Accordionist in the Art House

My review of accordionist Lidia Kaminska and friends was cut a bit for space, leaving out one important friend: Benito Meza, the wonderful clarinetist. So here's the full, unedited version.

Dispatch from the grass-is-always-greener department:


As classical artists increasingly crave nightclubs and hipster hangouts over art-house venues, Lidia Kaminska is hitting the concert hall strapped to a rightful denizen of the saloon – the accordion.

Not that Kaminska turns up her nose to any good gig. She recently toured with Cirque du Soleil, and she’s been spotted at a popular South Street watering hole. Under the wing of very classical Astral Artists and presented Friday21 night at the Philadelphia Museum of Art by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Kaminska defies expectations; listeners who think of the accordion as a tacky wheeze lurking in beer halls and bar mitzvahs wouldn’t have recognized the instrument.

Kaminska played Bach. She needn’t have reminded the audience that her shiny black and white portable is sometimes referred to as the “small sister of the organ” since she made the most of the idea in deed. Transcendence wasn’t guaranteed, even from a player who has a Doctorate in Accordion Performance. The quality that makes her passage into art so natural is her total manipulation of every aspect of the instrument. In the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543, she was as dexterous as any keyboard player, delineating fugal voices in individual shades. She exploited her instrument’s advantage over the harpsichord for which Scarlatti’s sonatas were written, shaping phrases with a subtle dynamic scheme. She was an illusionist in a piece twice removed from its original incarnation, Paganini’s Etude in E Major, “La Chasse,” in a transcription for accordion adapted from a Liszt arrangement. With figures in different registers speaking to each other, she was no less virtuosic than Joshua Bell. And who knew this instrument was capable of such varied tones?

Kaminska didn’t neglect the accordion’s folksy roots. Transcriptions were banished on the second half of the program, devoted to Piazzolla. Here she was joined by partners on violin, bass and guitar who were plenty fine. One, however, was operating at a completely different level. Argentine pianist Octavio Brunetti, a smooth synthesis of classical technique and jazz liberation, was a monster talent. Not a note went by wasn’t part of some bigger idea. He referenced the colors of Debussy and the virtuosity of Liszt, and ventured into some gorgeous harmonic complexities. Kaminska and Brunetti had a shared understanding of the things that make Piazzolla tick: the swagger, the all-is-lost moments of sweet desperation, the structured chaos when the music loses itself in a blur, and all the micro-shapings that go on in articulation, length of notes and phrasing to make those moods so sharply felt.

Earlier, Kaminska hosted another super talent: clarinetist Benito Meza. With drummer and bassist as backbone, they took on Jacob Do Bandolim’s “O Voo da Mosca,” “Flight of the Fly” - a moto perpetuo so quick and slippery it rendered the subject of a more famous “Flight of the Bumblebee” the insect of a greater sloth.