Exalted accordionist teaches students about life, music
April 11, 2014
Last Thursday marked the 48th annual Commissioned Composer Project here at UW-River Falls. The Commissioned Composer Project is an event that takes place every March or April.
The UWRF music department brings in a composer, and a handful of students put on a concert featuring his or her music. This year featured the music of Guy Klucevsek, a famous accordionist originally from Pennsylvania. Guy has built an esteemed reputation on the accordion, and teachers and students alike were eager to play and work with him over the course of the week. Even though each student rehearsed with him for a short time, they enjoyed learning his music and hearing his personal experiences as a composer.
Klucevsek, as noted in his autobiography, got his start on the accordion after seeing it featured on television when he was just five years old. Since the accordion was so popular at the time, featured on hit shows in the 1950’s such as the Lawrence Welk Show, he was inspired to follow in those same footsteps. He was able to convince his father to buy him his first accordion, a 12-base accordion, and he was hooked. He started taking lessons in his own home from accordionist Joe Macko. He remembers fondly learning several simple, but popular tunes with Macko, including “In a Little Spanish Town.”
Years later, while living with his aunt and uncle, they found him perhaps the greatest American accordion player of the time, Walter Grabowski. Klucevsek admired Grabowski for his immense intelligence and talent: he took high interest in philosophers and even memorized Beethoven’s symphonies by playing the recordings while he slept. While the same was not expected of Klucevsek, he did mention that he was still worked hard. He went beyond the popular tunes of his past to learn opera overtures, piano and violin concerti, and solo piano pieces. He also played well-known pieces such as “Carnival of Venice” and “Flight of the Bumblebee.” While his training on these pieces was extensive, what Klucevsek took away most from Grabowski was the importance of musicianship and harmony.
Since receiving instruction from Walter Grabowski, Klucevsek has seen huge success. He has performed over 50 solo accordion pieces, a combination of his own work and works that he has commissioned from, including Mary Ellen Childs, Bang on a Can and John Zorn. He has also performed at several venues and festivals, including the Lincoln Center, the Berlin Jazz Festival, Ten Days on the Island Festival and the San Antonio International Accordion Festival. In addition, he appeared on an episode of the children’s show “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” He is also credited with the formation of the “Accordion Tribe,” a group of performing accordionists from around the world.
I was honored to be a part of the Commissioned Composer Project this year. My friend and I played one Klucevsek’s duets, “The Landscape Listens.” He decided to switch it up a bit, and we played the top part while he played the bottom part. I can honestly say that I have never done a fl ute and accordion duet before, but we really pulled it off. The commissioned piece was entitled “Big Top Suite,” and it was the hit of the night. It combined several genres, including jazz and polka. All pieces were well-received by the audience, and performers enjoyed playing Klucevsek’s music and getting to know him as a person.
Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.