World-premiere tango comes to Bay Area stages

Orquesta Victoria, a tango group from Argentina, makes its San Francisco debut this week, playing world-premiere music. COURTESY PAULA ABRAMOVICH

Orquesta Victoria, an acclaimed Argentine tango orchestra, is coming to the Bay Area with an unusual, distinctive program focusing less on dance than on music – world-premiere music written by a woman.

Debora Simcovich, a longtime San Francisco resident who was born in Argentina, wrote the 12 tangos on the orchestra’s newest CD, “La Media Cuadra Inmortal” (“The Immortal Half Block”), the subject of concerts this week in San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto and San Anselmo.

“For the last hundred years,” Simcovich says, “as the lyrics of tangos described everyday hardships, the only voice ever heard was that of the male lyricist, with a mostly negative portrayal of women, superficially described as fickle and ill-intentioned. The number of female lyricists is so small, it hardly counts; that’s why Orquesta Victoria’s recording and playing tangos written by a woman is so special.”

“The Immortal Half Block” refers to a street in Buenos Aires’ Jewish neighborhood, Villa Crespo, where Simcovich grew up, a place that “has remained the same over years as if in a time warp.” (Villa Crespo Productions presents the tour, in collaboration with San Francisco’s Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.)

This week’s concerts also include a talk “Jewish Life and Tango in Argentina” by Anita Epelbaum Weinstein, a sociologist and leader in the Argentine Jewish Federation.

Several members of orchestra are Jewish, including band leader Ezequiel (Cheche) Ordoñez, grandson of Polish chess Grand Master Miguel Najdorf, who escaped the Holocaust in the 1930s to make his home in Argentina.
Simcovich, who is producing the tour, emphasizes that this week’s Bay Area performances exemplify music played traditionally in Buenos Aires for the Argentine public, and not for tourists. The concerts, she says, are at classical music quality level, and dancing in just a few pieces is a secondary complement to the orchestra.

In addition to the new music, the concerts also include a few standards from the era of Carlos Gardel, one of tango’s most prominent composers who died 80 years ago in a plane crash in Colombia.

Established in 2010, Orquesta Victoria has found success with its unique sound, which is influenced by classical and jazz. It has played the most important stages, theaters in Buenos Aires, in Casa Rosada (the Argentine White House), and at the 2014 Tango World Cup.

Orquesta Victoria
Where: Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. June 25
Tickets: $20 to $25
Contact: (415) 643-2785,
Note: A $5 reception with the orchestra is at 7 p.m. June 23 at the Mission Cultural Center. Other concerts are at 8 p.m. June 24 at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley; 8 p.m. June 26 at the Marines Memorial Theatre in S.F.; 8 p.m. June 27 at the San Anselmo Playhouse; and 8 p.m. June 28 at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto.

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