Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the January 14, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Mark Laycock’s Tales of Le Metro in Paris
"We hear hundreds of musicians all the time, in the subways, in the
metros, and in the streets, but there are very few who stop you in
your tracks," says Mark Laycock, long-time artistic director of the
Princeton Symphony Orchestra.
Laycock should know. For his upcoming concert, "Take Le Metro to
Nassau Street," Laycock is presenting just such a rare street
musician, a musician who stopped him in his tracks. In what is billed
as a history-making performance, audiences will witness the orchestral
concert debut of Ukrainian accordion virtuoso Peter Odrekhivskyy. The
65-member Princeton Symphony will join Odrekhivskyy in presenting
Peter Paul Koprowski’s "Accordion Concerto" at Richardson Auditorium
on Sunday, January 18, at 4 p.m. Also on the program will be
Schumann’s "Overture to Hermann and Dorothea," Ibert’s
"Divertissement," and Poulenc’s "Sinfonietta."
Laycock’s dramatic tale of his chance encounter with Odrekhivskyy
reads like a literary thriller. During the summer of 2002, Laycock was
working in Paris when he stepped off Le Metro one day and what he
heard was music to his ears.
"I stepped off the Metro train and way in the distance I could hear
J.S. Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor’ being played – and it was
extraordinary," says Laycock. "I thought that someone had somehow
brought an organ into the Metro and I just had to find the source of
"I kept following the sound, walking through tunnel after tunnel,
until finally I came upon one man playing all of the parts, including
the pedals, on an accordion. I could not believe what I was hearing. I
just stood there with my mouth open," Laycock recounts.
"To hear the man play this piece is incredibly moving, with exquisite
phrasing," he says. "It’s so unexpected to hear this glorious
cathedral sound coming from an accordion."
Bach’s masterwork for organ, Laycock explains, is designed to be
played with both hands, with a third musical line that is played on
the pedals. "The long wooden pedals," he says, "are like another set
of black notes."
Laycock put some money in the musician’s open case and purchased the
homemade CD he was offering for sale. He left the impromptu recital
assuming that the musician’s CD would include his contact information.
"I brought the recording home to Princeton keeping in mind that I knew
of one very good concerto for accordion and orchestra." The work he
had in mind was by Canadian composer Peter Hall Koprowski; Laycock had
heard it performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
The CD, however, contained no contact information and Laycock was
forced to begin his hunt anew. Returning to Paris the following month,
he optimistically took along the Koprowski score and a recording by
the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. But it seemed that his Metro musician
had eluded him.
"In Paris I learned you audition for and are granted a permit to play
in the Metro, and that they keep the numbers of musicians limited,"
says Laycock. But even the authorities could not provide him with
contact information for the musician.
‘It took me six days to find this man," says Laycock, with passion.
"He was not listed in the Paris directory, he was no long playing at
the same stop. I made phone calls to Paris Conservatory, no one had
ever heard of this man. I ended up stopping in every restaurant where
I heard an accordion playing and asking, ‘Do you know the accordionist
who plays Bach?’ On the sixth day, I stopped another accordionist who
said, ‘I don’t but I have a friend who does.’" Triumphant, Laycock
finally had his phone number.
"When I found Peter and told him what I wanted to do, he was amazed.
It was sort of a Cinderella fairy tale. We met at my hotel and I told
him about the symphony and gave him this music – which is not an easy
piece to perform," says Laycock. He returned to Paris last summer to
confirm that his soloist had succeeded in learning a piece of music
very different in character from Bach. He need not have been concerned
– "It was absolutely amazing," he reports.
In fact, Laycock’s Parisian Metro musician is by no means a stranger
to the more rarefied atmosphere of the concert hall. Now in his
mid-30s, Peter Odrekhivskyy was born in the Ukraine to a family of
teachers. At his father’s suggestion, he began playing the accordion
at the age of seven. He eventually entered and completed studies at
the National School of Music and the Higher National Academy of Music
In 1994 Odrekhivskyy became an accordion professor, and as a soloist
he performed with ensembles throughout the Ukraine and in France,
Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Poland.
Following a tour to Paris with a Ukrainian Folk group, he decided to
remain in the City of Lights in order to study with the famed
accordionist Frederic Guerouet at the National Conservatory of
Aubervilliers-La Courneuve. In 2002, he was awarded first prize at the
National Conservatory in Paris, where he continues to pursue his goal
of further mastery of the instrument.
Led by music director Mark Laycock since 1986, the Princeton Symphony
Orchestra has grown from a small community chamber group to an
acclaimed professional symphony orchestra. This Cinderella project,
says Laycock, "is just part of the extraordinary life of the PSO." The
story was reported on the op-ed page of the International Herald
Tribune in June 2003 by Marcelline Krafchick. "I don’t know of another
board in the country that would have so readily accepted my proposal.
The PSO board is to be commended for that. We have a wonderful
Laurence Taylor, composer, musicologist, and PSO violinist gives a
pre-concert lecture for ticket holders at 3 p.m. (no reservation
required). Taylor, whose PSO program notes have been lauded for their
clarity, wit, and educational value, will report that Paul Hindemith,
Prokofiev, Henry Cowell, and Virgil Thompson are among those who have
composed for the accordion.
The composer of the demanding accordion concerto is Toronto-based
composer Peter Paul Koprowski, who will be on hand for the concert.
Born in Poland in 1947, Koprowski studied music during the flourishing
of the Polish School in the 1960s. Initially trained as a pianist, he
distinguished himself at a very early age as a composer and graduated
from the Cracow Academy of Music. His String Quartet No.1 of 1967
marked the first rebellion against the European trend of that decade,
and in the years that followed, in an effort to place the avant-garde
within the perspective of the great European traditions, he further
explored extended tonality, chance, and the 12-tone methods.
Following periods of residence in England and France, Koprowski
arrived in Canada in 1971 where he quickly established a place for
himself in his adopted country’s musical life. A recipient of numerous
awards and commissions, he currently divides his time between European
and North American engagements as a composer, pianist, and conductor.
For lovers of music and literature, "Accordion Crimes" by Annie Proulx
(author of "The Shipping News") and published in 1996, is a picaresque
paean to the lowly squeeze box and its cherished place in musical
traditions around the globe – Italians, Germans, Irish, Mexicans,
Africans, Poles, Norwegians, Basques, and French-Canadians. It is an
encyclopedic tale of a small green, 19-button accordion, built in 1890
by a Sicilian musician who dreams of opening a music store in America.
The darkly picaresque novel chronicles the adventures of the
instrument over the span of close to a century as it travels from hand
to hand, from one immigrant group to another. Proulx captures the
instrument’s qualities of "pleasurable dissonance," and its profound
attachment to the musical traditions of myriad cultures as it
squeezing out the songs and dances of immigrant groups, all trying to
make their way in the New World.
Laycock ends his own thrilling story with a footnote. He placed one
condition on Odrekhivskyy’s Princeton contract, one that is sure to
please his local audience: that he play as an encore Bach’s "Toccata
and Fugue in D Minor."
— Nicole Plett
@LT:Peter Odrekhivskyy, Princeton Symphony Orchestra,
Richardson Auditorium, 609-497-0020. "Take Le Metro to Nassau Street"
is the title of the program featuring guest soloist Peter
Odrekhivskyy, accordion. Program includes Peter Paul Koprowski’s
"Accordion Concerto," with works by Schumann, Bach, and Poulenc. Mark
Laycock, music director. $12 to $35. Sunday, January 18, 4 p.m.
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