When I arrived, Peter was attending to some last minute details. He asked one of his protégés to locate an airline ticket that he thought was either to Amsterdam, Strasbourg or Lyon giving you an indication of his international stature. I had a chance to note the CD collector editions that he had prominently displayed on his mantel. As one would expect from someone who has demonstrated a wide range of musical tastes and abilities on his "Pride and Passion," the CDs covered a wide spectrum. They ranged from Art Tatum's "Complete Piano Solo Masterpieces" to Astor Piazzolla's 1974-1983 collection to Herbert Van Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic's "Beethoven's 9 Symphonies" to Frank Sinatra's "His Life and Times" and a collection of Sviatoslav Richter recordings. As you will see in the following interview, Peter Soave is a warm, engaging, thoughtful, humorous, lively and passionate musician. His personality is clearly evident in his recordings.
TCFR: The Staff and readers of The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. website are proud of your musical accomplishments, Peter. Your initial success was on the accordion, then the bayan and now the bandoneon. You recently performed in a concert with the 3 tenors (Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras) at Tiger Stadium to benefit the Michigan Opera Theater. It must have been a thrilling experience to perform in front of such a large crowd with the 3 tenors. Please tell us about the concert. Were the 3 tenors familiar with the expressive capabilities of the bayan?
P: Well, I was definitely honored and excited. Artistically it was a tremendous artistic happening working with James Levine. I was convinced that he must be, if not the greatest, one of the few great conductors. As far as the singers, we don't need to talk about how great they are. And even though Pavarotti was sick and he had been canceling prior to this concert, he was really pressured not to cancel this concert. He cancelled a recital, I forget where, but it made headlines two weeks prior to that. And he just couldn't knock this bug he had. So, he was cracking on the high notes but it's really immaterial because of the grandeur of Pavarotti. And then, of course, there was Domingo and Carreras, without saying this one's better than the other one. It was just an emotional, incredible high, a musical high, and cultural high to witness that, to be accompanying them. You can't describe the feeling.
In this case, it was 101 hand-picked orchestra members from a core base of the Michigan Opera and a lot of other hand-picked players from around the area. For example, the pianist was flown in from the MOT (Metropolitan Opera Theater). And a few other key players like myself were brought in for this.
Financially, you would think that such a high profile engagement would be very rewarding, but it wasn't. Which is immaterial but it is a point of interest. By the time they withdraw this tax and that tax and then you had to join the union. I've never been a member of the union. Whenever I've played with symphonies before, I've never had to join. But in this situation, a lot of the extras that were brought in were forced to join.
So there was a lot of business to it and we wonder, where does all the money go? I know a lot of it's fund-raising but you hear all sorts of things... they (3 tenors) all shared a million dollars each or this or that. They definitely didn't do it for free. But the orchestra member's base pay was very, very mild. (Laughter) So that was funny. Musically though it was a great moment in my life.
TCFR: Were the 3 tenors familiar with the bayan? Had they heard it performed? Did they realize it was so expressive?
P: Well now we go into another interesting point. The rehearsal started. We had a total of seven engagements between the rehearsal, dress rehearsals and the concert. So, I've never been in such a well-rehearsed professional unit. You probably don't have that luxury as a musician unless you are working with one or all 3 of the tenors. It's just too costly. When I performed with leading international orchestras, it's usually 2 rehearsals. When I played with Neeme Jarvi and the Detroit Symphony it was one rehearsal that lasted 12 minutes and then it was concert time. And my selection's duration was about 15 minutes. And that's Neeme Jarvi and the Detroit Symphony and he's regarded as one of the great conductors in the world today. So, early on in the rehearsals the accordion part is very small, very small. James Levine told us that he had already done 17 of these 3 tenor concerts. They've done a few others without him, but he's assisted in 17, including Japan and most recently in South Africa. Zubin Mehta did the first one in Rome back in the early 90's.
So, he really set us up because the tenors did not come until the end of the week, naturally. He told us Luciano's going to respond this way. Carreras is going to respond this way.
