Rise of the classical accordion


People often ask me what is inside the magic box I am carrying on my back. Since I hear this question quite frequently I have come up with a few stock answers (depending on my mood) – either, a TV, a typewriter or a personal computer. I experienced the same curiosity when I arrived at Hoddinott Hall in Cardiff on a grey September morning to record Václav Trojan’s Fairy Tales Concerto with BBC National Orchestra of Wales under the baton of Clark Rundell. The piece is not particularly famous and is rarely performed, so the orchestra members were unsure what the day would bring. As was I, because this was my first experience recording with an orchestra.

Feeling the thrill of excitement after playing the work through to the conductor, I entered the hall, which was full of the sounds of tuning and themes from the concerto played by different instruments.

As we began playing one of the seven short movements, I could sense the enthusiasm and smiles coming from the musicians. It would be hard not to smile, given the appealing and catchy melodies. The celebrated English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham once said: ‘Composers should write tunes the chauffeurs and errand boys can whistle.’ This is certainly the case with the Fairy Tales. Classically trained Václav Trojan was best known for his film scores and one can undoubtedly visualise famous fairy tale characters, such as the sleeping princess, the charming prince and the evil dragon, when listening to some of the movements of the concerto.

One aspect, which fascinates me a lot when performing with other instruments, is the use of register – a unique feature of the classical accordion. It can be both a positive thing and a challenge, especially when playing with a full-sized orchestra. Distinguished Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina (who has made a great impact on the development of the classical accordion) has spoken about the difficulty of writing an accordion concerto – as it can often be overwhelmed by the sounds of other instruments.  Since the accordion is not a loud instrument, as many wrongly assume, the soloist should carefully judge the dynamics for certain registers. I had a rare opportunity to experiment with this throughout the recording process and was able to accentuate the delicate tone in parts of the concerto, as well as the tutta forza moments.

Without a doubt there is always a little bit of pressure involved when you only have a couple of hours to record a major work. But I was lucky to collaborate with the wonderful orchestra and attentive conductor who made me feel extremely comfortable and built a creative atmosphere in the hall.

Being an accordionist nowadays is tremendously exciting! Manufacturers have continued to develop the instrument and today’s accordions have now reached a high point in terms of sound quality and appearance. Some 50 years ago, the accordion was in a vulnerable position, not having achieved its own identity due to a lack of original repertoire. My teachers’ generation changed that, working with composers and learning from other instrumentalists about the techniques of sound production, since the tradition of classical accordion playing is comparatively young. All this helped to build up a healthy competition amongst the players and to raise performance standards.

I was given a fantastic opportunity to attend masterclasses and concert performances by the world’s acclaimed musicians during my studies at the Royal Academy of Music (a place which will always feel like home). In my final Academy years and after graduating I was privileged to collaborate with some of the most fascinating and talented performers in the industry, including composers Hans Abrahamsen, Stefano Gervasoni, Karl Jenkins, renowned bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, violinist Nicola Benedetti, mandolinist Avi Avital, and guitarist Miloš Karadaglić among others. These collaborations have helped to further the cause of my instrument and have secured for it a deserved place on the classical platform. 

I sincerely hope that the listener will discover a new spectrum of sounds and possibilities through the varied repertoire presented on my new album for Champs Hill Records. Some of the most famous Romantic works such as the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Moritz Moszkowski’s Caprice espagnol, Op 37, and Grieg’s Holberg Suite, Op 40 are included on the record, alongside Trojan’s Concerto and two other original works – Pyotr Londonov’s Scherzo-Toccata and Artem Vassiliev’s Who’s the puppet? (dedicated to me).

The recording would not be possible without the wonderful production team, producer Alexander Van Ingen and the generous support of Mary and David Bowerman of Champs Hill.

Listen to 'The Sleepy Princess' from Václav Trojan's Fairy Tales performed by Ksenija Sidorova with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, released on Champs Hill Records on July 1, 2013:

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