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Accordions, accordions, accordions...

David Josefowitz Hall, Royal Academy of Music, 19 November 2012








These fine student accordionists, Krystian Sacilouski, Bartosz Glowacki and Xian Gao, produced between them a marvellous showcase concert for 2012, with memorable contemporary music items by Berlinsky, Gubaidulina, Kusyakov and Runchak.

Photos during concerts are discouraged at RAM, to the great surprise and regret of most students, so mine this time were snatched after the event; Xian Gao preferred to have her snap on stage.

The standard was very high; all power to Prof Owen Murray who has built up the RAM department to become the best in England and is now working towards academic validation alongside the commoner instruments.

A full review by an expert enthusiast is added below. Bartosz Glowacki can be heard in a solo portrait recital 14 December at Regent Hall, London, where photography is encouraged ! *

* Videos of Vlasov, Piazzolla etc filmed at Regent Hall have been added to YouTube to join those of Bartosz Glowacki winning the 2010 eurovision Competition. PGW

Rolf Hind The Tiniest House of Time

For a premiere at The Barbican, Scots accordionist James Crabb drew the short straw with a pretentious "concerto" The Tiniest House of Time, with Tibetan deep-breathing exercises (inhaling suffering and exhaling happiness...) ending with all the strings forsaking their instruments and whipping the air with their bows.

It will surely be quickly forgotten, if not so quickly by a BBC engineer who, for the future broadcast, has to patch long continued noisy interruptions (from within a Mencap party*) using the BBC's prudent recording at rehearsal...

That, in public, may tend to undermine goodwill toward Learning Disability...

It was sandwiched between the Cunning Little Vixen Suite [arr.František Jílek], more necessary before the opera became mainstream, and the lushly orchestrated Scheherazade which doesn't economise on the repetitions in the Arabian Nights tale; after a decade or more, I enjoyed the first half-hour, but it does go on so...

Received the same day, a new CD of the Complete Works for Accordion by Arne Nordheim (seen R with Frode Haltil) :
Spur for solo accordion (Frode Haltil) and orchestra The Norwegian Radio Orchestra/ Eggen Signals for accordion, electric guitar and percussion Dinosauros for accordion and tape Flashing
- the accordion is important in northern Europe and this is a good example of their exploratory efforts [Simax: PSC1328].

Peter Grahame Woolf

* Mencap is the voice of learning disability (its National Centre is at The Barbican).
Everything we do is about valuing and supporting people with a learning disability and their families and carers.

- - there was one not entirely inappropriate vocal contribution from the stalls to reflect back the trombone slides, and a fit of giggles at the (actually very magical) strings’ bow-swishing and percussionists' water-pouring in a hopefully transcendent conclusion [The Arts Desk]

Roland Williams adds:

Royal Academy of Music
Accordion Students Concerts 2012

The highly talented students of the Royal Academy of Music’s Accordion Department under Owen Murray have continued to produce some excellent concert performances with some very thoughtful presentations of repertoire both old and new.  They continue to take the accordion forward in the mainstream of classical concert music.

Martynas Levickis (accordion) on 4th November gave a stunning performance at the Wigmore Hall - - with a rarely heard work of J.S. Bach, Fantasia and Fugue in A minor (BWV561) – a work with extraordinary virtuosic arpeggio passages followed by a choral and a dance like fugue, followed by Efrem Podgaits Sonata No 1 for solo classical accordion, a large work of three contrasting movements which makes huge demands on the performer; its extreme pitch ranges to produce orchestral effects and its quintuplet bellow shake in the final movement make it exciting and accordionistic.  Martynas demonstrated an obvious delight in his mastery and projection of this work which delighted the audience who gave him a wonderful response at its conclusion.  In the second half Martynas played part of Per Norgard’s Nine Friends Suite solo and with violinist Diana Galvydyte part of Piazzolla’s History of the Tango and a work by Jonas Tamulionis, Rondo for violin and accordion.

Academy Showcase Concert 19th November

All Academy students are expected to progress from their individual lessons to performance in front of their peers in class for critical assessment, to performance before a more general public audience in the Royal Academy’s own and other public halls.  The regular Showcase Concerts are part of this process.

The excellent high standards of playing at these concerts was demonstrated on 19th November at RAM by three students, Xian Gao from China, and Bartosz Glowacki and Krystian Sacilowski from Poland.  They presented a very varied programme of ten works ranging from D Scarlatti and J S Bach, to Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky, to Gubaidulina, Kusyakov, Berinsky and Piazzolla - a huge range of music in one concert.

Outstanding performances were given by Xian Gao of Berinsky’s Partita ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ and Mendelssohn’s The Spinning Wheel.  Krystian Sacilowski gave a fine performance of Anatoly Kusyakov’s Accordion Sonata No 2 and the Prelude from Bach’s English Suite in A minor.  Bartosz Glowacki gave a very delicate performance of Gubaidulina’s De Profundis followed by October from Tchaikovsky’s suite The Seasons.

Other Concerts

Bartosz Glowacki will also be heard on 8th January 2013 in the Purcell Room on the South Bank in the Park Lane Group series, where he will play works by Lindberg, Berio and McGuire and premiere a new work by Richard Causton.  Bartosz also had the great honour of being invited to play a concert in Poland for the President of the country on 29th November.