Some of the rehearsals, the pieces for accordion were not even touched so literally we just sat there for 3½ hours along with some of the other added musicians such as featured guitarists and electric bass. So I would say about 2 or 3 of the rehearsals was just a matter of us sitting there. And you do not know what the rehearsal schedule is. You just sit and get paid to sit there and go home and come back at night to rehearse again. You might not be on. I guess it's kind of similar to percussionists in an orchestra. Sometimes you sit out for 3 movements which last for 50 minutes and all of a sudden you're on at the end.
TCFR: The toughest part is keeping your attention.
P: Exactly. And looking like you're into it. So, going back to the response to the accordion, the bayan. Most of the orchestra parts are from a Henry Mancini book. Mancini did arrangements for Pavarotti a few decades ago. And they're usually in Neapolitan songs like "Mama," "Non Ti Scordar Di Me" (Don't Forget Me), "Roman Guitar" (Chitarra Romano). Those are Mancini arrangements with the accordion in there for embellishment. A lot of times they'll have an accordion introduction, or an accordion lead-in or a riff here and there, at the bridge, or at the turn-around. They've very tasty but they're very small accordion parts.
Typically when Pavarotti has performed recitals, concerts, orchestral recitals throughout the world, different accordionists have been called in to perform. If he's in LA, usually Frank Marocco has accompanied him or recorded it with him. In New York I know one time Bill Schimmel did a Pavarotti concert in Central Park. And then last year they did the big concert, the 3 of them, at the Eiffel Tower, and they had a very good accordionist, a young French accordionist who played the part. Several years ago when Pavarotti came to Detroit, at the Joe Louis arena, I was engaged to accompany him.
There are usually encores, about 4 or 5 pieces. The conductors and Pavarotti are familiar with the accordion in terms of that sort of embellishment role. Now since the 3 tenors have become the main show, more so than even Pavarotti alone, Lalo Schifrin got involved with the arranging. So, the other set of pieces are either re-arranged by Lalo Schifrin with the accordion or they're just new medleys with the accordion in them penned by Lalo Schifrin.
Now, ironically you have doubled-up instruments in the orchestra. There were 101 musicians. You have, without getting technical, a bunch of 1st violins, a bunch of 2nd violins, violas, cellos, flutes, you've got horns, you have contrabass, (upright bass), but there's only one accordion. If we were to do this musically correct, there should be, I would say with 101 musicians on stage, 35,000 people in the audience, you should have at least 3 to 5 accordions. But it's kind of foolish just to put 1 accordion in there. It should be a section. So that's just unfortunate because a lot of money is spent in producing these shows but then they do want to save money and with the accordion they only hire one. And it's just not enough.
Leading to our first problem. At my first rehearsal when I had one of my key lead-ins, Maestro stopped the orchestra and said, "Could we have a little more accordion?" Well, there's only so much you can pull. I tried it again. I tried to pull louder but at that point you end up becoming a little unmusical, and you're just yanking on it. And you go beyond a fortissimo, and it's supposed to be a melodic lead-in. So, he wasn't too pleased with it and I wasn't either. But there's nothing you can do. Time is money. They went forward and that was that.
And that was with my bayan, my Mythos bayan which is a pretty well recognized instrument, one of only a few that Pigini built with hand-made Russian reeds by Vasiliev, regarded as one of the leading modern day concert bayans in the world, which I'm very proud to own. It just couldn't cut it. Well, naturally that instrument is not made to entertain 35,000 people, or even 5,000. The bayan is basically built to replicate an organ, in a very acoustical room like a church or cathedral or for a small chamber setting in a small room.
Next day, I brought a musette accordion with heavy musette. And after my lead-in, again he stopped! Not much discussion now, mind you, because things are happening very quickly. You don't have time to talk. There are a bunch of people in the wings, production people, management, I don't know who they all are. And 101 musicians on the floor, in position and then the almighty James Levine conducting. And I don't mean that sarcastically. He's really incredible! Every movement, every motion from his body exudes music, a musical response by his soldiers.
So it was pretty much the same scenario, "Could we have a little more accordion?" He really didn't even notice the difference or, I'm sure he noticed, but it was not on his mind, he was just looking for something different. And even though they're totally contrasting instruments, from a dry-tuned, nearly perfect concert accordion/bayan to a real heavy wet-tuned musette. It didn't work. We went on.
The next time, maybe day three or day four, I brought another different version, differently tuned, but again wet-tuned accordion. Pretty much the same thing happened. He didn't say "Oh, they're getting better." As far as my feeling was, he didn't even know I was doing anything different. (Laughter) It just wasn't what he wanted. But I had the feeling like he's never been happy with it.
