VALLEJO — The reaction was fairly universal.
“Are you kidding?” was the question Anna Maria Mendieta got when she called around looking for tango music for the harp.
She didn’t let that stop her. Instead, Mendieta created her own arrangements, a difficult process. Not only did she have to draw out certain sounds from the harp, she had to change her technique.
“The day after practicing, my arm was bruised from slapping the harp to play the bass notes,” she said. “I didn’t realize it was so physically demanding. It’s a different manner of playing altogether.”
She will perform Astor Piazzolla’s “Tango Suite” on Oct. 20 with the Vallejo Symphony. While she’s played with the symphony in the past, this is her first time as a featured soloist.
She is a longtime acquaintance of David Ramadanoff, who has been the symphony’s music director since 1983. The two agreed on the “Tango Suite,” a piece Mendieta calls “very dynamic, very haunting and very dramatic.” It’s composed of three movements.
Mendieta is a member of Tango Del Cielo, which means “tango from heaven.” The six-piece group brings together harp, strings, percussion and dance.
It was launched when Mendieta performed as a featured soloist for the National Harp Conference. She was asked if she wanted to have some tango dancers perform with her.
“It’s very common for some of the tango concerts (to have dancers),” she said. “It made a lot of sense to incorporate the dance.”
Now she takes time to dance when the group performs. Then, it’s back to finish the song on the harp.
“It is so much fun,” Mendieta said. “It’s become a very unique show.”
It includes a tribute to silent movies, which introduced tango. Within the past few weeks, Mendieta discovered that a distant relative, Nita Naldi, was featured opposite Rudolf Valentino in the film “Blood and Sand.” Naldi plays the harp in the movie.
“And she was not faking it,” Mendieta said of her relative’s musical ability.
Mendieta said she was 5 when she knew the harp was meant for her. She was listening to Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
“In the middle there’s a harp solo. I put my ear to the speaker and I would listen to the music over and over,” she said.
The notion of pairing a harp with tango music still catches people by surprise. However, Mendieta said tango music is very popular, especially in the Bay Area.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.