Krystian Sacilowski also performed in November at Oxford University’s Workshop Portrait of Hans Abrahamsen Three Nocturnes for String Quartet and Accordion.

Academy students present and past keep up a remarkable level of activity.  Ksenija Sidorova for example in addition to recent ITV appearances has in the past year given no less than 65 concerts in the U.K. and across the world.  The increasing use of the accordion by notable contemporary composers is expanding the specialist repertoire whilst at the same time the modern instrument enables a fresh view of some classical and ancient music.  For accordion players with talent the opportunities for a career are undoubtedly increasing in the world of mainstream classical music.



Accordion Teaching at the Royal Academy of Music

Accordion Department 25th Anniversary Celebration

The major theme of Prof. Owen Murray’s celebration of 25 years building up the Accordion Department at the Royal Academy of Music to national renown was accordion teaching. 

His special guest for the occasion was Lars Holm, an accordion teacher from Sweden, well known throughout the world from Denmark to Reykjavik, from Rio de Janeiro to Tokyo and many other places. 

Holms’ great talent lies in his infectious enthusiasm for teaching young children.  He has developed several teaching books for beginners to play small free bass button accordions.  Practice for young children must above all, he say, be made fun.  He demonstrated this by accompanying children with simple folk tunes whilst they played beginners exercises.

Murray and Holms developed a strong case for starting children with a small three row free bass button accordion.  Such a small instrument can be handled by a young child when properly held, without any appearance of clumsiness.  ‘Whilst I teach students with piano/C system free bass, piano/B system free bass and chromatic button with either C or B systems ‘ says Owen Murray ‘my preference is for a button C system in both hands.  If children start this way, when they progress to a larger convertor instrument the standard bass system is very easily mastered and there is no difficulty with co-ordination.’ 

Both Owen Murray [R] and Lars Holm [below L] gave demonstrations with a number of young people who appeared to enjoy themselves very much, both playing solo and playing together.

After lunch there was a splendid concert given by present students, together with immediate past student Ksenija Sidorova.  A wonderful level of musical achievement was demonstrated with baroque and classical works by Scarlatti, Mozart and Grieg and with modern accordion works by Bent Lorentzen, Franck Angelis and Petr Londonov.

The Academy students followed their concert with a demonstration performance class with more mature students attending.  Constructively criticising performances with ideas for general shaping of a piece, phrasing and tempo of works is an essential part of student training.  They are required to give constructive analysis to enhance performance of works they may not have played themselves.

After a tea-break students gave a further concert of mainly modern solo accordion and chamber works, finishing with a magnificent performance of a highly emotional and descriptive modern work, Viktor Vlasov’s ‘Gulag’ by past student Milos Milivojevic.

In the final session of the day entitled ‘Raising playing standards in the UK’ Owen Murray began by pointing out how the majority of his students in recent years came from abroad.  Success in obtaining students of suitable standard for Academy entrance from the UK had been small over the years and non-existent recently.  On the other hand standards of entrants from overseas had gone up and up.  The main bar for overseas students was sources of funding.  Mr Romano Viazzani was invited by Owen Murray to lead a discussion.  Owen Murray pointed out the enormous difficulty he had had over the years, first with the Associated Board of the Royal Schools and then with the Trinity and Guilds in getting the adoption of an approved syllabus with the very great advantages in musical education for young accordionists that this brings.  Having finally got a syllabus adopted by Trinity and Guilds a year or so ago it has now been cut to an extent below requirements, through lack of support.

A major idea put forward by Romano Viazzani to improve the situation was the possibility of forming an ‘Accordion Teachers Association.’  Such an Association would have the principal aim of raising the number and standard of young people learning to play the accordion.  It would be open to all who practice teaching the accordion.  It would have a constitution and seek funding.  Its aim would be pursued by organising events for teachers in different parts of the country, courses, demonstrations, discussions of problems with the syllabus and repertoire.  It would seek to raise sufficient funds to acquire a number of small instruments for hire for children’s use.  A major problem identified was that small accordions were very expensive instruments for parents to acquire for an initial few years when progress of a child may be uncertain.  Charity status of the society would be required to obtain sponsorship on a sufficient scale to run a scheme for the hiring of instruments on a reasonable scale.  Many problems were discussed including the decline in musical instrument teaching generally through competition from other activities.  The meeting left the matter after discussion of many issues for Romano Viazzani to make further soundings of teachers and schools and to convene a further meeting with the idea of a teachers association put into a concrete set of proposals.

It is appropriate to conclude this report with sincere congratulations to Owen Murray on his outstanding achievement over 25 years.  The Accordion Department at RAM is small but Owen has successfully integrated it into the life of the Academy and made it one of the best places to study the accordion at conservatoire level in the world.  He has won great respect from his colleagues and admiration from his students.  Out of 21 graduates from his department 10 have graduated with distinction and seven have gone on to achieve the prestigious Diploma of the Royal Academy.  His pupils have also received many prizes in the world of classical music and played with many front rank orchestras and in numerous festivals and events which have brought recognition for the accordion.

Many congratulations to Owen from all his students and all accordionists.

Roland Williams

See also Versatile Accordion: http://www.accordions.com/index/squ/archives/1112/versatile.htm