You often wonder, what are these writers thinking of? Lalo Schifrin is an incredible film writer but a lot of times you wonder, did he really write this or was he really afraid to write for the accordion because a lot of times the writing is not very accordionistic. The composers want the accordion for flavoring but they don't spend a lot of time writing for the accordion because the skill level of accordionists is not reliable and consequently the composers haven't been exposed to the musical capabilities of the accordion.
So, sometimes other composers are called in to score the extra parts because they're just too busy to do all of it. And so they just put their name on the top and they get the royalties and a lot of times that is done. But I don't know whether that was the case on these particular medlies that I performed with the 3 tenors at Tiger Stadium.
Now, the last day I took a risk. A few people suggested, including Frank Marocco told me, "You should do it on bandoneon. I'm sure nobody's ever done it on bandoneon and, heck at least you'll stand out because they play with all kind of accordion players, all over the world. You'll probably stand out with that. You'll have a better chance of being noticed." I said "Yeah, but it's not an accordion!" "Aw, they don't care. It's very musical. Try it!" So, I took a risk. I was very nervous, but I brought it.
And I guess it's a good thing I wasn't in the front. So, like I had mentioned earlier, I'm not even sure if James Levine noticed that I was bringing a different accordion because he wasn't looking whether they were white or black or whether they were small or whether they were large. But, naturally my surrounding musicians, they noticed when I came in with a little concertina on my knee rather than a big monster!
And they were saying "Wow, what's that?!" And when they saw how far you expand the bellows they were kind of surprised. We did a run through. He didn't say anything at all which left me in even greater confusion. (Laughter) I didn't know what to do. Concert time is approaching. I think it was the next day or so. So, I didn't know what to do.
The last thing you want to do is show up for a concert with whatever instrument they don't like and they tell you then, "Oh I don't like this one." "Well, geez, I used it in the rehearsal?!" "No, no, no, I don't like it."
So, I got a hold of James Levine after lunch. We had lunch, all the orchestra members, together. And, I asked him, "Maestro, I'm the accordionist." He said, "Yes, yes, it's coming along today! Today, it sounded a lot better!" I said, "Well you know, I brought the bandoneon today. And, the other days, I used different types of accordions." He said, "Yes, yes, the accordion today cut through." And so, I wasn't sure. He must know what a bandoneon is and I asked him, "Are you familiar with the bandoneon?" "Oh, yes, I love Piazzolla's music? It's great! The accordion you played today is very good. Yeah! Just play nice and strong, the one you played today cut through more. It had a little more character!" (Laughter) I said, "OK." (Laughter) So, that's where we're at. (Laughter)
TCFR: So, you did use the bandoneon in the performance?
P: And nobody complains. You did your job. Everyone's happy. We're all professionals. It was very nice! It was very nice - It was a beautiful feeling. I mean mentioning that money thing is just funny, because let's be realistic. If you're a musician in backwoods cultural America and you're a full time artist, there's not too many venues where you can make a living. I make my living performing everywhere but Detroit. I play once or twice a year in Detroit. Ironically, when I was looking to perform more, I could not get the legitimate engagements.
Now this year, I'm booked with the Grosse Pointe symphony, and they approached me. Whereas, 15 years ago, and I was trying to approach them, I couldn't get anywhere. I'm playing with the Plymouth Symphony as featured artist. I played with them before and received all sorts of accolades by the conductor. But whenever I would talk about him engaging me as featured artist one or two years in the future, he always had some sort of difficulty. He would always say on the same hand "Boy, it's been such a pleasure working with you." He always had some sort of either financial difficulties or the program's already set up or this or that. So, I was, kind of down because there's not too much work here.
Now ironically, this year orchestras like that, they're calling me and I do have some engagements, though definitely not enough to live off just working here in the Detroit area. There's not much going on here if you are a very skilled soloist. But when you work with the Detroit Symphony - that's where I'm leading to - when you work with the Detroit Symphony, the starting pay is like $82,000 or give or take 5 or 6 thousand. You know it's in that neighborhood. Plus, a lot of them, a great majority are on faculties of more than one college. They're at Oakland University and at Wayne State University. Most of them are at Wayne State (to which I've just been appointed recently for bayan/bandoneon - I have one student). And they're at Ann Arbor (U of M) and at Eastern Michigan University. So being in the symphony or on a college faculty is the only real legitimate gig as far as a concert trained musician goes. Everyone else has left Detroit. So there really aren't that many venues to perform.
