I’m interested in hearing more about your chamber music group, OCTET. For all of you readers who aren’t familiar with OCTET, it’s an awesome New York-based music ensemble dedicate to performing contemporaary compositions that push boundaries. What inspired you to start OCTET?
What inspired me to start OCTET was the need to hear my music. It’s always been a challenge to get performances. I wanted to take control of getting my music performed and recorded. I also wanted to create a distinctive ensemble sound. Our instrumentation is sax, trumpet, trombone, drums, piano, keyboards, vocals, and bass. We are a scaled down big band playing contemporary classical.
(You can hear the ensemble at our website and on our blog.)
Let’s talk about the piece MSOs Opus One is performing on March 1 and 2, Zydeco Madness. You’ve told me before that this piece was your response and memorial to the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. What connection do you have to Louisiana?
I lived in New Orleans for a year and a half before transferring to Champaign-Urbana. I remember the seasonal storms and floods and walking around in 3 feet of water years before Katrina. When Katirna happened, I asked myself why are these people being neglected and forgotten.
Initially, it was a solo accordion piece, because the lead instrument in a Zydeco band is typically a button accordion. I chose Bayan accordion which is a very large button accordion with a wider range than the accordions you see in Zydeco bands. The Bayan accordion is what one studies in the conservatory. You also generally play the Bayan sitting down because of its weight.
Stas Venglevski performs Zydeco Madness for Bayan Accordion solo in San Francisco
My piece does not emulate the Zydeco sound, which is very much tied into blues and creole music, so much as paint a picture or a mood around the events of Katrina using an accordion. The piece is episodic, jump-cutting from one event to the next like a news report.
It was premiered by a great Russian Bayan virtuoso named Stas Venglevski. I created a string orchestra version shortly after.
Read the whole interview at Opus One Memphis