Last week I got basically the same e-mail I got last year from a friend in Columbia: “Pete, you and Jenn should go and see this performance at Spoleto.” Each time the performance in question is a rare opportunity to experience some music that will only be in Charleston for only a moment before the artist or group moves along. When they do, they will not be back anytime soon. As the Tibetan mandala shows us, this is the fleeting nature of artistic brilliance writ broadly. But as music more specifically shows us, this is also the nature of sound in space: one moment it’s there, but the next moment leaves only its resonance in our ears and hearts and minds.
So this year it was an enormous privilege to take my friend up on his offer to meet him at a performance (we couldn’t go last time), along with his fiancée and another friend who would be translating from the stage for the performer. We took in an intimate performance at the College of Charleston’s small, beautiful Simons Recital Hall. Before saying anything more about it, it’s germane here to mention how special Spoleto is. Apart from being one of the largest performing arts festivals in the country, Spoleto has a character all its own. From Sacred Harp to the Spoleto Festival USA Symphony Orchestra, new music, dance, and drama, this festival fills one of the coolest towns this side of the Atlantic with the arts during its most beautiful and temperate season of the year.
So to the man who has become somewhat of a darling at this year’s Spoleto: Carlos Aguirre. Aguirre introduced the definitive tune of his performance by describing how a river collects the reflections of everything it sees, carrying them downstream to everyone and everything else who sees and experiences the river. This reflective image is particularly intriguing for me: the invitation my friend made last year was to see Aca Seca Trio, who has recorded the very same tune. Aguirre’s ruminations on the natural world inform his whole perspective, musical and beyond. His overt concern for the environment and human relationships with it work well in Charleston, where he remarked that even the salt sea air and the nearby brackish water had a similar smell to his home area in Argentina. On balance, this sophisticated approach to being in the world belie his youthful, energetic fascination with creating and performing a kind of music worthy of reflecting on that experience.
Aguirre invites his audience to see and hear these reflections with him. Inside a mere hour’s time, he has them smiling along with him, listening intensely to his complex harmonic palette. It has been a long time since I saw an audience so quickly and completely disarmed.
There’s more: South Carolina is a small town if you’re an ethnomusicologist: there are only four or five of us here. Two of us work in Argentina, and both knew of Aguirre. My wife Jenn and I found ourselves talking over the finer points of the performance and its reception with Spoleto’s jazz curator after the show. An hour later, Aguirre joined us for some fantastic East Asian cuisine at Xiao Bao Biscuit. Some festivals would have charged people thousands of dollars to dine with the artist after the show. This time we were just lucky enough to know the people who invited him to perform.
So to our new friend from Argentina, whose music had such a strong impact on us in such a short amount of time, I say Godspeed, dear Mr. Aguirre. This was a performance we will not forget. It was a pleasure and a privilege to enjoy your music and your company at Spoleto Festival USA, and we will enjoy your recordings for years to come!