TCFR: Are there other accordionists in this country that are doing something similar to what you're doing?
P: Well granted that in the past there were an abundance of active outstanding accordionists. There were a lot of outstanding accordionists that maybe were active at one time and, not to say that they're old now, it's just that they're out of it and they couldn't keep it going. You get older, you have a family to raise, bills to pay and where are you going to perform? And you think when you do a lot of legitimate engagements like the 3 tenors, which of course, doesn't happen that often, but for the accordionists that are eligible to do an engagement like that, it doesn't pay, you can make more money working in restaurants.
I actually have 3 protégés living with me. One is on a talent scholarship at Wayne State University. He's a sophomore this year. He's from France. Another one who's 19 is more into jazz. He's free-lancing around town and in a week's time he can make more money than I did working with the 3 tenors. This is the whole thing that's getting me. But, it's funny because this 3 tenor thing was next to nothing financially. So it's a big business racket, where they can sell tickets at $7,500 and cheap tickets for a few hundred! (Laughter) And bleacher tickets for $50!
TCFR: So you mentioned that you played "Mama" and...
P: "Under Paris Skies" and there were medleys with little intrusions here and there.
TCFR: Have you been performing the Piazzolla bandoneon concertos?
P: Yes, I just recorded with the Moscow Philharmonic in July 1999 in Pula, Croatia in the Arena, on the Adriatic, right across from Venice.
TCFR: Is that recording available?
P: I haven't heard it, so, I would assume that it will be out next year but I don't know the details on it. And I'm playing the concerto with the Napa Valley Symphony in February, 2000.
TCFR: So, your phone just rang one day, I assume Maestro Levine didn't ask you to perform?
P: No, usually each orchestra has a booking manager and they get a list of the programs with instrumentation. So any miscellaneous instrumentation they look at it and they hire you from there.
TCFR: You've kind of answered this question a little bit, but do you feel your opportunities to concertize are growing in this country? You are obviously making trips overseas. Do you see this country catching up with the popularity that the bayan has in Europe?
P: The funny thing is that it's not the bayan and it's happening all over the world simultaneously. It's the bandoneon. And it's great thanks to Astor Piazzolla. He's 99% responsible for this. You see, this whole thing started back with the Tango Project which was recorded in the early 80's on Nonesuch records and which Bill Schimmel was part of. And it was so successful. At the time the accordion was so taboo, and yet it became so successful, so chic, so in vogue, with classical audiences that don't generally like the accordion.
Mort Herold (from Chicago) said a very interesting thing. I'll never forget this. He published an article in The Golden Age of the Accordion and his wrap-up was basically that people who like accordion music generally don't listen to symphonic music and, on the other hand, people who sponsor the arts, and follow and support symphony orchestras, don't like the accordion. (Laughter) In most cases, they will not even tolerate it! This project that Bill Schimmel did, it was the starting point and all of a sudden, it just took off. I mean, it took time and it's still growing, it's still mounting. This is a wave, a crescendo that's still going.
And, the tango music and Piazzolla, they all just started, just unfolded every year more and more and more. Finally to the point where when Piazzolla died, his death really pushed it up a few notches. And it's just continual.
We're at the point today where the greatest superstars in the world, the real money guys, like Yo-Yo Ma, who only makes $60-70,000 a night (and I know that for a fact - his management's told me that - a night for a concert!) is transcribing bandoneon music for cello! Everything that the concert accordionist was no-no'ed for all these years - "Oh, you don't have a legitimate instrument, and, oh you have pre-fixed chords on the left hand! Oh, it's a silly instrument, oh it's too loud, oh, it's for beer halls, it can't play classical music, you can't play serious music on it." All these no-no's.
All of a sudden, thanks to Piazzolla, having been such the innovator that he was, and so multi-faceted, through his instrument and his compositions. He not only made his impact through his compositions, but his playing itself moved the same people to the same degree.
