The Free-Reed Journal
Articles and Essays Featuring Classical Free-Reed Instruments and Performers

Some Thoughts on Repertoire

by Stefan Hussong

First of all, I'm not sure that the music I really want to play -- contemporary music -- is the kind that my audience likes the most. That is why I try to put together, as best I can, a concert program that will let the audience -- which may be meeting the accordion for the first time -- experience all the different facets of the instrument. However, that does not mean that I just string together a bunch of different pieces, but instead I try to develop a program along a certain fundamental theme, within which I present various things. For example, in my present concert program, I play two pieces in succession that were both written in D minor: one by the 20th century composer, John Cage, and the other by the 17th century composer Giralamo Frescobaldi. It is interesting to me, when doing so, that I almost feel Frescobaldi's work is much more complicated and "evolved" than is Cage's piece, at least from a harmonic point of view. Moreover, while Cage's work places great emphasis on symmetry and spatiality, making it the kind of music where the sound expands into the distance, Frescobaldi's music gives us the impression of being "closer" to us, focused as it is towards a single point with its four voices. There are other interesting parallels in my program, such as that between two pieces separated in time but based on the same text: Gubaidulina's De Profundis and Bach's chorales BWV 147 & BWV 659. I really think it is interesting to show audiences the juxtaposition between "new things" and "old things."

Creative music never loses its value, although the era may change. But we cannot elicit that creativity just by repeating such music through the old way of performance. Instead, we have to jump in the middle of such music and "recreate" it. For instance, I believe that Bach's pieces for the harpsichord, somehow, contain certain parts that are almost impossible to be performed on that instrument. I'm not saying that Bach was a fool. He had his reasons. I mean to say that Bach, as an excellent composer, did not want to be confined within the boundaries of "what I can do now with the instrument before me."

If one merely thought about limits, one could no longer search for the musical possibilities that lay beyond. And so, Bach demanded more from his instruments than they could give him. That goes not just for his harpsichord pieces, but also those for unaccompanied violin and cello. What I'm trying to say is that the different colors and power lurking in a piece of music may not have necessarily been fully discovered as of yet. And I feel that an important job of those of us living today is to bring those things out and express them. Fortunately, given that some composers are still alive, we can do that job "jointly" with them and I have the opportunity to exchange views, and that's one process by which a piece can develop. Instead of trying to fit oneself in a ready-made work, this open and progressive process enables music to develop.

The accordion is able to do precisely what we need today -- namely, it delivers its expression "directly" to the listener. This instrument directly absorbs the movement and breathing of my body as I play it, amplifying them as it gives expression. As a result, the accordion is able to give a highly "direct" impact -- aurally and visually -- to both the audience and the composer. Indeed, modern composers are gladly responding to the call to produce works for the accordion. Not only that, but they are facing the problem of not being able to do much else with other instruments such as the piano, whose possibilities have almost been thoroughly explored and "squeezed out." In contrast, the accordion, as a new instrument, still has plenty of possibilities left, and can do many things that are not possible with existing keyboard instruments. For example, a single note on the accordion can be modulated in many ways as it is being played. And so, the last two decades or so have seen a huge increase in the repertoire for the accordion. Before, there were only a few pieces for me to play, but now I can choose from a broad selection. That's the kind of era we live in -- .the accordion is the instrument of the 21st century.

Meanwhile, as a relatively new instrument, the accordion has not been completely accepted by the public. That is why I must prove to my audiences that this instrument has the capacity to play many different types of music. This is a kind of "challenge" or "fight" for me. A violinist who gives a bad recital, for example, is assigned individual responsibility for the results, while the violin itself is left blameless. However, when an accordionist gives a bad recital, people tend to blame the instrument. I am forced to be flexible. So, in my program, I take a four-century trip of music. Four centuries may seem extremely limited from a human point of view, but in the area of music it offers an experience full of a sense of expansiveness, one that transcends the limitations of reality. As in the case of dreams my trip transposes chronological order (i.e., the pieces of the program are not arranged chronologically), so that the audience may lave the concert hall imbued with the memories of certain cosmic or spatial images.

This article reprinted with permission from The San Francisco Bay Area Accordion Club

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