"Symphony serves up accordion concerto"

Friday, April 2, 1993 THE TORONTO STAR
by William Littler


     The Berlin Wall having fallen and the Soviet Union atomized, anything, presumably, is possible in what the late Noel Coward sarcastically called these dear democratic days, but it still took the Toronto Symphony 71 years to commission an accordion concerto. 
     It might have taken 71 more were it not for the presence in this city of not only Canada's but one of the world's pre-eminent concert accordionists, that favorite son of neighbouring Guelph, Joseph Macerollo.  By the sheer force of his artistry, Macerollo intrigued R. Murray Schafer with the potential of his much-maligned instrument and anyone who has followed Schafer's Patria cycle will know that Macerollo's accordion keeps popping up in it, most significantly to accompany a decapitated singing head in 'La Testa d'Adriane' from the Greatest Show. 
     Still, it is one thing to use an accordion as an instrumental condiment, another to make it the focal point of the dish. Wednesday night in Roy Thom- son Hall, Schafer, Macerollo and the Toronto Symphony joined forces to demonstrate that there is more than salt and pepper to the free bass accordion. 
     The timing was apt, given the hosting by Toronto this week of an International Accordion Celebration (by no means coincidentally organized by Macerollo), bringing together concert accordionists from several parts of the world.  
But it was apt in another sense as well, given Schafer's proven ability in past Toronto Symphony-commissioned concertos for  guitar and violin to exploit is particular in the personality of the solo instrument at hand. 
     In the Accordion Concerto, though he has adopted a conventional three-movement form, he has avoided the conventional concerto notion of a contest between soloist and orchestra. 
     If anything, by involving them in a dialogue of shared ideas, he has shown how much the accordion can sound like an orchestra and how much the orchestra can sound like an accordion. 
     The middle movement came as a special revelation. Marked "slowly, expressively; rather dreamy," it turned the accordion into a soprano-register singer in command of greater tonal purity than its reedy, polka and tango-shaped tonal past could have led one to expect. 
     A whiff of Middle-Eastern exoticism also perfumed this movement, with the woodwinds and percussion taking turns squeezing the atomizer, while Macerollo's digital dexterity sped along the finale, with its cadenzas full of glissando flourishes. 
     But perhaps most interesting of all about the new piece was the inventive way Schafer worked in the bass clef, finding shared employment with the accordion for the bass clarinet, contrabassoon, horn and bass trombone. No wonder, when introducing the piece, Macerollo quipped that it may become known as the concerto for neglected instruments. He also, and probably with equal accuracy, predicted that it will come to be recognized as a great work for his instrument. 
     Two other works, Wagner's Siegfried Idyll and Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony, flanked the Schafer, with Gunther Herbig very much in his element conducting them.

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