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CD Review: Guy Klucevsek

Manhattan Cascade


John Zorn: Road Runner
Anthony Coleman: Below 14th Street/Above 125th Street
Guy Klucevsek: Samba D Hiccup
Guy Klucevsek: An Air of Gathering Pipers
John King: All Together Now
Lois V. Vierk: Manhattan Cascade
Christian Marclay: Ping Pong Polka
Mary Ellen Childs: Oa Poa Polka
Rolf Groesbeck: Polka I
Aaron Jay Kernis: Phantom Polka

Total Time: 70:52
Released in 1992

Label: CRI (Composers Recordings Inc.)
Order from: The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. Online Gift Store

Review by Henry Doktorski:

Guy Klucevsek (b. 1947) is, in my opinion, one of the top four avant-garde accordionist/composers in the United States (the other three are Pauline Oliveros, William Schimmel and Nick Ariondo).

Klucevsek -- of Slovenian heritage -- grew up in a coal-mining town of Western Pennsylvania and learned to play polkas on his accordion at an early age. However, he abandoned the polka to study classical music when he went to college. It was not until some twenty years later -- in the mid-1980s after he made a name for himself in the field of avant garde music -- when Klucevsek began playing (and writing) polkas again. And why not? Isn't the polka simply another dance form, like the Minuet, Allemande and Gigue? Why couldn't a contemporary classical composer write serious art music in the form of a polka?

The rest is history: Klucevsek re-discovered the polka just as Astor Piazzolla re-discovered the tango and Richard Galliano re-discovered the French musette. Klucevsek commissioned his composer friends -- most of whom had never written a polka before -- to write a piece for his avant garde anthology of thirty pieces entitled "Polka From the Fringe." Four pieces on this album are from this set.

John Zorn's Road Runner is a "quotation" piece; it is a collage of short quotations from dozens of other pieces, ranging from Lady of Spain to Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. The piece was inspired by cartoons and exhibits influences ranging from Luciano Berio's Sequenza series to Carl Stalling's "Loony Tunes." Zorn's score includes cut-outs from from comic books including images of the Road Runner, the Coyote and "Twang" and "Womp" word balloons. Other directions such as "dense insanity for 3 seconds" and "go crazy for 2 seconds" give us a faint idea about the music.

Anthony Coleman's Below 14th Street/Above 125th Street is a very different piece; an atonal study in sound masses. Three different pitch ranges of the accordion are contrasted: low, middle and high. For the composer, the image of the accordion was not an issue. He wrote, "I don't have an agenda about the instrument."

Guy Klucevsek's Samba D Hiccup is a traditional-sounding piece for stradella-bass (oom-pah-pah left-hand) accordion with lively syncopated rhythms. Air of Gathering Pipers -- my favorite piece on the entire album -- is an extremely beautiful meditation on the mixolydian mode which transported me to celestial worlds of harmonic convergence.

John King's All Together Now is based on a South African trade union song. The tune is first stated in traditional homophonic hymn style, then is dissected (or should I say mutilated?) by various stylistic transformations which include treatments in blues, boogie-woogie, Zydeco, gospel, and atonal clusters.

Lois V. Vierk's monumental twenty-minute minimalistic piece for four accordions -- Manhattan Cascade -- is a marvelous study of rhythm and pitch (and repetition) in the natural minor scale. She wrote, "I was brought up on Stockhausen and Berio, who pushed for instruments to do new things. I was trying to get to the extremes of what the accordion could do. The title of the piece refers to New York City because I was living here and was filled with the energy of the city. When I listened to the piece in my head, it felt like water. I had the image of water cascading and trickling down."

Christian Marclay's Ping Pong Polka for accordion and prerecorded tape was conceived as "performance art," as a dialogue between a "live" accordion and "dead" recorded sounds. He wrote, "I always use cheesy and unfashionable music in my work and create something different -- breathing new life into it."

Mary Ellen Childs's Oa Poa Polka uses the accordion in the traditional manner with stradella bass. The title reflects the structure of the piece which begins with a few scattered notes and gradually fills in the spaces: O A; PO A, POLKA. The composer wrote, "If I were pressed to name only one favorite instrument, it would be the accordion. The instrument has such an incredible range -- pitch, dynamic, number of notes playable at once, variety of tone colors, etc. I rarely write for solo instruments; I prefer the interplay of separate lines in an ensemble. However, there are many ensemble capabilities within this one instrument."

Rolf Groesbeck's Polka I begins with long, atonal chords and then moves to a middle polka section. It returns to the eerie chords with a brief attempt, in a coda, to get back to the polka.

Aaron Jay Kernis' Phantom Polka is based on the visual images from a black and white comedy movie: Abbott and Costello in the Haunted House! The composer wrote, "The specific images brought to mind were those of a translucent ghost appearing on a stairway and the same essentially tame, yet scary apparition in a large ballroom dancing with hundreds of fellow phantoms. . . . The polka is formed as a little story and, as in many of my compositions, it is eclectic." I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Kernis in 1995 when he presented a composition seminar at Duquesne University which coincided with the premier of one of his works by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

The CD booklet is one of the most creative I have seen: a twelve page spread designed and folded to resemble accordion bellows. The liner notes are informative, extremely well written and in English. I just wish the font size could have been larger; it is difficult to read without a magnifying glass. John King wrote, "It's hard for me to separate the accordion from Guy Klucevsek. He gives music a power, a direction and an in-depth interpretation that is very satisfying."

In my humble opinion, this album is a must for contemporary classical music lovers.

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