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Concert Review:

Carmelo Pino, accordionist
with the Washington Chamber Symphony
Stephen Simon, Conductor

Date: Friday, March 8, 1996 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 9, 1996 at 7:30 p.m., regular series

Date: Saturday, March 9, 1996 at 2:30 p.m.
"Concerts for Young People" series entitled: "Hug Me, Squeeze Me, I'm An Accordion"

Review by Henry Doktorski:

Three unusual concerts which offered diverse and musically rewarding programs were presented at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Terrace Theater by the Washington Chamber Symphony last weekend. I attended the first and second concerts.

These concerts were unique in that, for the first time since the Washington Chamber Orchestra was founded 20 years ago, works for accordion and orchestra were programmed, featuring the multi-talented composer and accordionist, Dr. Carmelo Pino. Pino is an award-winning composer; his "Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano" won the David Lloyd Kreeger Creativity Competition in 1991 and his "Concertino for Accordion and Strings" took first place in a competition sponsored by the American Accordionists' Associa tion, adjudicated by the noted composer Paul Creston. "Concertino" (a little concerto) was first performed at Denver University by the Denver Symphony with Robert Davine, accordionist and was subsequently recorded on Crystal Records.

The Concertina is in three movements: 1) an energetic Allegro con brio, 2) a plaintive and nostalgic Andante and 3) a playful, humorous Allegretto scherzoso. Maestro Simon directed the orchestra with sometimes subtle, sometimes sweeping gestures and the orchestra responded with finesse and conviction.

Unfortunately, Pino's playing, in contrast, was tepid and uninspiring. In my mind, it seemed that he was too nervous and fearful of making a mistake to let the music flow with uninhibited spontaneity. Only during the encore of Friday night's concert, "Gershwiniana," a twelve-minute medley of Gershwin tunes arranged by Pino and performed from memory, did he loosen up. Most notable was his breath-taking jazzy rendition of "The Lady Is A Tramp," when Pino forgot himself and began actually making music and not just playing notes. This was a very exciting moment which I will never forget, for it displayed Pino's actual ability as an accordionist and showed the audience a little of the magic which can happen during a live performance.

I noticed that Dr. Pino's Saturday afternoon performance at the Young People's Concert was significantly more relaxed and consequently more musical. Pino's rendition of "Lady of Spain" was exhilarating and Simon's sense of humor was refreshing; the maestro actually concluded "Lady of Spain" by posing for the audience with his baton between his teeth!

The Folk Music Medley from around the world was a brilliant piece of programming genius. Stephen Simon, who wrote the arrangements, deserves credit for his nice contrast between accordion & orchestra, but I wished that he would have chosen a higher key for "Funiculi, funicula" so the tenor soloist could get out of his lower range and show off his high notes.

Another criticism was Pino's use of an amplifier, which caused him nothing but trouble and resulted in a comedy of errors. A violinist does not use an amplifier when playing a concerto with an orchestra. Neither does a cellist, or a pianist, or a clarinetist or a flutist, or even a top-notch accordionist. I have heard world renowned accordionists like Joseph Macerollo and the late Mogens Ellegaard perform with the hundred-plus member Toronto Symphony. Even competent vocalists do not use amplifiers when singing with an opera orchestra. Why then, may I ask, did Dr. Pino use an amplifier for his accordion, especially since the orchestra was of the modest size of only twenty string players?

I might have been more convinced that amplification was acceptable if Pino had employed two high-quality external mikes (one for the treble and one for the bass), a professional state-of-the-art PA system and an engineer (sitting in the theater) to adjust the volume levels. But no, he used internal mikes with a run-of-the-mill guitar/keyboard amplifier which was positioned directly in the center of the stage. The result was that his Titano accordion (a beautiful high-quality instrument) sounded muffled, dull and devoid of any character; like a cheap night-club accordion.

In addition, the bass and treble manuals were more often than not improperly balanced; the bass notes sometimes covered over more delicate right hand passages. In the second concert, the problem became especially acute when Pino switched from his concert accordion to his musette accordion; in the Italian medley, the grossly amplified accordion not only drowned out some orchestral passages but at times drowned out the tenor soloist as well!

To add insult to injury, it was extremely distracting to see Pino pulling out his microphone cable from the bottom of his accordion and draping it over his music stand every time he had to bow and walk off the stage, and then to fumble around trying to plug it in every time he had to sit down again. Once he actually stepped on the cable with his foot when standing up and accidentally pulled the plug out of the accordion, accompanied by the obnoxious buzzing sound of an amp with a loose connection. Instead of graciously acknowledging the grateful applause by bowing to the audience, he had to bend over, pick up the end of his cable and plug it back in the bottom of the accordion!

I think internally miked accordions are great for night-club combos, amplified rock bands, etc. but certainly not for a chamber music concert in a hall with superb acoustics! The accordion has a beautiful and distinctive sound, full of character and the audience deserved to hear it.

Despite these criticisms, both concerts were musical successes. I congratulate music director Stephen Simon for daring to program a 20th century work featuring an instrument which is more frequently seen in thedance hall than on the serious concert stage and I hope he continues to program new and exciting works for non-traditional instruments.

And I also heartily congratulate composer/accordionist Carmelo Pino who put himself out on a limb by daring to appear in public and perform a program of technically and artistically difficult concert music, (the Paul Creston concerto was a veritable 27 page machine-gun volley of non-stop sixteenth notes at presto tempo!) despite the fact that he is more comfortable performing music in the jazz and folk idioms. The generous applause of the sold-out audiences and the dozens of enthusiastic comments I overheard in the lobby after the concert proved the success of his heroic endeavor.

I look forward to hearing more pieces composed by Dr. Pino, and I truly hope he performs more and more on the concert stage. I believe he only needs more frequent performance experience to blossom into a brilliant concert artist.