Now we have Yo-Yo Ma winning a Grammy transcribing bandoneon music, concertina music on his cello, on his Stradivarius cello! This is our lesson! This is the wake-up call! The accordion, as brilliant as it is, and I talked just in passing there about my Mythos, which is very, very well-known. It's not just because it's mine. Usually I'm a very critical person and I could tell you many things that I don't like about it because it's just not perfect enough. But it is regarded as one of the best modern concert accordions. Mechanically it's second to none.
And service-wise, I've had the great fortune of working with the Pigini family for numerous years. And I'm in Europe so often that it's always serviced. It's like buying a car out of the Rouge plant and William Clay Ford personally arranges for you to have your oil changed by the people who make the car. (Laughter) You just pull right into the factory and we will do your oil changes and rotate your tires every 500 miles! It's just an indescribable luxury situation I've had with the Pigini family. So I have an incredible instrument.
But what do we have there? We have an instrument that is at most, copying other instruments. Either we're trying to simulate an organ, a harpsichord (classically speaking) with registrations trying to sound like a flute or a clarinet or bassoon or even a bandoneon! (Laughter) And today I can see it. Years ago, I don't think many people really looked at it. But today, it's all beginning to come around to "Where is the real sound of the accordion?"
And the real sound of the accordion is the musette for the Neapolitan sound, the Bavarian sounds, Slovenian sound, different degrees of de-tuning, or tremolo or whatever we want to call it. Everyone calls it something different, the Hohner sound or the Parisian sound. Everyone wants a different type of tuning on their ethnic boxes. But the musette is the accordion sound.
Now when we try to make that sound sophisticated, make it dry, you've lost an incredible amount of character. Then yes you're going to have to try to sound like an organ but an organ is superior. There is no way we can compete with an organ. And the idea that we have two manuals propelled by one bellow is like putting the voices of Pavarrotti and Placido in the same mouth propelled by the same lung! You can't differentiate.
The accordion is still seeking its identity in classical music. The bandoneon isn't. So the accordion has taken the direction of the bayan, its most recent development. And the instrument I have, we can say it's at the top of that.
TCFR: Its development is maxed out?
P: Pretty much, I mean what are we gonna do? Add more registers, add a few more reeds, make it heavier and eat up more sound?
TCFR: One of the things I always wondered about is why they couldn't introduce some controllable vibrato like the harmonica has, where he can take it from straight tuned to... like the cellist can.
P: You can. The problem is what would happen? First of all, how many hundreds of reeds do we have in a concert accordion? It's absurd!
Take a violin, how many strings are on a violin? But look at its playing range - it's enormous. The industry needs to standardize the accordion, to really come down and focus. What do we want to give to the composer so that he will write for the instrument? Because up to now, composers only treated it as a novelty, just like I'm talking here about Mancini and Lalo Schifrin. They did not treat the accordion seriously in their writing.
I've worked with many new composers in the past 15-20 years and there's one similarity - they're all overwhelmed by my concert instrument. It's an eye-opening experience. "Wow, I didn't know such a versatile instrument exists! Wow, it's incredible what you can do with it!"
But then when it comes time to write for it, they really don't know which direction to go in! Either they write for it the same way as a piano or an organ or they have to go totally modern and just use it for effects. Gubaidulina being a great success with that. But that's not music that the public is going listen to on a large scale.
TCFR: So do I sense what you're suggesting is that they take out some of the reed blocks and introduce the ability to control the vibrato more?
P: Absolutely! We don't have a sound board in the accordion. We have tons of mechanisms. The goal of the manufacturer, the poor manufacturer, is only building what people tell him to build. That's been the role of the manufacturer and distributor all along. They're just selling what their dealers want to buy and sell to their schools (when there were schools!). Today there are very few schools that teach accordion on any scale.
The instrument should be eliminated of its excess. We have too much range, too many notes and too many reeds. There's no resonance in the box. The instruments are so heavy because they have to be heavy to hold the mechanism. Could you imagine using the thickness of wood in an accordion in a cello! You wouldn't have a sound! Or a violin! Those are delicate instruments. Accordions are not delicate. Yeah, the surface stuff is delicate. The ornamental stuff. But that wood is so heavy. It's so thick.
