Artistic Expression with O'Riley and Ziegler

As part of the 2017-2018 Grand Encounters season, American Pianists Association presents a concert by two imaginative individuals.

Pablo Ziegler & Christopher O'Riley
Pablo Ziegler & Christopher O'Riley

One studied classical piano at New England Conservatory of Music, hosts an NPR program that spotlights young classical musicians and has released albums of Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Radiohead. The other artist began his career playing piano for the world’s foremost composer of tango music and for 25 years has been pushing the bounds of modern tango music as a composer, pianist and leader of his own ensembles.

Christopher O’Riley does not fit neatly into a classical artist's box. Acclaimed for his engaging and deeply committed performances, O’Riley is known to millions as the host of NPR’s "From the Top." Now in his fifteenth year on air, O’Riley introduces the next generation of classical music stars to almost a million listeners each week. He performs around the world and has garnered widespread praise for his efforts to reach new audiences.

O’Riley has performed as a soloist with virtually all of the major American orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, National Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony. His zeal for introducing new audiences to classical music is apparent in his performance of piano arrangements of music by Radiohead, Elliott Smith, Pink Floyd and Nirvana alongside traditional classical repertoire. When asked to explain his unusual choice of material for a classical pianist, O'Riley has often quoted Duke Ellington's statement that "there are two kinds of music: good music and the other kind."

Christopher O'Riley's albums of music by Radiohead
Christopher O'Riley's albums of music by Radiohead

Pablo Ziegler won a Latin Grammy Award in 2005 for an album featuring piano, guitar and bandoneon and has gone on to compose works featuring violin, voice and a full jazz orchestra, among other imaginations.

For decades, Buenos Aires‐born composer and arranger Ziegler has been one of the most important figures in Argentine New Tango, the vibrant musical hybrid of classic tango, American jazz and European art music. Ziegler performed in tango grand‐maestro Astor Piazzolla’s legendary quintet for over a decade and appeared on iconic Piazzolla recordings. Ziegler has led his own groups for over 20 years, refining and reimagining the bounds of the modern tango tradition. Ziegler’s 2005 release, "Bajo Cero," won the Latin Grammy for Best Tango Album, and in 2008, his album "Buenos Aires Report" was nominated for the same honor. Ziegler’s most recent release, 2013's the Latin Grammy‐nominated "Amsterdam Meets New Tango," sees his quartet paired with the Netherlands’ Metropole Orkest, playing his most famous compositions re‐arranged for jazz orchestra.

On October 15, these two artists will perform Ziegler’s compositions of New Tango for two pianos at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis, a venue with rich American Pianists Awards history. The Jazz Kitchen has hosted many Awards artists and this season welcomes Dan Tepfer, Sullivan Fortner and Emmet Cohen.

Modern tango master Astor Piazzolla
Modern tango master Astor Piazzolla

Ziegler’s two‐piano arrangements of modern tango create an adventurous program that build upon the efforts of Astor Piazzolla to create a new direction for Argentina’s signature sound. Stephen Holden described these efforts in Piazzolla's obituary in the New York Times:

In the mid-1950's, Mr. Piazzolla single-handedly invented "the new tango," a modernized and expanded version of the passionate dance music style that was born in the 1880's in the brothels of Buenos Aires and became Argentina's musical signature. While his innovations were greeted with hostility in his homeland, his compositions, which blended elements of jazz and classical music into tango, were warmly received in Europe and the United States.

When he returned to Buenos Aires in 1955, he formed his own band and began making music that departed sharply from the traditional tango formats, and in 1960 he formed his influential Quinteto Nuevo Tango. Thereafter, the quintet of violin, guitar, piano, bass and bandoneon became the basis for the majority of his compositions, although he also developed big band and orchestral styles.

He used the format to introduce dissonance and chromatic harmony and to use a much wider range of rhythm than traditional tango allowed. While retaining tango's essential romanticism, he stretched and eventually abandoned traditional tango song forms.

With Piazzolla's passing in 1992, Ziegler took the reins of tango and has pushed the form in further directions. O’Riley was candid on his blog about the opportunity to tour with Ziegler:

Pablo has been an idol of mine for decades, ever since I first heard him as long-time pianist of Astor Piazzolla's New Tango Quintet. Back then, if you asked me my favorite 5 piano recordings of all time, they were Glenn Gould’s Goldbergs (or does that count as 2? Old and new?), Sergei Rachmaninoff playing Schumann: Carnaval, Sviatoslav Richter’s recording of Prokofiev: Sonata #8 and Pablo Ziegler’s performance of Piazzolla’s composed cadenza/intro to Adios Nonino.

I had the great honor of touring Pablo’s two-piano arrangements of Piazzolla’s music in the wake of his Sony release, "Los Tangueros" (1997) with Emanuel Ax. Manny was busy enough doing all the great things he does, so touring with Pablo was my privilege. We’ve played occasionally over the years, but not for at least the last 6.

Pablo Ziegler and Christopher O’Riley embody the imagination of the American Pianists Awards. Our artists faithfully explore the origins of their music and earnestly stretch the boundaries of modern interpretation. Come celebrate the beauty of artistic expression; get tickets for Two to Tango today!


Much like Pablo Ziegler and Christopher O’Riley, the American Pianists Awards are also not confined to a box. As America’s premiere jazz and classical awards, we celebrate artistic excellence in many ways. Our competitions have no set repertoire and allow our artists to express themselves in a variety of settings, leveraging a variety of creative formats. Want to hear where America’s best young artists are taking the future of jazz and classical music? Follow the American Pianists Awards!

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