Listening to Galliano: blown away by the dragon’s breath
In the program book of the 33d edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival, president and founder Alain Simard writes that the festival combines quality with diversity. “From artists who recorded 78s to artists of the mp3 era, they come from every part of the globe to show us how music transcends generations and boundaries.”
The fact that the festival extends beyond “pure” jazz to what Simard calls “its musical kin” is artistically brilliant, as it allows Montrealers to discover a greater range of music. The spirit of transcendence was perfectly embodied in the festival’s opening concert featuring the celebrated Richard Galliano.
The virtuoso accordionist has done for his instrument what Andres Segovia has done for the guitar and Pablo Casals has done for the cello, in bringing it to the fore as a solo instrument. Whether playing jazz, a film score by Nino Rota, a Bach Largo or a Piazzolla tango, he demonstrates that in the hands of a sublime musician an instrument is just that. It is limitless and can have pride of place on the concert stage regardless of how it was previously perceived.
The show, From Bach to Piazzolla, consisted of Galliano’s own compositions, his transpositions of Bach concertos, one for harpsichord and a double concerto for violin and oboe where the accordion took the oboe’s role. It concluded with music from Galliano’s cherished mentor Astor Piazzolla, who died 20 years ago.
Galliano, and his ensemble—two violins, a viola, cello and double bass—created an electric ephemeral atmosphere, where the expressive range of the accordion was stunning. Where there were folk elements, there was intricate rhythmic interplay, light and dance-like, or driving the music to great passion, but without brutality.
In the Bach pieces, Galliano created a breathtaking purity and a beautifully singing tone not normally associated with the accordion. Galliano has compared his instrument with the organ, a great favourite of Bach, and upon listening to his performance, his deep understanding of Bach becomes evident.
Galliano showed the accordion to be infinitely versatile, capable of sounds beyond anything most of us hear on the classical concert stage. At one moment it sounded like a faraway carousel, then ponderous, then back to a clear singing line. In one piece it began on its own, with no pitch, only the sound of air, a sound like dragon’s breath, revealing the tremendous power of this instrument. This became more than a sound effect, as it transmuted into an essential musical element in the piece. This was followed by percussive sounds, created through several techniques, from the accordion and also from the strings. Playfulness, humour and endless invention permeated the whole performance, to the audience’s great joy.
Galliano recorded Bach on Universal/Deutsche Gramophon in 2010.