And of course, there are so-called certain "secrets" that the different manufacturers have in terms of which woods they select. But let's be serious. The main thing with selecting wood for accordions is that it will hold its form first. You don't want it to warp. So it has to hold that crazy mechanism with all the rods, pistons, and everything.
And the reeds, those poor reeds are just sitting in beeswax in an over-crowded cabin, chamber or whatever you want to call it. There's not much room there. The sound is inside and it's not coming out. It's a small sound.
Musette tuning carries through better but that's a factory made vibrato. But a dry-tuned accordion doesn't cut through. Beautiful as it is, it's good for a small room but not good for concert music on a whole.
When you heard me that time [in 1998] when I performed a concert with the Dearborn Civic Orchestra, I had a microphone but I was very frustrated. I've been playing with orchestras the past 15-20 years, different levels of orchestras, from very good to very poor. That was a medium orchestra. I wasn't disappointed with the level of the orchestra but disappointed with the lack of presence my instrument had. I had to have a microphone and I never felt like I was on top of the orchestra.
TCFR: That wasn't a particularly resonant or acoustical performance hall either; it was similar to a gymnasium with tiled floor and high ceilings and so it just ate up the sound. Even with a microphone you couldn't get on top of the orchestra.
P: No. But there's no resonance in an accordion. With the accordion we've always had to rely on multiple notes, big chords, as opposed to single lines that a violin or singer would provide.
TCFR: I think with the stringed instruments, their design has been pretty well standardized over the past 200 years. I think the accordion, the bayan are relatively new instruments.
P: And they're still searching.
TCFR: And you're pointing to the direction they need to go in the next few years.
P: I don't have the answers. I just know that there's a problem and they're searching for it all over the world. I'm in Europe usually once a month, either performing, giving master classes or judging festivals.
Technically the level has progressed in terms of playing. The level has really jumped forward. Kids now are coming from the former Yugoslavia, from Spain, from Portugal, from not only the obvious countries, such as Russia. Actually the Russians have fallen behind, aside from the few stand-outs like Lips and Semyonov. In the 70's and 80's, the Russians were the greatest accordion players on a concert level. Now it has definitely spread all around the world.
The problem is what do you do after you win competitions? You're 19 years old. You've been studying for whatever, 10, 12 years or more. You're gifted. You've won a lot of awards. Everyone tells you you're great. Where can you work now? All you can do is teach someone else to get to the same point and have the same problem (Laughter).
TCFR: I don't have the answer to that.
P: Right and they don't have the answer in Europe either. The bandoneon isn't going to automatically just give someone a career. But due to the construction, there is a lot more resonance and character in the sound. You're never trying to sound like another instrument. And you're not trying to play everyone else's music. You can make adaptations. You can play some baroque music beautifully. There's no reason why you shouldn't. But it excels at its music which started with the Tango.
So now we can be the devil's advocate and say, "Well, what are we going to do, are you just going to play tango music the rest of your life? The bandoneon's only good for tango. You just said it's only good for Piazzolla's music." No, it's inspiring other composers from South America now. And also American composers are looking at it. Little by little. And it's expanding. It's not going to fight with the accordion because we don't have that many people playing either instrument. (Laughter)
There just aren't that many career accordionists or bandoneonists out there. The numbers are small. Which system is better? I think the two instruments complement each other. I think a classical minded youngster should have a complete education which you can have on a bayan type instrument and that's what they're doing in Europe. And as they're getting older though, they're bringing in the bandoneon to work with other instruments.
TCFR: So you see yourself performing on both the bayan and the bandoneon?
P: Yes, less bayan. We made that darn accordion so compact, with so many notes on it, and such a great mechanism where you can go from free-bass to standard bass and so many different registration possibilities and chin registers and man, they did everything but put a motor in it! But it just automatically cut itself off from the rest of the musical world. You do have the real one-man band.
With the bayan you can do everything. You can play a Bach 5-voice fugue, play all the notes, as written. You can't even do that on a piano which is the greatest instrument in the world, in terms of grandeur. Composers write from the piano, they're not going to write from the violin or an accordion. I don't care which accordion it is. It's not a matter of exposing it. You can write from the piano. Everything is there. It's perfect to write from.
