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William Schimmel’s latest, 'Theater of the Accordion,' takes the instrument to heights that demand respect.

Music Review: William Schimmel – ‘Theater of the Accordion’

I would imagine that among musical instruments the one that gets the least respect is the accordion. Eastern Europeans may have liked one around for someone to play polkas at various celebrations, but classical composers are not busily writing concertos for accordion, jazz musicians are not adding them to combos large or small, and pop arrangements rarely find room for them. It would seem then, that a crossover album featuring a solo accordion playing mostly variations on classical themes, even if you included a couple of tracks with one of the great trumpet players of the day, would be unlikely to get mouths watering.william schimmel

If, on the other hand, the accordionist is William Schimmel, and he is playing what he calls “’Realities’ which utilize pre-existing music presented in a new context,” perhaps the salivating should begin. And if those “realities” include musical nods to the likes of Richard Strauss, Arnold Schoenberg, and Leonard Bernstein, and that guest trumpeter is Wynton Marsalis, there is no perhaps about it. Schimmel’s latest, Theater of the Accordion, takes the instrument to heights that demand respect.

Not only is he a virtuoso performer, he is creative dynamo. All you have to do is hear his salute to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, “Mahler 9,” which concludes the album, and you can’t help but recognize his genius. This is one of the two tracks where he is joined by Marsalis, but it is Schimmel whose inventiveness dominates the piece.

Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier” opens the set, giving Schimmel the opportunity to show the sensual romantic possibilities of his instrument. “St. Louis Blues” follows with some interesting rhythmic variations and some fine work from Marsalis. “Wozzeck the Winner” is a spoken word parody with instrumental punctuation, unfortunately the kind of thing you might want to hear once and forget.

The “Sonata for Fiddler,” Bernstein’s “Candide Overture,” and the cunningly titled “Accordion to Schoenberg” are masterful pieces, each revealing the emotional possibilities of the instrument in the hands of a master. “Classical Bluegrass,” Schimmel explains in the liner notes, is “symphonic in scope,” combines a “reality” on Dvorak’s New World Symphony and is an homage to Mason Williams and Bill Monroe. “MicroBela,” which works on a short piece by Bela Bartok, accordion favorite “Carnival of Venice,” and a joking “Discarded Melody” round out the album.

Listen to William Schimmel and one word comes to mind: respect.

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