Payadora Tango Ensemble steps in as Ophelia Rises is cancelled

The Toronto-based ensemble will present its mix of Argentinian and Uruguayan tango and folk music alongside original compositions inspired by that tradition

With the cancellation of the Cecilia Concerts presentation of Nadina Mackie Jackson’s Ophelia Rises this weekend due to medical reasons, Payadora Tango Ensemble is stepping in to fill the void.

A rarity for the classical musical presenter to cancel a concert, executive director Gregory Morris has found a replacement in the Toronto-based ensemble. “Rather than just cancel the concert, we have replaced it with a really hot quartet from Toronto called the Payadora Tango Ensemble,” says Morris in an email.

Featuring three of the performers who were to have travelled to perform as part of the original concert, the Payadora Tango Ensemble will now present their unique blend of Argentinian and Uruguayan tango and folk music alongside original compositions inspired by that tradition.

“Most people have not heard much traditional tango and only know a couple of typical pieces from movies and a few of [Argentine composer] Piazzolla’s works,” says band leader Rebekah Wolkstein. “We have researched and found a broad range of wonderful music including tangos, milongas and waltzes from the last 130 years which we have arranged.”

In addition to a more traditional repertoire that also includes dance forms such as chacarera and zamba, the ensemble performs its own original compositions based on those traditions. “We sing in three-part harmony with guitar, and the folk tunes provide a lighter and simpler tone to the more intense tango repertoire,” continues Wolkstein.

Formed in 2013, Wolkstein says it took some time to find the right mix of musicians for the ensemble after she fell in love with the style playing with a touring tango band years ago.

“[I] was looking for the right group of musicians with whom to form a tango band for years before starting the project,” she says. “It was hard to find the right musicians since it requires classical, jazz, improvising, arranging and compositional skills.

The band now consists of Wolkstein on violin, Drew Jurecka on the bandoneon, Joe Phillips on the double bass and Robert Horvath on piano. It has become a perfect mix to represent their name, which they took from a milonga, a piece of classical Argentinean music and dance in which the payador (or female payadora) travels through Argentina and Uruguay competing while composing and improvising songs with guitar.

“The band began with immigrants including an Argentine, Serbian and American. We now have a Hungarian pianist, so the idea of the travelling minstrel felt right for us,” says Wolkstein.

A bonus to each Payadora concert comes from elements that go beyond the music. “At our shows, we share historical context, anecdotes and our passion for the music we perform,” says Wolkstein.

The Payadora Tango Ensemble performs in the Lilian Piercey Concert Hall at the Maritime Conservatory on March 8. Visit for tickets and information.

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