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Music is often held to be a universal language, yet the challenge of truly transcending social, cultural and stylistic boundaries remains a daunting one. This documentary portrait of an unusual musical partnership shows routes towards that ideal as Argentinean bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi and German cellist Anja Lechner engage in a patient and attentive process of mutual rapprochement.

“El Encuentro” (the Encounter) subtitled “a film for bandoneon and cello”, follows its two main characters to locations in Argentina, Germany, Armenia, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Says Anja Lechner: “Your perception of music, and your way of playing music, change when you travel.” This film about travel, through time, and over distances, will also change the viewer’s understanding of the protagonists.

Though they come from backgrounds that could hardly be more diverse – here the South American tango and folk traditions and there the European string music heritage – Dino Saluzzi and Anja Lechner have worked closely together since the mid-1990s, beginning with the “Kultrum” alliance between Saluzzi and the Rosamunde Quartet. Since then they have toured widely in duo and also in trio with Felix Saluzzi.

While the camera accompanies Saluzzi and Lechner cultivating the “marriage” – as Saluzzi calls it – of bandoneon and cello, rare insights into the life of travelling musicians are revealed in conversations without words in the in the intimacy of rehearsal sessions or at recording studios, and also lively exchanges of ideas, philosophy, and experiences – joined along the way by composer Tigran Mansurian, arranger Levon Eskenian, jazz composer and pianist George Gruntz, and Saluzzi’s clarinetist/saxophonist brother Felix Saluzzi.

The journey culminates in the concert with the Metropole Orchestra in Amsterdam’s Muziekgebow documented on the celebrated ECM live album “El Encuentro”.

Both the joy of playing and the creative tensions of music-making were vividly conveyed in the film “Sounds and Silence” (2009) where Lechner and Saluzzi made memorable appearances. Now, that film’s co-director Norbert Wiedmer has, together with Enrique Ros, made a more thorough exploration of the musical history of their collaboration. It casts light on Saluzzi’s humble beginnings in Salta, Argentinia, as well as his first encounters with European jazz musicians and his establishing of an idiom entirely his own, informed by tango but no means limited by it. “I compose with memories and hopes”, says Saluzzi in the film, drawing on his earliest recollections to inspire new musical endeavors.

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