Subject: Your Review: Carmelo Pino's Kennedy Center concert
Date: 1996/04/18

(My friend, Dr. Carmelo Pino, has asked me to post the following letter on his behalf. J. Roland)


To Henry Doktorski:

I am compelled to reply to your "review" of my concerts on March 8 and 9, with the Washington Chamber Symphony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, because of mistakes, misrepresentations, and/or exaggerations contained therein. I understand that you are a self-appointed critic with no official position as a reviewer, other than that you offer to furnish reviews (as on this list), and obtain free records and tickets by representing yourself as a reviewer. Certainly, you have every right to your opinion, but no right to misinform and foist "opinions" on others by calling your opinions a "review."

In praising the jazz section of my Gershwin medley you identified the melody as "The Lady is a Tramp" (a Richard Rogers tune). The correct title is "A Foggy Day." The melody is clearly stated by both the accordion and the orchestra before the jazz choruses and would have been easily identified by a qualified reviewer.

You questioned my use of amplification. My "Concertino for Accordion and Strings" and the Creston "Accordion Concerto" were rehearsed both with and without amplification. The conductor, Stephen Simon, who generally does not favor amplified music, was so impressed with my system's preservation of the accordion's acoustic quality that he decided for amplification. Literally hundred of attendees at the concerts complimented me on the beauty of the accordion sound and its blend with the orchestra. My Walter Woods amp head, JBL speakers, and Sennheiser mikes were purchased for that reason (for well over $3000). How dare you call this equipment "run of the mill?" By characterizing this equipment as cheap, you further evidence your own lack of the knowledge required to assume a reviewer's role.

Did you know that Paul Creston preferred his Concerto played amplified? Check the original publication which contains his instructions to the soloist. A reviewer should be aware of this.

Likewise, when I played David Del Tredici's "Final Alice" with the composer conducting the National Symphony Orchestra, he instructed me to use amplification. In citing preferences by Creston, Del Tredici, and maestro Simon, my point is this-- not all serious musicians in the concert world object to amplification. Without reservation, I would pit these three against those you cite, (Macerollo and Ellegaard) in terms of musicianship, artistic achievement, musical taste, plus recognition within the world of serious music.

And since when does the unfortunate act of stepping on a cable -- a single instance -- become a "comedy of errors" (your plural)? Such exaggeration is misinformation. Your personal distaste for amplification does not justify distorting facts.

Reviewers know that musical balance is in the control realm of the conductor. You commented that Simon was wonderful in the conducting and arranging aspects of these performances. How could he then have been so remiss as to permit from the accordion "bass and treble manuals MORE OFTEN THAN NOT improperly balanced?" Your gross exaggeration accuses me and the acquiescent conductor of musical impropriety which hardly befit a concert which you later describe as a "musical success."

Concerning balance, you mention a problem with my "grossly amplified" musette accordion at the children's concert, in conjunction with the vocalist during the Italian medley. Here is what really happened. "Funiculi, Funicula" was not arranged as a vocal piece for these concerts. Because of the success of "Sorriento" on Thursday, a last minute decision was made for the tenor to also sing "Funiculi" at the Saturday and Sunday matinees. He had never before sung this song. What you heard Saturday afternoon was his first attempt with the orchestra. Unfortunately, the key was wrong for his voice and even more serious, he sang WRONG notes. I intentionally overpowered him so that both he and the audience would hear the proper pitches. It worked! I am surprised that you, as a musician, did not catch this interplay, much less the wrong notes. Others did. (A good ear is an imperative for a musician AND a music critic). Keep in mind, the tenor was not listed in the program and this was all in fun for the kids.

By the time your article gets around to calling the concerts a success, the reader has gone through five paragraphs bemoaning my use of amplification. After that barrage of exaggerated mishaps, this so-called success must be unbelievable to the reader and merely patronizing on your part. And this is a disservice to the accordion community because the five concerts were a huge, overwhelming success -- one of the most successful weeks in the twenty-year history of the orchestra. Ticket sales were great. Audience approval and enthusiasm reached an all-time high.

Kennedy Center audiences are patrons accustomed to the best music and the best musicians in the world. In this particular audience were some of America's best accordionists as well. Your phrases praising the audience's response to my performance are difficult to reconcile with your commentary containing "run-of-the-mill", "cheap night-club accordion", "comedy of errors", or description of poor balance with the orchestra, in poor balance with the tenor, in poor balance with itself. Were there nearly 2,500 tone-deaf, musically ignorant people at these concerts? Dr. Helmut Braunlich, a professor of music, concert violinist, and head of the composition department of Catholic University (a man of considerable credentials), expressed his delight, stating "I liked the balance."

You have every right to your opinions about my playing in particular, and about how you think the accordion should be presented in general. I respect your right to those opinions. I don't respect mistakes, exaggerations and the misinterpretation of what is going on in performance. If you want to become a reviewer, then you must also, just as a performer, be responsible to a certain performance level. I realize you are still a student, and I realize that winning a small local contest sponsored indirectly by an accordion school doesn't make you a virtuoso (the contest being one of the credentials you list). Similarly, playing Christmas carols on a CD you produced yourself, with musicians however fine, does not catapult you to the ranks of the virtuosi. But if you take it on yourself to report on, and make pontifical judgements about the aesthetics of sound and the artistic demands of concert performance, you must drastically improve your objectivity, the depth of your own background in areas you are criticizing, and then show a level of fair, accurate reporting that would make your judgements meaningful.

Now that I have had my say, let me add I have no further intentions of carrying on a public debate about the merits of my concerts or your "reviews." However, I believe the internet audience is entitled to be correctly informed.

Carmelo Pino

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