Claudio Jacomucci: an extraordinary performer and accordionist

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Claudio Jacomucci is undoubtedly an extraordinary musician and artist who, from an early age coupled, being blessed with an extraordinary crystalline talent, with a very strong work and study ethic. His development came at a time, as it did for many, when the accordion was emerging from a field which although was termed as “classical” was still, with a few exceptions several steps behind other older and more established instruments. At that time although teachers had talent and enthusiasm they were not instrumentalists of the same level that their students were attaining. Claudio had the good fortune to have a teacher who was able to push him towards confronting different challenges, emerging teachers and schools of thought, and musical trends. I remember Claudio being one of the first “international” students of Italian nationality and how this fact affected his repertoire and the quality of his performance in the various international festivals.


1. Claudio, tell us something about your musical training: why the accordion? Why the button system? One day, when I was 5 years old, my father bought an accordion. He always liked the idea of playing that instrument but never managed to do it. Months passed and that instrument in its huge case was still lying around without anyone knowing what to do with it. It was then that my mother – who did not approve the useless waste of money – decided to send me to music lessons. My first teacher was a very rigid, fat, old and bald alcoholic. In a moment of lucidity he advised my parents to change my instrument to a button accordion: he said it would have been a better choice, I would have had a complete instrument, compacted in size and weight and with many more advantages and possibilities comparing with the piano one. So, I started on the button accordion. Soon I become student of a fireman from Pesaro, a composer and interpreter of some jolly ballroom dance music. Even though my repertoire was quickly increasing (and I was able to play often in parties and feasts, dancing evenings and so on), my parents decided I needed a more solid grounding for my future as musician and so they sent me to Abramo Comandini’s school in Rimini. I was 11 years old and at the same time was studying trumpet and attending an experimental course which included composition, choir conducting, singing and piano classes at the Rossini Conservatoire in Pesaro. When I was 18 years old I graduated in accordion at the Conservatoire in Grenoble (France) and I began to travel all over Europe in order to study with the best teachers and went through a very intense period of activity as concert performer and teacher to pay for my studies. Afterwards I graduated as Alexander Technique teacher at ATCA in Amsterdam and I studied Carnatic Music (music of Southern India) at the Sweelinck Conservatory in Amsterdam.

2. We know you studied with many teachers. What was the importance of each one of them and who do you like to remember with more gratitude? Abramo Comandini was the teacher who encouraged me the most, he trusted my qualities like no one else and, from the very first lesson, entrusted me with huge responsibilities: at the age of 12 he made me play Zolotaryov’s Partita, Fugazza’s Introduction and fugue and some 4 and 5 parts fugues by J.S. Bach. With great honesty and humility he always encouraged me to deepen my studies with professionals such as Jean Luc Manca who taught me the principles of an innovative technique and contributed hugely in stimulating my sensitivity towards music. With Vladimir Zubitsky I came across the various aspects of the Russian school and I also studied the prodigious compositions of his Ukrainian period. Meeting Mogens Ellegard was a milestone and signaled a shift in my path. With absolute transparency and generosity Mogens was able to pass all of his experience to others. He taught a very refined technique, never disconnected from music or never as a means to its own end. He was remarkably aware of the fact that accordion is just at the beginning of its history and he made me understand the importance of contributing to the growth and development of the instrument in each and every aspect: the increase of original literature, the collaboration with composers and musicians and the necessity of a pedagogy in constant evolution.

3. You took part to many national and international competitions and nowadays you are often member of the juries. Today many teachers are not keen to enter their students into competitions. What can you say about this from your experience?Taking part in competitions is confrontational; one has to confront with oneself, with others and with the taste and aesthetics of the jury members and even with extra-musical interests that are often present in those contexts. When too much importance is given to competing, it is easy to fall in the trap of being obsessed about it and the competitive spirit becomes harmful, impeding the deepening of the sense of music that the profession requires. Nevertheless, we all know how much students tend to lose motivation through the routine of classes, exams, school-concerts. They do not work to the best of their abilities. They are never confronted with their limits. In this sense nothing is more motivating than a competition: it asks the students to rigorously prepare their programs, to find the courage to expose themselves to strong stimuli, such as being judged by a number of “experts”. The real problem with competition (especially accordion competitions) is the prize: money, cups, plates, diplomas are not the kind of recognition needed to encourage a student. Winners of international piano competitions e.g., win a number of concerts (even with orchestra), the participation in music events, cd recordings and scholarships (genuine ones that is). It is a pity that accordion competitions have not taken this direction yet. The problem is that accordion world is not very much in touch with concert organizations, but I’m sure sooner or later the urgency out of this matter will become evident. It is sad to notice that, in the last ten years, the participants of international contests have diminished (Italian ones almost disappeared). It is true indeed that the level of the students has dramatically increased. Frankly, I do think that the reason why teachers tend to discourage their student from taking part to competitions is that they are the first who don’t want to be confronted with others schools. Moreover, preparing students for those competitions requires devotion and the ability to offer them support. Such devotion implies much more commitment than giving them the scheduled classes of the school program.