The accordion at its current development has sectioned itself off from groups, from group playing with building bigger reeds for the basses, this kind of sound for the chords and this and that, and oh! The bandoneon, alone it's nothing. You have to have accompaniment. It's like a voice. Pavarotti could never go out and perform in front of 35,000 people without an orchestra behind him. He needs an orchestra! A violinist also. You need accompaniment with a bandoneon. Accordion, no, it can play alone.
And, of course, you can play it with other instruments but when you play with other instruments, when you have musette tuning in it which makes you totally folk sounding, totally Parisian sounding, you're kind of limited. Bandoneon, through Tango, which is a very free form, it's not just La Cumparsita. The Tango is incorporating modernism through Tango Nuevo and Piazzolla, modernism and a lot of Romanticism as well as folkism and Pop. It's a music that the public can respond to fairly comfortably without being intimidated - oh that, it's Polkas or it's Waltzes.
Let's face it, we never had a Lawrence Welk of the Tango in America as much as I respect Lawrence Welk. And I was inspired to play the accordion through Lawrence Welk. But on the same hand, it turned a great mass of people away from the accordion because he was fighting the Beatles. And you saw who won. (Laughter)
TCFR: So you just have the one student at Wayne State? Is this like an elected course or independent study?
P: No, he's won a full talent scholarship for bayan performance, and we just opened the bandoneon department. I'm a faculty adjunct. Obviously, I'm not going to be holding an office for one or two students. But it was just made official back in June. So starting with this semester, he'll be going through a regular program and the instrument is bandoneon, lets say 60% bandoneon and 40% bayan. And so his recitals will reflect that. He's already automatically, in performance. I'll be helping him form a quartet with bandoneon, piano, violin and bass.
I went to Wayne years ago but I never graduated from there because it was a very difficult setting for me. I was young and I had won all sorts of competitions and done a lot of things that were considered impossible at the time. Like beating the Russians in world competition or learning the bayan. People told me I would have to go and study in Russia to do that. And that I was too old. I was already 16 at the time. But I did that all here in the Metro Detroit area and ended up accomplishing a lot with my talent. Going to Wayne was very, very, very discouraging because there really wasn't a place for me.
My instrument was all alone. I wanted to play with other instruments but everything I was brought up on was with me being a soloist. And it was wham, bam, here let me play this big sonata for you. Here let me play this big organ fugue for you. Here let me play this for you. And of course I'd love to play the concerto for you but I couldn't get booked with an orchestra. (Laughter) It was just not the style to book accordion players, regardless of what you want, because it's just not in the circle. But thanks to Piazzolla, it's really opening opportunity in serious circles.
TCFR: Are recordings of the 3 tenor concert available?
P: No, again, business wise they had some deal worked out with the Internet and it was broadcast live on the Internet and that was it. They sold the rights to NPR. NPR did it live on the Internet and it was only audio.
TCFR: Do you have any plans for future recordings? Can you tell our readers when the next release date that they could start to look forward to?
P: I have a new recording called "Tango Moods" that just came out. It's not distributed in this country yet. I recorded it in Zagreb with a string quartet that I formed there. It's doing very well in Eastern Europe.
In Europe the reviews have been great. We performed a concert in Zagreb which is the capital of Croatia, at the end of July. It was a part of the Zagreb music festival, at which last year Zubin Mehta and the Israeli Philharmonic were the headliners. Our concert was sold out, standing room only and the 3 newspapers reviewed it. They all gave it unprecedented great reviews. They said, "This is the new group!" Myself and the string quartet. So we recorded, the CD is out.
I'm working right now with arrangers to go beyond Piazzolla. We have to look at why Piazzolla is so successful? Not just because he's Argentine or because his name sounds like pizza or it sounds exotic, or because he played the bandoneon. It's because all the ingredients were there. He was such a superior, focused player. He never sold himself short. He went all the way to the top for his goal. He achieved it. He died a little too young. But he never deviated.
And the hallmarks of his performance were outstanding control of his instrument, an instrument with tremendous expression! And a music that is so expressive, so expressive! And he did it from a tango base. But he was influenced by modern composers, as well as Bach, and Mozart, and Pachalbel. I hear a lot of Pachalbel in his music too. And impressionistic composers. As well as tango. And jazz. Why can't we do that with Gershwin, why can't we do that with Duke Ellington? That's what I'm doing right now.
TCFR: With a different base.
