The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores

Concert Review: Stanislav Venglevski and John Simkus
Moose Lodge Auditorium, Daly City, California; May 10, 2002


Flight of the Bumblebee
Adagio: Stas Venglevski
August and May from Seasons: Stas Venglevski
Medley of Favorite Songs
Zoo Train: Stas Venglevski
Let's Play Together: Stas Venglevski
Mexican Song (Duet)
Romance: Stas Venglevski (played by John)
Jazz solo by John Simkus
Jazz solo by John Simkus
June (Duet): Stas Venglevski
July (Duet): Stas Venglevski
Autumn Illusions (Duet): Stas Venglevski

review date: May, 2002

Review by Robert Karl Berta :

I had the opportunity to attend a concert by bayanist, Stas Venglevski, and piano accordionist, John Simkus, when they performed in San Francisco in May, 2002. While they do have some outstanding CDs out featuring the pair in duets as well as solo works...this is meant to be a review of their concert.

I had last heard Stas about 5 years ago in a couple of performances at our club. I was impressed then with his technique and musicality. Since he was a student of Frederich Lips I expected to hear a consummate performer. While the performance back then was can't be compared to the current performance. The difference is in the artistic development he has gained as he has matured as an artist. In addition, while his old repertoire was was mostly the standard repertoire of Russian bayan players. What he brought to the latest concert was evidence of an amazing skill as a composer and arranger. The only tune that was "familiar" was his first one..."Flight of the Bumblebee." The few tunes that he and John played that were familiar melodies were glorified with incredible arrangements. But the highlight of the evening were his original compositions.

Evidently John had proposed that Stas consider writing a "tune a month." That explained the names of the titles but I wasn't prepared to hear such a variety of sounds that ranged from serious glorious moving music (Adagio) to fun music that reminded me of a circus (Zoo Train). While a lot of modern music tends to require the listener to hear dissonant harmonics and a lot of experimentation with non traditional sounds like key clicks and bellows "breathing," Stas took the more restrained road and didn't push the listeners ear quite as much. But at no time did he take the "easy way out." The compositions were full of technique that very few can match and a musical sensibility often missing from a lot of modern music.

It would certainly be very hard for any musician to play duets with a performer as gifted as Stas. But John Simkus seems to be one who isn't intimidated and certainly ranks among the best accordionists I have heard. John and Stas were fantastic in the duets. But when he played a couple of jazz solos we had the opportunity to hear artistic genius at work. Not being a huge fan of jazz, this had to be a performance that could easily convert me into a jazz aficionado. While the technique was flawless, he avoided the typical computer like rendition of the jazz many resort to. Instead he rendered them with passion and fire.

For me the biggest excitement of the evening was the fact that FINALLY we have a world class accordionist COMPOSING new music for the accordion. While we all love our instruments...there is a point when repeated playing of the accordion "standards" written in the golden age of the accordion gets burdensome. I think this lack of new material for the accordion has done a lot to prevent the accordion from taking its rightful place as a serious instrument. While accordionists in other countries seem to have done better in this regard than those in the U.S. ...anytime someone composes new music for the accordion I get excited.

Stas and John are continuing on a tour across the US. If you get an opportunity to catch them...please do so and recognize that you are hearing about the best compositions for accordion you are likely to hear in a long time.

I also want to put in a plug for the "M.A.P." ... Major Accordion Performances Group led by Lou Soper. Lou's dream is to create a self running accordion performance nonprofit group that can continue to support top artists in concert performances in the San Francisco Bay Area. If this idea catches on and is successful, Lou hopes to establish a network of similar groups across the US to support concert tours by top artists from throughout the world. Next artist to perform is Henry Doktorski, founder of The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. web site that we all know and love..that promises to be an outstanding concert series!

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