Music review: Brisbane Tango Orchestra, The Old Museum

The Brisbane Tango Orchestra presents new music composed by bandoneón soloist Owen Salomé in an exciting and stimulating concert program.

The Brisbane Tango Orchestra grew out of Chloe Ann Williamson’s desire to present Argentinian tango and other music more widely in Australia. In spite of the COVID pandemic, Williamson, a double-bass player specialising in tango, combined three small tango ensembles in 2021 in order to present a concert to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of world-renowned Argentinian musician and composer, Astor Piazzolla.

The Piazzolla Effect tango concert was such a success that the following year Williamson restructured her ensemble to feature eight virtuosic musicians, performing at the inaugural Moonlight Tango Winter Festival. Thus, the Brisbane Tango Orchestra was born.   

Williamson has subsequently teamed up with acclaimed Australian bandoneónist, Owen Salomé, who has studied and now works and lives in Argentina, to perform a series of six concerts across south-east Queensland in 2023. The concert series features world premieres of tango and Argentinian-styled music, especially commissioned and composed by Salomé. Rarely heard in Australia, the button accordion bandoneón is the quintessential instrument of both Argentine tango, as well as the dances and music of the Vals, Milonga and Gualambao, and it proved to be a marvellous addition to this unique and fascinating concert.

The eight players of the orchestra perform across a variety of styles, but seem to have firmly grasped and imbibed the intricacies and sensual sonority of Argentinian music. Pianist Cara Tran very much held the beat and rhythm of most of the pieces and was a solid and strong accompanist, alongside Salomé’s powerful bandoneón. The string section consisted of three first-rate violins: Eugenie Costello-Shaw, Julianna Kim and Camille Barry, the latter having many solos, which she delivered quite beautifully. They were joined by Dan Curro on cello and Williamson on double bass, both of whom delivered the flavour and rhythm of the music with great panache. The winds were no less impressive. Lucia Gonzalez on flute gave sterling support throughout, while her shimmering top notes were stunning. Hugo Anaya Partida provided an excellent bass clarinet, its deep rich sound adding colour and depth.      

The concert started with two joyous and exhilarating tango pieces. A Luciano Nobati offered a delicious tango dance led by the bandoneón, with its strong sensory and emotive sound, across a jazzy 30s style piano and sultry violins. The texture of this music offered a contemporary sonority across the more traditional Piazzolla music of the early 20th century and was both sensual and engaging. It was followed by Desde Lejos (Into the Distance) offering sensitive violin work by Barry and a lovely clarinet solo from Partida. The strong beat of the bandoneón and Salomé’s exquisite playing of it gave this piece real musical depth, while the frenetic playing up and down the keys by pianist Tran brought the work to a strong conclusion.

Salomé then changed the style by presenting a Gualambao, as a tribute to the flamboyant Argentinian guitarist Ramiro Boero, with whom he studied. The Amae gave us a rollicking, rolling rhythm, with all the musicians beating time on their instruments in various and differing degrees. A complex and intriguing work it featured enormously fast playing from the bandoneón. The contribution by double bass and cello offered a rich sound that blended well with the wind instruments and the final lightness of touch by the flute.

Owen Salomé. Photo: Mel Robin.

The slow milonga, Come Me Siento (How I am feeling) was a more serious, even lugubrious piece with an emotive piano solo, followed by the bandoneón’s high, long drawn-out top notes and an undercurrent of colourful orchestral sound – a very moving work. It was followed by Nuestra Viajecito, an Argentinian waltz or Vals that was romantic and sweeping in its melodic sonority, with splendid string work.  

To add variety, Salomé then switched to playing the quenacho, a basic flute reminiscent of an Andean pipe, alongside the double bass and piano. With a strong zamba rhythm, both piano and double bass kept the tune while the quenacho rose high above giving an eerie but quite pleasant quality. Additionally, Salomé and Williamson played a melodic piece he had composed a week earlier entitled Alfabeta or ABC, that nicely demonstrated the tango dance rhythms for just double bass and bandoneón. A fruitful combination.     

Two tangos ended the concert: Mi Linda Tetera (My pretty teapot) and De Dos Mundos (Of two worlds), the latter just for orchestra without the bandoneón. Both were really well executed and cleverly composed with complex and exciting dance scores. Tetera commenced with both flute and clarinet fanfares before morphing into a traditional tango rhythm with strong bandoneón accompaniment.

A duet of cello and double bass began in De Dos Mundos, with the stop/start rhythm of the tango represented by the various instruments in slow, sliding sections and then fast toe-tapping ones. A complex mixture of sounds, patterns and instrumentation, this was really well played. A poignant cello and piano duet, followed by delicate phrasing from the woodwind, led to some powerful strings. This was a stunning piece compositionally that showed the strength of the orchestral playing.  

An encore followed in a fast and riveting Milonga, that was as exciting as it was chaotic. Una Milonga para Savvas delivered the best of the orchestra and the bandoneón in a very fitting conclusion. 

The Brisbane Tango Orchestra is a welcome addition to an ever-widening sphere of different types of western classical music in Queensland. The orchestra’s vibrant, exciting and rhythmic music gets the toes tapping and urges the listener to get up and dance in Argentinian style, as the tango was intended to do. The quality of musicianship by the eight-piece orchestra was of the highest standard and delivery, with a fiery passion and commitment that was infectious.

Read: Theatre review: Happy Meal, Perth Festival

Salomé’s compositions themselves were complex but accessible, brimful of musical colour and vigour. They managed quite beautifully to combine the traditional themes and tempi of the earlier composers with a freshness and modern colourful soundscapes to make the pieces relevant and engaging. We can hope that this concert tour is just the beginning of more collaborations between the orchestra and Salomé, if this is what we are to expect.   

The Brisbane Tango Orchestra with Owen Salomé
Violins: Camille Barry, Eugenie Costello-Shaw, Julianna Kim
Cello: Dan Curro
Double bass: Chloe Ann Williamson
Piano: Cara Tran
Flute: Lucia Gonzalez
Bass Clarinet: Hugo Anaya Partida
The Old Museum, Bowen Hills, Brisbane

The Brisbane Tango Orchestra with Owen Salomé performed on 12 February

Tour dates: Brisbane Tango Orchestra (

Suzannah Conway is an experienced arts administrator, having been CEO of Opera Queensland, the Brisbane Riverfestival and the Centenary of Federation celebrations for Queensland. She is a freelance arts writer and has been writing reviews and articles for over 20 years, regularly reviewing classical music, opera and musical theatre in particular for The Australian and Limelight magazine as well as other journals. Most recently she was Arts Hub's Brisbane-based Arts Feature Writer.