4. Let’s talk about your colleagues: on an international scale – and not thinking about styles – who, according to you, is marking the young history of the accordion and of music in general? Undoubtedly, the phenomenon of our time is Richard Galliano, but there are many accordionists who are leaving their mark in the history of the accordion: above all those who spend a lot of energy breaking out from the restricted accordion scene with intelligence, collaborating with well known musicians, tracing new paths and contributing to the popularity of the instrument in different musical styles. In this sense I appreciate very much the excellent qualities of Stefan Hussong, Luciano Biondini, Geir Draugsvoll and Motion Trio.

5. From your very early experiences as concert performer, you spent much energy on contemporary music, music commonly referred to as “difficult” to listen to. What has inspired you and keeps you going in this direction?I remember one of my first listening of contemporary music. Late at night, the radio broadcast “Lohengrin” by Salvatore Sciarrino. After about ten minutes I fell asleep… I had a very long and intricate dream, full of images, sounds and emotions that I still remember with precision. The resonance of that music stayed with me for many days. I decided then to study contemporary music. I am also distrustful towards that modern music when it is music without soul, without a deep sense, when the complexity of the score reaches absurd levels without reason, just for the sterile ends of producing a novelty. I always keep in mind though that the accordion is a recent instrument and that I feel that it is one of my duties to help composers to write “properly” for our instrument and broaden its original literature. Russian repertoire, baroque, classical, romantic transcriptions, Piazzolla’s tangos should not distract us from being interested in music of great significance at this current stage in our musical history. Berio, Cage, Ligeti, Xenakis, Reich are not more difficult than Bach, Beethoven, Mahler or Stravinsky. Is it perhaps that our ears are so influenced by the listening of music from the past, by commercial music and by the easily-pleasing value given by virtuosic entertainment?

6. You have worked together with several contemporary composers. Tell us something about the way they work and how you have been involved in their works.I have worked with composers such as Berio, Donatoni, Kurtag, De Pablo, Porena and many others. I collaborated in the realization of new works for accordion, chamber music, concertos, musical-theatre, etc. Those experiences have been the most important in my career. It is not so easy, for a performer, to see the point of view of a composer (his style, aesthetics, taste and interest), and vice-versa it’s not easy for composers to understand the resources of the accordion and of the performer. The accordion is unknown by many composers; it’s not enough to explain them how it works: the techniques, the ranges, the registers… most of the time, these instruction book notions may lead to disastrous compositions. When the performer takes part in the compositional process with instrumental and musical ideas, the coming together of composer and performer may create something unexpected and new. Unfortunately most composers have neither the time nor the will for this approach. In general, I always liked the experimental attitude of those who don’t know our instrument: I discovered sounds, sonorities, instrumental possibilities that probably I would never imagined without their curiosity.

7. Even though in the last few decades, the accordion has been quite brilliantly getting rid of the label of being a purely “folk instrument”, it’s still not easy for young performers to find their way and work as concert artists. What is the reason, in your opinion? The more we expose the spectrum of possibilities of our instrument to different musical styles and genres the more it is necessary that the preparation of performers match the needs that this exposure is bringing about. Their training is often limited to a few works in preparation for an academic programme or for a competitive one. If it doesn’t include some improvisation skill, some familiarity with the standard chord codification, some ability in arranging works, some chamber music experience, some sight-reading skill for a simple film-music recording (for example), it’s quite obvious that the work possibilities will be fewer. I don’t think that academic studies can (or should) train musicians to be ready for any experience, but it’s fundamental to give them basic tools and stimulate their interest in all directions. Students should take care of their own musical interest and aspirations and not only be stimulated by exams and competitions.

8. Let’s talk about your recent cd release. Where does the title “Wonderlands” come from? It has been long time since you recorded transcriptions; but instead of choosing Bach or Scarlatti or the accordion predilection for baroque or classical composers, you chose Stravinsky and Ravel. What connection do you see with the accordion? In this project my intention was to exalt the accordion as an instrument capable of evoking scenes and atmospheres from the imagination. Wonderlands includes works what are inspired to fantastic images, fairy tales, legends, myths and cartoons. I decided to play two complex transcriptions (using some of the accordion’s resources in the extreme) from two famous ballets of the early XX Century: Petrushka (concert-dances) and Ma Mere l’Oye. In Petrushka, Stravinsky uses motifs and folk melodies that are usually played by the accordion. The Petrushka’s orchestra sounds like a big accordion. Ma Mere l’Oye (Mother Goose) is inspired by fairy tales like Tom Thumb, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast and it refers to the orchestral version which is rich in color and timbre. My next recording project is entirely dedicated to the music of J.S.Bach.

