Accordions take the spotlight
Iby Alexander Varty
f you love the accordion, cancel your plans and book a ferry.
Next week, from November 10 to 16, Victoria will host the 68th annual Trophée Mondial de l’accordéon, the world’s biggest accordion competition, which will see hundreds of squeezebox virtuosos from more than 40 countries jousting for prizes of up to $10,000. It’s the first time the event has been held in Canada—and it coincides with the World Accordion and Tango Festival, so there’ll be some sensuous dance moves on offer, too.
But if you only like the accordion, take heart: three former Trophée Mondial grand-prize winners are coming to you. When they share a Vancouver stage this Friday, Victoria resident Jelena Milojevic, Beijing’s Jianan Tian, and New Zealand’s Grayson Masefield should offer an ideal sampling of current directions in accordion artistry.
“I’d say that we’re all very different,” Masefield explains, in a telephone interview from a Seattle tour stop. “We’re all from different continents. Different styles of training, different repertoire—everything! You have Jelena, from the eastern European style, versus someone from China, from the Beijing conservatory, while I’m from New Zealand and have studied in France. So I think that’s very interesting, because it showcases the diversity of what the accordion can really do.”
Masefield’s own set might prove surprisingly diverse in itself. While he’s considered one of the world’s top classical accordionists, he likes to mix things up in concert. “I’ll start with a baroque or classical transcription, move on to contemporary classical accordion works, and then play more of the lighter stuff,” he says. “I try to really expose the audience to what the instrument can do, because most people don’t know the instrument that well. Obviously, it’s heard as something for polkas or Irish music—more traditional stuff—but it is really capable of quite a bit more.”
Masefield readily admits that he initially took the instrument for granted, despite—or perhaps because of—being a third-generation member of a family of accordion players, teachers, and retailers. “It’s quite interesting,” he says, laughing. “My grandfather imported accordions into New Zealand, and because of that his three children—my mother and her two older brothers— all play. My father met my mother through the accordion, and my sister plays as well. So I’ve been quite lucky that I’ve always had music around me my whole life.”
And yet, he continues, it took a rude shock before he began to take his heritage seriously. “I never really practised until I was 18,” he says, and that was only after a miserable showing at New Zealand’s annual accordion competition. “I came second-to-last, and I didn’t really like that!” Through the competition, however, he met the musician who would become his mentor, French accordionist Frédéric Deschamps—and that, he says. “kind of opened the door”.
“And, of course, my family all being accordionists,” he adds, “I had their full support and backing.”
But was Masefield ever tempted to rebel and take up, say, the mandolin?
“My mom had a thing: she said, ‘You can choose any instrument you want to play, as long as you play the accordion as well,’” he says. “So I could have, if I’d really wanted to, but accordion was enough.”