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Classical sensibilities blend with Argentinian rhythms in Ginastera's 'Variaciones concertantes'

Composer Alberto Ginastera and cat
Composer Alberto Ginastera at the piano along with a furry friend.

This upcoming weekend, the Kansas City Symphony will be performing an electric, dance-inducing piece of music by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera. Learn more about this piece of music that showcases the unique sounds of the orchestra and will get your toes tapping.

Ian Chung is a doctoral candidate in composition at the UMKC Conservatory.

Alberto Evaristo Ginastera is one of the most important Argentinean composers of the 20th century. His music shows a vibrant, cosmopolitan style along with the influence of Argentinian folk music that won him international recognition along with a strong folk music influence from his native country. In 1953, Ginastera wrote his "Variaciones concertantes," which showcases his unique compositional style.

The Variaciones (variations) in music means once a theme is introduced, it is then repeated with changes involving melody, rhythm, harmony, orchestration, or any combination of these. On the other hand, a concertante is a composition for an orchestra with parts that highlight several solo instruments.

Variaciones concertantes features almost every instrument in the orchestra as a soloist, allowing the audience to enjoy a variety of colors and sounds. In the beginning, the solo cello sings the pensive theme accompanied by the harp playing the open-string notes of the guitar (E-A-D-G-B-E), which are important to traditional Argentinian music. Each variation progressively introduces rhythmic ideas based on "malambo": a folk dance in Argentina known for its energetic leg movements such as stomping and scrubbing. Finally, the last variation features the full orchestra with a vivid evocation of the malambo with whooping flutes and brass, pounding drums, and a string ostinato drive to the formidable ending.

Ginastera employs some rhythmic techniques to add more energy to the music. His delicate use of syncopations — displacing the beats to make a strong beat weak and vice versa — propels the music forward. This technique brings excitement to music by playing with listener’s expectations for where the next beat should occur. He also shifts between two- and three-note groupings, which momentarily creates a sense of disorientation. Eventually, he combines these groups and generates a seven-note grouping (2+2+3); however, when the new grouping is introduced, you might be accustomed to the irregularity and feel it as completely natural. "Variaciones concertantes" invites listeners to experience classical and Latin music simultaneously with the orchestra showcasing its players and irresistible rhythms.

The Kansas City Symphony will perform Ginastera’s "Variationes concertantes" this upcoming weekend.

Ginastera's "Variationes concertantes"
Where: Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
When: Friday April 5 - Sunday April 7
Tickets/more details can be found at