires? Tell us about your history with the Argentine tango.

JFB: In 2003, I toured Argentina for the first time. When I was in there, I was able to experience some of those tango cafés, and I was able to see many tangos danced on the street. This was the first experience I had with live tango in my life. It blew my mind! Then, I discovered the music of Astor Piazzola, Carlos Gardel, and all the tango greats. I really wanted to play this music in concert, but the toughest part was that I was unable to get a lot of these scores. All the bandoneon players had their own music and their own arrangers, and I didn’t have access to it. So, I started collaborating with many tango composers, arrangers, and players. I was able to collaborate with a lot of them, record CDs, and travel the world playing this style of music, which is very close to my heart.


FR: Tell us more about the arrangements for this concert and the arranger, Douglas Schmidt.

JFB: Douglas is one of the best bandoneon players in the world. He has performed as a soloist with many major orchestras including the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony. He has recorded many CDs and collaborated with many artists all around the world. Douglas has been working on all the arrangements, working non-stop stop since the beginning of the summer. I am honoured to be collaborating with a major force in the tango world like himself.


FR: Café Buenos Aires features “clarinetango” music. What is “clarinetango”?

JFB: There is a recording by one of my favourite clarinet players, Giora Fiedman, called Clarinetango. Giora Fiedman is an Argentinian clarinet player. He lives in Israel and is a renowned Jewish Klezmer clarinet player. In his album Clarinetango, he plays the tangos with the heart of an Argentinian and with a touch of the Klezmer style. It gives an incredible voice! A few of the pieces we will be performing have a little bit of this style, inspired by this major figure in the clarinet world, Giora Fiedman. This is what I call “clarinetango”.

"...tango is not only beautiful, but tango can also be extremely passionate and heartbreaking. All of this is tango. This concert is going to be an exciting voyage through this style of music."

Jose Franch-Ballester
Jose Franch-Ballester
Roxana and Fabian Belmonte

FR: Tell us more about pieces that you will be performing.

JFB: The pieces we will be performing are a combination of famous fast tangos and beautiful slow tangos. We will also be collaborating with dancers Roxana and Fabian Belmonte. These dancers are very famous and have been dancing tango all over the world with many orchestras.  In addition to dancing, Fabian will be singing a couple of tangos with us as well. I think this will be a beautiful program with wonderful repertoire. We are going to be fully immersed in the tango culture and the beauty of the tango. But, tango is not only beautiful, tango can also be extremely passionate and heartbreaking. All of this is tango. This concert is going to be an exciting voyage through this style of music.


FR: Is there anything else you would like to say about Café Buenos Aires?

JFB: I would also like to mention that I feel very fortunate to be collaborating with all the musicians in this concert: Amanda Chan, David Gillham, Douglas Schmidt, Itamar Erez, and Noah Reitman. They are all incredible musicians, and they all have a beautiful tango soul. We look forward to presenting a tango concert where we understand the style and we can play it at a very high level. Using the state-of-the-art Chan Centre Concert Hall, with its wonderful lighting and sound, we along with the dancers will come out with a very beautiful show.

Café Buenos Aires: Jose Franch-Ballester & Friends takes place on October 1 at 8:00pm at the Chan Shun Concert Hall.

Wed Sep 1, 2021