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Accordionist William Schimmel Discusses Discord-Accord; Salzman Work Plays NY Dec 2-4

By PlaybillArts Staff
07 Nov 2009

William Schimmel

Center for Contemporary Opera will present Eric Salzman's Discord-Accord at New York's Cell Theater. We speak with world-class accordionist William Schimmel, who is joined on the piece by mezzo Laila Salins.

The cabaret program of music for mezzo-soprano, accordion and strings will be making its world premiere. The work "will take the audience on a musical journey from Eastern Europe to North and South America."

Schimmel opens with the “Poet & Peasant” Overture, a set of drinking songs and tangos from Latvia (introduced and performed by Laila Salins; some of the texts are by her father who is a leading contemporary Latvian poet); “Accord” a mini-theater solo for Schimmel in which he wanders through the audience, serenading, flirting, singing, laughing, breaking down and crying; music from the Brecht “Good Person of Szechuan”, also organized as a mini-theater piece; and, finally, a set of those biting, hard-hitting Osvaldo Pugliese tangos, instrumental and vocal, with translations and a running commentary.

The performance also features a string section consisting of violinists Machiko Ozawa and Marc Levine and cellist Leo Grinhauz.

*

William Schimmel discusses the work and other matters:

1. How did your interest in the accordion begin?

All of my uncles played the accordion. I took it up to become a respectable member of the family.

2. You have worked with major music icons from various genres, including Sting and Tom Waits. Is there any particular collaboration or genre that you hold closest to your heart?

My wife, Micki Goodman, is the collaboration I hold dearest to my heart – our work in dance, performance art, theatre and video has expanded into 30 years. My other collaborations, including those with legends and icons have had a beginning, middle and end. And, I thoroughly enjoyed them.

3. How did you meet the composer of Discord/Accord, Eric Salzman?

I met Eric in 1973 at the WBAI Free Music Store. He called me for a project: Lazarus. I just finished a concert at WBAI and He thought that the accordion would be good in his piece. One thing led to another. We became The Quog Music Theatre. We toured Europe - and later, The Tango Project.

4. A major focus of Discord/Accord is provided by the New York premiere of Eric Salzman’s Brecht Suite, taken from a French-language production of the Brecht Good Person of Szechuan (La Bonne Ame de Sezuan), originally commissioned and directed by Antoine Laprise. This suite, performed by you and mezzo-soprano Laila Sans, includes the devastating Opium Song, set to one of Brecht's greatest lyrics. As a musician, how do you express these emotions when playing?

By going deeper inside the accordion. The accordion is a natural Brechtian machine. I wear it. It’s my costume – I’m a worker – I’m a silent commentator – it’s my fourth wall, expanding and contracting – and it’s just enough de-classe for alienation.

5. You have written pieces for Broadway shows, movie soundtracks, and orchestras. Each genre has such a different sound – what do you use for inspiration when writing these works?

Again, by going deeper into the present situation that I’m in while composing. What are the genre requirements? Can I meet them and bust them open at the same time? – or not. It’s all about knowing where you are (literally) and what your role is – or isn’t.

6. Now that you have recorded all of Kurt Weill’s music that employs the accordion, is there another composer you would like to do that with?

No – I’m fine with the mystery of what could come next – I like a very varied program.

7. Since the Tango Project was founded in 1981 with pianist Michael Sahl and violinist Mary Rowell, what changes have you seen in audiences attitudes towards the tango?

The Tango is now mainstream – on all fronts – and we had a hand in it.

8. “Park Ave.” and “Beyond Danger” are works from the Tango Project featured on the soundtrack for the feature film, Scent of a Woman. How did you feel when you were told your music would be featured in the movie?

Seeing is believing. When we filmed Scent of a Woman, we didn’t have a clue how much or how little would end up in the film – or on the cutting room floor. I think we were prepared for that. When the film was released and I went to see it with my wife, we both stared at each other in disbelief. It was fantastic to see how integral we were to the philosophy of the film. And a great film at that – with one of the greatest actors of all time. Yes, it’s an honor to be part of that.

9. Accord, a theatrical solo written for you by Mr. Salzman, requires you to show emotion while playing. Do you find it to be difficult to act while performing?

Acting while playing feels natural to me as if I’m in my own mini opera. When Accord was written, I was 28 years old. I’m now 63. The challenge now is to relate the emotions to my present age and experience.

10. If you were not a professional accordionist, what profession would you be?

I’d be an architect. As a kid, I learned to draw in false perspective and I liked drawing buildings and cars. I even designed a Schimmel model accordion, The Elgin. So far, I haven’t found a manufacturer. Maybe someday.

**

All performances are at 8 PM.  The Cell Theater is locted in Manhattan at 338 West 23rd Street. Tickets are priced at $20.

Visit CCO at the Cell for details.





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