9. Road Runner by John Zorn is certainly the piece that you more often play. Why did you include it again in this cd?Today I’m much more interested in the global structure of a programme, to find the thread that may link all of its compositions, both from a projectual and from a formal viewpoint. For this reason, I’ve decided to include in Wonderlands the “cartoon-music” by John Zorn, a vessel for a myriad of quotes that go along the history of the accordion.

10. On the same cd, there are two compositions of yours, Wonderlands and Infernal Circles. Tell us something about these two works which are certainly the most difficult to listen to and to relate to. This kind of music in-fact requires a careful and sensitive listening to every small nuance because it’s based on a particular research of sound and on the movement of sound in space. Wonderlands, my first solo piece, is inspired by natural marvels, by migration, by the geometries of the flights of the flocks of birds and their calls. With regard to Infernal Circles, I can tell you that it was commissioned by the festival “Venti Ascensionali” in Orvieto. I wrote a multimedia piece for accordion, electronics and dance to be performed with Kathleen Delaney into St Patrick’s Well, a medieval well 58m deep, a hole, dug out of tuff – a volcanic stone. Two flights of spiral staircases descend to the bottom of it. We immediately thought about Orpheus who descends into the underworld to bring Eurydice back to life. During his journey, Orpheus has terrifying visions, he hears the massed laments and sounds of the underworld which slowly reveal fragments of the Monteverdian aria “Tu sei morta”. Only at the end, we can hear the reconstructed melody in the distance as if it were resounding within the infernal circles.

11. You are an expert of the Alexander Technique. Without going into detail (as it would require too much space) can you tell us what the benefits of this technique are for an accordionist or for a musician in general? Those who play an instrument like the accordion, will sooner or later realise that something interferes with freedom in playing, in expressing oneself with ease, spontaneity and lightness: something that makes their job complicated or at times impossible. It’s difficult to use a huge amount of energy without experiencing troubles, discomfort, rigidity, apnoea or stage-fright. When I was teaching accordion to children I noticed these difficulties, that excessive unnecessary tension in some of them (while others had a better and more precise technique). At that time, I ingenuously thought that these problems could be resolved by practicing specific exercises or studies (like Hanon, Cortot, scales, arpeggios, rhythmical variations…) but I was wrong. Let’s try an experiment now: while you play a difficult passage, ask to somebody to move your head and neck for you. Are they free? Can you feel the rigidity of the legs? Are your wrists and elbows stiff? When you change the bellow direction, what happens? Do you twist the shoulders and the torso? Are you experiencing apnoea? Well, these reactions are unconscious and cannot be avoided or corrected by the traditional musical-technical means, nor by simplistic tricks of how to set the hands, the thumb, the elbow or the instrument. Often this erroneous information, given by teachers who don’t know enough about the general use of the body, anatomy and ergonomics, may cause serious problems to students. The Alexander Technique teaches, first of all, how to react with awareness to stimuli. Through the contact of the hands, the teacher helps students to improve the use of all body in a more coordinated and poised way, to be able to deal with habits, physical and emotional tensions. It is then understandable that when we are freer, more balanced and we better breath, the way we think and live music may be deeply affected.

12. You recently started a serious teaching project. What is the aim of this activity? As a concert performer will you give up your time and commitments in favour of teaching and composing? The work as performer, teacher and composer converges in the same path and they feed each other. For some years now, I have organized a post-graduate course for accordionists. I think that it’s important that at last the Italian school too opens up to the experience of those schools which have been at the vanguard for more than thirty years in pedagogy and concert fields. I have invited musicians such as Matti Rantanen, Fredrich Lips, Viacheslav Semionov, Geir Draugsvoll, Jean Luc Manca, Inaki Alberdi, Yuri Shishkin and Luciano Biondini. Beside the extremely interesting master classes, it has been very important and stimulating to hear their point of view and learn from their experience. I also recently started a project of pedagogic studies with some of my students, with workshops, master-class, festivals, exchanges with European schools and other events in several Italian towns. The aim is to create a broad perspective of study and artistic initiative, allowing the young students to come into contact with professional musical realities of different kind: contemporary music, baroque music, chamber music, improvisation, traditional music, musical theatre, jazz. Many Italian and foreign students have participated in these meetings. From these experiences teachers and students learn a lot and the exchange and cooperation make their interest and aspiration grow enormously. I think that the real aim of teachers should be not only to teach students what they know, but also to arouse curiosity, commitment and interest in young people, putting at their disposal all the necessary means to keep developing in the artistic process.

by Mirco Patarini

Autore: Gianluca Bibiani

Gianluca Bibiani ha scritto 1200 articoli.

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