Last Saturday Vancouver MusicFest put on "Accordion Day," an afternoon series of three accordion concerts by different performers, all in the wonderful acoustic of Christ Church Cathedral. It was amazing. The accordion is an under-appreciated instrument, mostly beloved by a group of enthusiasts who feel the elemental tug of its unique reed system. But the expressive range of the instrument is vast, from a sound like a jet engine at one end to the beating of a hummingbird's wings at the other, and this range was well-displayed at this series.
2. Alexander Sevastian (Belarus and Canada) is also a member of Quartetto Gelato. He has been a three-time winner of the International Accordion Competition. What a "virtuoso"! He played a large button accordion, with about a hundred buttons on each keyboard, over which his hands flew independently. His first piece, J.S. Bach's “Tocccata and Fugue in D minor”, was a knockout, utterly convincing, as though it had been written specifically for accordion. He followed it with an arrangement of a harpsichord sonata by Domenico Scarlatti, also brilliantly sensitive. Of course he played several Russian pieces, of which the most memorable to me was the “Don Rhapsody #1” by Semionov, a fantastically difficult but emotive composition written specifically for accordion.
3. Toeac (Holland). These two young women also played the same large button accordions, and the combined effect was out of this world. They seemed to be both madly in love with their instruments, and produced truly emotional results. Notable in the programme were Tangos by Astor Piazzola, a sensational interpretation of Grieg's “Holberg Suite” (although apparently Grieg didn't like the accordion and likened its sound to that of a stuck pig!), and “The Body of Your Dreams” by J. Ter Veldhuis, a highly original musical interpretation of an American ad for a body-toning machine.
Have I gushed enough? I could say more, but I will just end by saying that some MusicFest events turn out to be unexpected gems (as opposed to the expected gems), and Accordion Day was one of them. If ever any of these performers comes your way again, make a big effort to hear them.