P: Yeah, forget about the Tango beat, because even Piazzolla's music was not - dah, dah, dah, dah-dah, dah, I mean it's never that. It's a little jazzy at times, but it doesn't swing. It swings in a classical sense. And that's what needs to be done, I think for the accordion to stay alive and, by accordion, I'm not sure what the heck it is. I'm not sure if it's a bayan, if it's an accordion or bandoneon, or just a bellowed instrument treated seriously.
So I'm working with some very good and expensive arrangers to make a book for me. Because in the end, if we look back at the history of the accordion and its success, commercially and artistically, the most successful accordionists in our country, and even Europe have come from a unit, from a group, never one accordionist.
OK, Magnante was perhaps the greatest accordionist because he could do everything but he was the greatest among accordionists. The public at large did not know who Magnante was. After he got off the radio, nobody knew who Magnante was. Only accordionists knew, and still today, 90 year old accordionists say, "Oh, Charlie was the greatest!" I'm sure he was! I love his music! But he was an accordion product. Even though he worked with Toscanini and he worked with all kinds of great players. He was an accordion product. He worked with Excelsior. He worked with the publishers. And he lived off the accordion industry at large. Same with Frosini. Same with Pietro Deiro. Galla-Rini was a little different. But again Galla-Rini was never a household name like Yo-Yo Ma or Ihtzak Perlman or Jascha Heifetz either. No disrespect to him but these are just facts.
Art Van Damme was a household name! And while Art Van Damme was off the air 30 years ago, his name is still there today. You can mention his name in any jazz club in the country, or the world, and you will get a good response. And you may go to some off the wall place in South Africa and you'd get a great response. "Oh, yeah, Art Van Damme! I used to listen to him! Oh yeah, great! Great, yeah! What did he play?" "I think he used to play the accordion." "Oh yeah, the Art Van Damme sound!"
He had a quintet. It was patterned off Benny Goodman and George Shearing. It was a sound that the public could respond to as well as accordionists. It was a two-sided flag. Not just one-sided. Same with Piazzolla.
Piazzolla now is inspiring all kinds of accordionists like myself. But he was big before. He was big. How big - I mean what's big? It's still growing. It wasn't big enough because he led a very dark life. He was seeking a success that really did not come until now that he's dead.
Rostropovich commissioned him to write a piece for him. Back in '82 before I even knew of Piazzolla. In the '70's, Bertolluci offered Piazzola the scoring commission for "Last Tango in Paris" with Marlon Brando. Piazzolla was mis-managed and didn't get the job. If he would've gotten that job with Marlan Brando back in '72, '74, whenever it was, he would've been a lot more important through the '70s and the '80s. But it didn't happen till he died. But he had this quintet sound whether it was a sextet or a quintet, it was not just Astor Piazzolla in your face, the greatest bandoneon player in the world. Here listen to me razzle-dazzle you, I'm great! No.
It was a sound that just happened to have a bellowed instrument in it. And that's what I'm trying to create now because I've realized that, it's nice to play solo and I've always played solo but it gets lonely, playing for your friends (Laughter).
TCFR: It's a lot more fun with fellow musicians.
P: Yeah, so I'm trying to get tailor made arrangements.
TCFR: Are you looking for any particular coloration of instrument for example Van Damme hooked the accordion up with the vibraphone?
P: Yeah, it worked and it's great. I like the string quartet right now. It's not the best. I'd like to have a septet or so. Strings, a piano, an upright bass where I could just do more of everything but string quartet, and myself, total quintet, it's a large group that can move. It's not pop sounding. It's not jazz and it's not your traditional string quartet which are a dime a dozen even though they're great and famous and in demand. But there's so many of them.
String quartet and myself right now is what I'm working at. Because when you listen to it, let me play a little bit of it, if you want to come inside, I think you'll understand a little bit what I'm...
TCFR: And with that the interview concluded as we moved inside to listen to his "Tango Moods" CD. The CD is on the Jazette label, BPCD042 (LC5200). Although it is not being distributed in the US at present, label's address is Teslina 7, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia. He was clearly proud of this current endeavor, a recording of great intimacy, passion and elegance.
We would like to take this opportunity to again thank Peter for being most generous with his time in granting this interview. And we wish Peter growing success with his musical career!
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