For the past 61 years, students and teachers of the accordion have come together for the Trophée Mondial (“World Cup”) de l’Accordeon, a competition extending over several days in which contestants are judged for their excellence in various categories of performance: classical, variety, and now digital. These meetings have taken place all over the world, but never in the United States.
Dozens of competitors from dozens of countries have converged in Spokane for this year’s championships. A gala concert celebrating the opening of the competition was offered Tuesday night at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. As befit the occasion, the musical portion of the program was preceded by greetings to the international attendants by local dignitaries and by a gracious welcome from the President of the Confederation Mondiale de l’Accordéon, Frédéric Deschamps.
Following a trooping of the colors by the U.S. Marine Corps color guard and the singing of the national anthem, soprano Marsha Schlangen led the audience in the unofficial anthem, Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” Then, accompanied by the Spokane Symphony, conducted by Eckart Preu, Spokane’s Kinderchor performed a song titled “Here in This Land” written especially for the occasion by Kasia Haroldsen and very sensitively arranged by William Berry. Kinderchor, directed by Sharon Smith, sang with beautiful tone, splendid diction and great energy, providing an inspiring transition to the musical performances that followed.
The entire house was lit up by the brilliance of Pietro Adragno, a former winner of the Trophée Mondial. In the hands (and arms) of a mediocre café accordionist, the pieces he programmed, “Oczy Czarne (Dark Eyes)” and “Tico Tico” would be tired warhorses. Ignited by his barely believable virtuosity and dynamic stage presence, they transmitted an electric current through the audience, bringing us to our feet shouting, and reminding us of what the competition is all about: the cultivation and promotion of great talent, so that it can provide joy to audiences all over the world.
Accompanied by the strings of the symphony, again under Preu’s direction, New Zealand accordionist Grayson Masefield – the current holder of the Trophée Mondial – performed “Picasso’s Guernica” by Gorka Hermosa. The piece effectively represents the violence and terror of that famous painting, and amply demonstrates the communicative power of the instrument in the hands of a master. Masefield is not only a most impressive artist, but also a generous and supportive one, since he has traveled from New Zealand to serve as a judge at the competition.
The audience spent the remainder of the evening swaying to the music of Tango Volcado, a tango salon orchestra comprised of Trophée Mondial organizer Patricia Bartell, accordion, Tana Bland, violin, Kendall Feeney, piano, and Eugene Jablonsky, string bass and guitar. All the members are seasoned professionals with followings here and abroad, who play marvelously together, without sacrificing the individual sonorities and energies that make each a real artist. The group performed eight celebrated tangos by the likes of Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzolla, each of which raised the listeners’ pitch of enthusiasm another notch.
It must be said, however, that, without any apparent effort to become so, Bartell emerged as primus inter pares, by virtue of her hypnotically beautiful tone, and the endless variety of voicing and phrasing she was able to achieve on an instrument that is famous for neither.
The Trophée Mondiale runs through Saturday morning at The Bing Crosby Theater. Passes for an entire day are available through TicketMaster for only $7. Young people who are able to attend may find their lives changed as a result.