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Concert lets accordionist ‘play outside the box’

Symphony features Bartell in eclectic show

Patricia Bartell joins the Spokane Symphony for concerts this weekend.
Patricia Bartell joins the Spokane Symphony for concerts this weekend.

The Spokane Symphony’s season comes to an end this weekend with a concert that neatly illustrates just how diverse an average program is: The composers represented in the season closer include Argentinean tango artist Astor Piazzolla, 19th-century French organist Camille Saint-Saëns and art rock icon Frank Zappa.

Now that’s what you call variety.

Conductor Eckart Preu says he wanted to embrace sonic exploration this season, and the trio of compositions featured this weekend continue that experimentation.

“Each composer, in his time, was charging forward and doing something new,” Preu said. “It’s three composers trying to reinvent themselves, I think, and pushing the form they composed in forward.”

Spokane accordionist Patricia Bartell will be appearing with the symphony during its performance of Piazzolla’s Bandoneón Concerto, and while she has played with the symphony before, this weekend marks the first time she has appeared as a featured soloist.

“For me, it’s very exciting,” Bartell said. “There have been times where I’ve played in the symphony when there was an accordion part. But that was, like, 16 bars. To have them backing me up, in a sense, is a totally different experience.”

Piazzolla’s piece is often colloquially referred to as “Aconcagua” after the highest mountain peak in South America which, coincidentally, is located near Bartell’s birthplace in Bolivia. The piece consists of three movements – the first relies heavily on vibrant tango flair, the second is leisurely paced, the third begins quietly and builds in intensity – and it’s well-known for allowing the accordionist to improvise in certain sections.

“He provides the melody, but the artist is to improvise with that melody,” Bartell said. “He’s the first composer I’ve played that has allowed that in a classical setting, so that makes it a bit more exciting.”

By incorporating elements of jazz into the basic tango formula, Piazzolla, considered to be a founder of the “Nuevo tango” movement, revolutionized the form and is generally credited with making it internationally popular.

“Now accordion is finally making a comeback, and Piazzolla played a great part in that because of the new style of tangos he brought out,” Bartell said. “So it’s not your traditional tango … and it allows room to be so passionate and to put a lot of emotion into the music, and I think that’s a huge key into why that music is coming back.”

Bartell, who also acts as president of the World Trophy Accordion Organization, says that her experience playing with other musicians – especially in her quartet Tango Volcado, which features other musicians who have played with the symphony at various times – has helped her mentally prepare for her big symphony moment.

“I’m classically trained with the accordion,” Bartell said, “but to be free to improvise and play outside the box has really prepared me. It’s an honor to get to play with the symphony.”

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