by Mike Telin

HALTLI-FrodeOn Sunday, April 27 beginning at 7:30 pm, CMA Concerts at Transformer Station presents Norwegian virtuoso classical accordionist Frode Haltli. The program features music by Hans Abrahamsen, Magnar Åm, Arne Nordheim and Aldo Clementi. “Even though this program is classical contemporary music, I think it reflects my interests in different kinds of music,” Haltli said during a telephone conversation from his home in Norway. “It’s not your ordinary contemporary music, it [ventures] out into many different directions.”

If you’re wondering about the term “classical accordion” you’re not alone. The instrument has yet to be recognized in many parts of the world as one associated with classical music. So why is that different in Scandinavia? “It really is because of one person, Danish player Mogens Ellegaard. He was the first accordionist to introduce the instrument to real composers in Scandinavia. He really developed the accordion in a more classical way, although in my view it will never be a traditional “classical” instrument.”

Perhaps not, but if you take a quick glance at Haltli’s repertoire list on his website, you will find many recognizable contemporary composers such as Berio, Lindberg, Pintscher, Gubaidulina and Zorn, all of whom have composed for the instrument. “Magnus Lindberg has written two fantastic pieces that I have played a lot. Also, Sofia Gubaibulina has written some very important works for the instrument. Now there is quite a lot of repertoire to choose from.”

I ask him to talk me through his program.

Hans Abrahamsen (b.1952) Air

“Hans is one of my favorite composers. He has had an astonishing and strange career that I think is just peaking now. He just had a big commission for the Berlin Philharmonic. He is now in his 60’s but things are beginning to go his way. He’s been around for a long time but he had a period during the 1980’s and 90’s where he didn’t compose at all — I think for more then ten years. Then he came back. His music is absolutely wonderful. I love it.”

Magnar Åm (b. 1952) On the Banks of the Eternal Second

“He’s not the most well known of Norwegian composers, but he has a unique voice. He’s not a minimalist but he’s clearly inspired by minimalist music and Asian philosophy. He also studied Norwegian folk music and there is something about his tonality that is a little bit Norwegian sounding.”

Arne Nordheim (1931-2010) Flashing

“He was the grand old man of Norwegian contemporary music. He held a unique position in the music life of the country and he is still someone that most people would know in Norway. He was the composer when I was growing up and even before that during the 1960’s. He worked a lot with Mogens Ellegaard and together they created some really interesting works. This piece is based on the cadenza of his accordion concerto. It’s imaginative, energetic, but most of his music also has a lyrical side. It’s very interesting, modern music that is full of life.

“I’ve recorded his complete works. With the concerto, this solo piece, one with electronics and the trio it is a full length CD. This music has followed me since I was fourteen or fifteen years old, and a complete recording has never been made so I really wanted to do it. It was kind of a personal release for me and something that sums up what I have been doing for my entire musical life.”

Aldo Clementi (1925-2011)  Ein kleines …

“He was from Italy and I can’t say that much about him except that he was a composer’s composer. He was around for a long time but never became a Berio or one of the other big Italian names. He did some strange fringe projects which didn’t break though into the classical music world. But this piece is very simple, it has the subtitle Lullaby. It’s just a beautiful two-voiced lullaby that goes on and on. It’s also a personal composition with a very clear character. I will play it at the end and it will be like a meditation at the end of the program.

“That’s what I like about this program. There are really personal compositions from each composer, but they are all very different and have special characters.”

If you have attended this season’s Transformer Station concerts you probably remember performances by Maja Ratkje and Garth Knox, both of whom Haltli collaborates with frequently. “I play with Garth quite regularly and that started with an ECM recording (Parting Images). I wanted to do something on Norwegian folk music, but I wanted to tear it apart and take it in different musical directions both in modern composition and improvisation. I also wanted a viola player. I just had the sound of the instrument in my mind. It was actually the producer who suggested Garth. I just saw him in Paris and he talked about how wonderful the Transformer Station space is. And by what he told me I think my program is quite fitting for the acoustics.”

Why did Frode Haltli choose to play the accordion? “Very boring answer,” he responded quickly. “I saw it on the TV. One year I wanted two things for Christmas, either an accordion or a typewriter. We exchange presents on the 24th of December and when I saw this big gift I was thinking, is it a typewriter or is it an accordion? And it was an accordion from my mother and father, so it was my own wish and I just continued. I just like it and things are going well. I like to play different kinds of music and to work with different kinds of musicians. That’s very important for me.”

Published on ClevelandClassical.com April 22, 2014.

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