Concert Review - 49th Annual Spring Concert

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010, 2:30 PM - UMKC James C. Olson Performing Arts Center
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49th Annual Concert - Program and Program Notes
  • Serenade in E Major, Op. 22 by Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904)

  • On The Trail from 'The Grand Canyon Suite' by Ferde Grofé (1892-1972 )

  • Ballade for Accordion Orchestra by Fritz Dobler (b. 1927)

  • Three Tango by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)
    -Adiós Nonino
    -Close Your Eyes and Listen
    -Cité Tango

  • The Star Wars Epic by John Williams (b. 1932)
    -Princess Leia's Theme
    -The Imperial March and The Forest Battle
    -Main Title: Star Wars

  • Tango Fugitativo and Milonga Feliz by Gerie Daanen (b. 1952)

  • Selections from Wicked by Stephen Schwartz (b 1948)
    -No One Mourns the Wicked
    -The Wizard and I
    -Dancing Through Life
    -Defying Gravity

  • The Blackbird Polka by Vladimir Ushakov (b. 1968)

    All arrangements for accordion Orchestra have been prepared by Joan Cochran Sommers

The Serenade in E Major, Op. 22, by Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904) was composed in 1875 and is one of the most popular pieces for String Orchestra. Today our group is playing only the very short but beautiful Moderato which is the first movement. You will undoubtedly recognize its theme immediately.

On The Trail from The Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofé (1892-1972) became one of the most recognizable American compositions, partially due to the use of its theme in a popular cigarette radio commercial as well as its depiction of the donkeys used in the canyon. Grofé had traveled the country around the Grand Canyon as an itinerant pianist for several years and knew the terrain of the region, its animal and bird life, and the people and their habits and customs. The richness of the land and the rugged optimism of its people fired up his imagination and he became determined to put it all to music someday. Grofé said, "I am not alone in seeing and feeling the wonderful music that is right here in our America. This music comes surging forth, comes singing up from our land. This music is your music, and mine only in the highly technical sense that a copyright has been filed away with my name on it." The UMKC Accordion Orchestra has included his "Mississippi Suite" on its Number 5 CD Pasticcio. It was during the time that Ferde Grofé served as the arranger of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue for the Paul Whiteman band that he was encouraged to write the Mississippi Suite.

Ballade for Accordion Orchestra, Two Electroniums, Timpani and Percussion (published in 1994) was composed by the famous German accordion teacher Fritz Dobler (born 1927), one-time Coupe Mondiale Winner and prolific writer for both accordion solo and accordion orchestra, for one of his friend's orchestras to use as a competition piece. The UMKC Accordion Orchestra has performed many of Professor Dobler's compositions over a long period of time. We believe you will find this piece one of his most interesting and very attractive compositions. He was recently voted the prestigious Merit Award by the Confédération Internationale des Accordéonistes during its Winter Congress in Arrasate, Spain. Kevin Friedrich, now serving as CIA Ambassador and the immediate Past President of the world organization, presented this award to Professor Dobler during the recent World Music Festival in Innsbruck, Austria.

The UMKC Accordion Orchestra has performed several Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) compositions, among them are Novitango (included on our orchestra's Number 2 CD Vivace), Libertango, Oblivion, Fuga 9, Melodia in a minor, (included on our orchestra's Number 1 CD Allegro and for which it received impressive reviews), Five Tango Sensations (with the extraordinary Finnish artist, Mika Väyrynen, as soloist in a San Antonio, TX concert), Ballet Tango, and Escualo, among others.

Today the group will perform three Piazzolla pieces: Adiós Nonino (1959), Close Your Eyes and Listen, and Cité Tango (1977). All three demonstrate the elements of melancholy, nostalgia, and sadness of their beautiful melodies as well as the sensuality of their strong basic rhythms for which the composer was noted. Piazzolla studied with Ginastera in Buenos Aires and Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He won innumerable enthusiasts for both his Nuevo Tango and for the traditional tango with his many appearances, recordings, and hundreds of compositions as well as awards from international music magazines, and a Grammy nomination for Oblivion. Piazzolla realized his electrifying blend of the fire and passion of the traditional tango with the vast expressive resources of modern harmony, texture, and sonority in some 750 widely varied works that explore the genre's remarkable expressive range, from violent to sensual, from witty to melancholy, from intimate to theatrical.

Adiós Nonino, "Goodbye Grandfather," is the single most famous of all the pieces written by Astor Piazzolla who performed it thousands of times in at least 20 different arrangements. It was written in commemoration of the death of his father, Vincente, known as "nonino."

Close Your Eyes and Listen (Cierra tus ojos y escucha) was recorded in 1974 with Gerry Mulligan and became an instant favorite with its hauntingly beautiful melodic line.

Last year the UMKC Community Accordion Orchestra included a video prepared by UMKC Professor Caitlin Horsmon which was shown during its performance of Suite from Video Games Live. It was so well received that we asked her to prepare another video, this time to project during the performance of Cité Tango.

The featured dancers on today's program are Louis Bar and Laura Cantu. They are 6 times French National Champions and 5 times World Finalists in Argentine Tango, Swing and other ballroom dances. They travel all over the world to compete, perform, teach and learn. In addition, Louis and Laura are the owners of Louis & Company at 10409 Marty in Overland Park, KS. Check out their website They will be joined by several of their students on the final Piazzolla piece. Louis Bar, in fact, has just one month ago become World Champion in Chacha, Rumba, Swing, Bolero, and Mambo!

