Marin Symphony Heats Up

The Marin Symphony is expecting the temperature to rise this month, as it kicks off its 56th season with one of its most ambitious programs to date featuring red-hot tango dancers, a Grammy-nominated quartet, a 100-piece orchestra playing tango, classical and jazz-infused compositions—even the traditional accordion-like sounds of the bandoneón will be heard.

It all started when Marin Symphony music director and conductor Alasdair Neale first encountered Quartet San Francisco composer and violinist Jeremy Cohen’s work at the Sun Valley Summer Symphony in Idaho, where Neale is also musical director.

“He saw the possibilities of doing arrangements with the full orchestra,” Neale says of Cohen. “The idea came up and I thought this could be a good thing. I’m always looking for something to make the opening different and creative.”

“It was a confluence of events,” adds Cohen. “Alasdair had heard our music and seen my performance and I think he was excited and felt our style fit perfect with the theme of the show.”

Indeed, the decision to open the season with a quartet famous for its tango arrangements—the group won the International Tango Competition in 2004—set the stage for the symphony’s whole six-program season. The symphony has recently begun including a theme for the season that brings in a complementary art form and includes it in most of the performances, says Marin Symphony marketing director Suzanne Crawford—and this year that theme is dance.

“We were looking for a leadoff to start the season with a bang,” she adds. “Alasdair likes to end and start really strong, but we are all excited—this season is strong all the way through.”

Certainly no tango performance would be complete without dance, so for select numbers during the performance—some composed specifically by Cohen for the occasion—the world-class tango pair Sandor & Parissa will take the stage.

“The tango dancers will add a whole other dimension; tango’s roots are in singing an dancing,” says Cohen, who first performed with Sandor in the San Francisco version of the Broadway hit Forever Tango. “We will start with tango 101 and by the end it will be much more like modern dance—and this will mirror the music.”

“I think the audience will really enjoy it,” says Parissa, Antonio Banderas’s dance coach in the movie Take the Lead. “Tango is one of the most beautiful forms of music and it is even better with a beautiful visual.”

“Tango tells the story of a relationship between a man and a woman; everybody can relate,” adds Sandor, who married Parissa in 2005 and now tours the world with her in their hit show Magique Tango Vivo! “This is a great opportunity for people to see and appreciate this beautiful art. Many don’t know what a treasure they have around them.”

Cohen says his crossover quartet—which tackles styles as diverse as pop, blues, big band, Gypsy swing and jazz, in addition to tango—has collaborated with dancers and orchestras before but was surprised by Neale’s enthusiasm and confidence. “He liked what he heard and once he got a sense of our range, asked us to do the whole second half of the concert,” Cohen says. “We were beside ourselves, now we only have a million hours of work to do.”

The dancers, the quartet, the orchestra and the bandoneón player will all occupy the stage in different combinations, at different times and, sometimes, all at the same time, making for a technically difficult production—but one that Neale is eager to see onstage.

“I love anything even remotely Latin; that feeling and that beat,” says the conductor, who confesses to making trips to Cesar’s Latin Palace in San Francisco’s Mission District in earlier days. “It will be all I can do to avoid shaking my hips on the podium—but I may even do that.”

Whether or not he does, it seems the people of Marin County and beyond have taken to the maestro since his arrival—he was previously associate conductor for the San Francisco Symphony—in 2001. “The audience loves and trusts him,” Crawford says. “I feel like we are in a new heyday of the Marin Symphony.”

The opening night gala and milonga will take place at 5 p.m. October 5. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. October 5 and 7 at the Marin Center in San Rafael. Call 415.479.8100 or visit for more information.