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London Accordion Orchestra Interview

Posted on 07 March 2017. © Copyright 2004-2020 Composition:Today

C:T talks to Ian Watson of London Accordion Orchestra, ahead of their new CD release, featuring new works for Accordion Orchestra by British composers

London Accordion Orchestra new CD release
Tell us something about your background.

Hi everyone. I studied accordion at the Royal Academy of Music, London and am now working with many different ensembles, orchestras and bands. I also write music, mainly for accordion orchestra.

Tell us about the London Accordion Orchestra, how it started, the idea behind it

We started in 1999. I was still at the RAM and a friend persuaded me to start up an accordion club at Morley College in South London. The club was a performance space for soloists and groups. Quickly we began to play larger ensemble pieces and eventually we outgrew our rehearsal space at Morley College, so moved to Pimlico and took the name London Accordion Orchestra. Now we 50 players across 2 orchestras and use professional percussionists for concerts. We've toured in Europe, played at great London venues like the National Theatre and St. John's Smith Square and have now recorded our new album 'Flight' at Abbey Road Studios.

Tell us about the specially commissioned pieces on your new recording

There are 6 pieces on the album. 'Flight',which I wrote for the orchestra in 2014, is the title piece. It's a 3 movement piece taking the long distance migration of birds as inspiration. It's proved popular with several orchestra in France and Germany performing it. We commissioned Jason Carr to write us a piece in 2013 to play at the World Music Festival in Austria that year. His piece 'Europa' is a 4 movement piece which went down a storm at the Festival. Matthew Scott from the National Theatre wrote us a piece called 'Karneval' to play in the same festival in 2016. It's a fun piece, quite minimalist, where you hear snippets and fragments of melodies competing with each other just like a carnival passing you by. We also commissioned Stuart Hancock to write us a piece for the 2016 World Music Festival and his piece 'Rhapsody' is beautiful. Stuart writes mostly for film and tv and accordingly the piece has quite an epic sound, really using the 40 players in the main orchestra to create a wonderful sound. My piece 'Clowns' is also on there. It was commissioned by the Nuremberg Accordion Orchestra for their conductors 50th birthday concert. The theme of the concert was humour, there are humorous elements to the piece but as I was writing my slight fear of Clowns must have shone through as some of it is a bit dark! The other piece is another of mine called '2012' - a three movement piece inspired by the London Olympics.

What are the common mistakes writing for accordion, and accordion orchestra. What are the as yet untapped resources?

Many composers these days write very well for accordion. I do still come across people who are bit unsure or nervous about the potential of the instrument. You sometimes get parts that are so basic it's frustrating as the instrument has so much range and potential. Then some go the other way and throw everything in to the part and you have to 'edit' as you play it. I always try to work with composers on new commissions if they are unfamiliar with the instrument, which saves time in the long run and generally makes the part more enjoyable to play. I certainly do this when commissioning for the orchestra as it is quite a new thing for all of them!

How do you respond to unsolicited work- do you give feedback? Do you ever commission new work yourself?

We have commissioned quite a few composers over the years. We have a dedicated fundraising team who raise funds for new works and the 'LAO Friends' where people can donate money specifically for new commissions. They tend to be composers I have worked with before who show a particular interest in the instrument. I have had a couple of unsolicited works sent to me and yes, I would always give feedback. We actually performed both of these pieces.

What are your plans for the future?

We launch the album this Saturday (11th March 2017) at Union Chapel, Islington. The concert is at 12pm and free entry, suggested donation 5. I'd encourage any composers interested in writing for us to come and say hi! Then we go to Nuremberg, Germany, at the end of April to give a concert at the Museum of Modern Art. promoting the new British works on the album. In 2018 we have a concert tour of Slovenia and then 2019 we will play at the World Music Festival in Innsbruck, Austria.

How can people find out more about you?

We are on facebook:

By far the best way is to come to our concert though - hear what 40 accordionists and 3 percussionists sounds like! Here is the facebook event page:

Interview by Composition:Today © Copyright 2004-2020

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