Argentine tango is a social dance and a musical genre that originated in Argentina and Uruguay. It consists of a variety of styles that developed in different regions and eras, and in response to the crowding of the venue and even the fashions in clothing. Argentine tango is danced in an embrace that can vary from very open, in which leader and follower connect at arms length, to very closed, in which the connection is chest-to-chest, or anywhere in between. Tango is essentially walking with a partner and the music. Musicality (i.e., dancing appropriately to the emotion and speed of a tango) is an extremely important element of dancing tango. A good dancer is one who makes you feel the music. Dancers generally keep their feet close to the floor as they walk, with their ankles and knees brushing as one leg passes the other.

Argentine tango relies heavily on improvisation and although certain patterns of movement have been codified over the years, there is no "basic step." It is danced counterclockwise around the outside of the dance floor. Ballroom tango steps have been standardized by dance studios and the steps have been relatively fixed in style for decades; however, Argentine tango has been an evolving dance and musical form, with continual changes occurring every day on the social dance floor in Argentina and in major tango centers elsewhere in the world. The government of Argentina hosts an annual competition of Argentine tango in Buenos Aires, attracting competitors from around the world. There are several differences between Argentine and Ballroom tango dancing, among them the Embrace (abrazo), Walking (caminando), and the Music. The history of tango dancing is very interesting and will draw the reader into wanting to know even more about it. There are many films featuring the different styles of Tango Nuevo, show tango or alternative tango music, as well as Argentine or traditional tango, which will provide endless enjoyment.

The Star Wars Epic is a medley of three compositions by John Williams used in the popular Star Wars movies: Princess Leia's Theme (from Episode IV), The Imperial March - Darth Vader's Theme and The Forest Battle (from Episodes V and VI) ; and the Star Wars Main Title (from Episodes I - VI.) Star Wars has, as we all know, become a favorite of many people, perhaps especially among young people of all ages. Joan Sommers will be conducting at the Accordionists and Teachers Guild, International Annual Festival which will be held this July 21-25 in Santa Clara, CA. It just so happens that her two young grandsons, now ages almost 7 and 5, live close by and they have never seen their grandmother conduct. In addition, they know just about everything one could know about the Star Wars what else could grandmother do but arrange some music especially for them. And that is how these three pieces came to be on today's program!

Tango Fugitativo and Milonga Feliz were written by the Dutch composer, Gerie Daanen who has composed several accordion orchestra pieces recorded by the Dutch group, Alphen Opus 2. That group specializes in the performance of original music for accordion orchestra; it has commissioned several pieces and has won awards for this activity. Joan met the conductor and the members of the group in 2008 when she conducted the World Accordion Orchestra in Scotland and they have continued their friendships online since then. Gerri studied classical accordion with Mogens Ellegaard in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The first part of Tango Fugitativo, the allegro moderato, is characterized by its fugue-like setting in a strong rhythmic context with an 8/8 rhythm in a structure of 3+3+2, changing sometimes, however, to 3+2+3. In the andante misterioso, the timbre plays an important role. Besides the choral-like 1st and 2nd accordion parts, the work has a contrasting 3rd part, playing the rhythmic ostinato figure on the cutting edge. Then the 4th part takes over this figure in a somewhat springy way. The allegro con fuoco may be approached as the culmination, containing a contemplative middle part which refers to the 2nd part.

In the Tango Fugitativo, restlessness and excitement mark the search for inner rest. The Milonga Feliz is the light counterpart of it, having a traditional musical form; it may just swing. Some say the Milonga is essentially tango; the differences lie in the music, which has a strongly-accented beat, and an underlying "habanera" rhythm. Some tango dancers say that tango steps should not be used in milonga and that milonga has its own special rhythm and steps which are quite different from tango. Milonga is also the name given to tango dance parties.

Since the musical Wicked, with music by Stephen Schwartz, opened in New York in 2003, it has been seen in many different cities, always to sold-out audiences and breaking box office records around the world as continuing proof of its popularity. Both the West End production and the North American tour have been seen by over 2 million patrons. It has earned several awards, among them ten nominations and three winners at the 2004 Tony Awards, winning 6 Drama Desk Awards, an Olivier Award, and a Grammy at the 47th Annual presentation. Many proclaim it to be "the musical of the decade." The Highlights from Wicked arrangement includes several of the most remembered pieces from the musical. The arrangement by Joan Sommers was prepared for the orchestra's appearance at the 2007 Coupe Mondiale in Alexandria, VA and its concert in the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center.

The UMKC accordion groups rarely play polkas on concerts unless they are indeed special ones. We decided to close our concert today with The Blackbird Polka, one which has come to us from a group of professional accordionists in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was written for the Russian Bayan button instrument and is rather difficult, especially when played on the piano keyboards which are used predominantly throughout the USA, but it is happy, fun to play, and a piece which may just have you dancing in the aisles.


Joan C. Sommers, Director
UMKC Community Accordion Orchestra
2312 West 71 Terrace, Prairie Village, KS 66208-3322 USA

Phone: (913) 722-5625 or E-Mail: