Music and May Go Together Well

Sam Black

Stas Venglevski on stage in Superior, WI
Stas Venglevski on stage in Superior, WI

Amazing Excitement on the Accordion Stage

It’s very dark and rainy on this morning of May 15, as I pen my weekly column about the variety of arts experiences I encounter. Therefore, music adds considerable brightness to my thinking this morning. For five years now, Helmi Harrington has added Superior, WI, to the list of cities/communities that host World Accordion Day on the first weekend of May. Nothing is quite as stimulating and brilliant as two days filled with performances by leading accordion players from around the world. The variety of instruments and the variety of music performed is broader than most newcomers can imagine.

At the corner of Hammond and Belknap, the Harrington Arts Center houses A World of Accordions Museum, as well as a rich, resonant performance space. The visual impact of touring the museum is stunning every time I walk in the doors. On May 7, however, it was a performance by Stanislav (Stas) Venglevski that I went to hear.

Venglevski was born in Moldava, educated in Moscow, and has lived and taught from Milwaukee, WI, the past twenty-five years. Bouncing around on his chair, he shared a wide selection of classics and original compositions for his Petosa chromatic button accordion. Dazzling! He started with Scarlatti, offered Mendelssohn, offered French musettes, and concluded with a couple of virtuosic polkas. The highlight of the afternoon was the Sonata No. 2 by Vladislav Zolotarjov, a tormented young Russian composer who died in 1975 at the age of 33. This three movement sonata was filled with nostalgia, beautiful, lingering melodies, and incredibly rapid finger agility across the 128 key/buttons. Keep next May in mind for a creative weekend with multiple accordions and players.

Loving relationships and extremely beautiful music

This past Saturday was the closing weekend in the season of the Metropolitan Opera (down there in New York City). Next year there will again be ten Saturday matinee performances broadcast LIVE to more than 700 movie theaters around the world. This closing was a very special one. The opera, Der Rosenkavalier (The Knight of the Rose) by Richard Strauss is long, but very beautiful, with a story far ahead of 1911, when it was first performed. The Marschallin (Renee Fleming) is in her thirties, but feels much older. Her husband is always away on various political duties, so she governs her estates, and satisfies herself very happily. Her young lover, Octavian, is about seventeen, but has yet to encounter the realities of growing up and becoming an independent young leader. In fact, the role is sung by a soprano, in this case, Elina Garancha. Amusingly, throughout the opera Octavian - who is sung by a woman - is often disguised as a chamber maid, in the process of seductively duping a would be suitor.

By the end of the opera, the Marschallin has introduced Octavian to Sophie, and persuaded him that his potential relationship to Sophie is truly the right choice for the coming years. This altruistic behavior appeared on stage even as Europe was headed toward all the chaos that the first half of the twentieth century would provide. In this particular performance, Ms. Fleming was bidding farewell to an operatic role she has performed on stage for more than twenty years. At the same time, Ms. Garancha was saying good-bye to Octavian, a role she has played for the past 17 years. Der Rosenkavalier has been in great hands (and voices) for a long time. I hope you were in the audience for this heart warming/melting performance. Over the summer, I will think about this love affair, and I will think about live opera in Duluth, Minneapolis, and back at the Met in October.