ABSOLUTE - Alexander Shirunov
Virtuoso Entertainment Music
The genre of virtuoso entertainment music is generally not a discovery of the last century, but in its tradition goes far back in history. Franz Liszt and Niccolò Paganini are some of those memorable musicians who had a reputation for being virtuoso interpreters not only of “serious” classical music, but also entertaining “light” music and thus captured the hearts of people everywhere.
A description of the entertainment music style of that time would be connected with such attributes as sonorous melodies, entertaining artistic performance, and upbeat arrangements. In addition, the artist demonstrated technically perfected instrument control and sovereign treatment of music used as language for communicating with the public.
Naturally, for the accordion, which has existed on the market as fully developed instrument scarcely 100 years, the tradition of this music genre does not extend beyond this time frame. Precisely with the availability of such instruments it was possible to create and disseminate virtuoso entertainment music with the accordion.
Due to previously existing great popularity and wide distribution of harmonica instruments throughout the world, this virtuoso playing of pleasant and “impressive” music—which often reverted to melodies and themes from traditional folk songs or motives from well-known classical compositions—spread rapidly.
As varied as the folk groups, strains of virtuoso entertainment music developed differently in individual countries. In the Balkans, this music sounds entirely different than in France, in Russia otherwise than in Germany, and in England unlike that in Finland. Thus, virtuoso entertainment music was often and to a large extent shaped by national traditions and followed the tastes of the people, musicians, and public.
While accordion virtuosos still thrilled large audiences into the 1960s, this interest rapidly declined in the following decades. Among accordionists, virtuoso entertainment music experienced an identity crisis: the old group of virtuosos disappeared from the stages; the new generation didn’t materialize. Teachers were scarce and suitable, contemporary music literature had not been developed. In educational institutions, accordionists in music schools and conservatories were primarily concerned with “serious” music, in order to present something different to the public and especially to be taken “seriously” by other instrumentalists and musicians. People forgot this could also be achieved with virtuoso entertainment music. Even more to the point, one could reach a much larger audience and thereby awaken the interest of major media in order to broadly appeal to the younger generation. All of this did not happen for a long time.
As mentioned earlier, new accordionist recruits for entertainment music dwindled internationally. At the same time, competitions and festivals complained of reduced participation and especially visitor numbers. Therefore, in the 1990s organizers of internationally leading events decided to include a category for this nearly forgotten or at least widely neglected virtuoso entertainment music. Although competition categories were announced, people had no experience in the matter and could not provide precise repertoire guidelines or other directions. This holds just as true for CIA, CMA, Castelfidardo, Klingenthal, and other competitions. Gradually, smaller national competitions followed the example of the larger ones and introduced this type of entertainment music. At first, this was accompanied by much grumbling, particularly by advocates of demanding music. However, when it became clear this music must not be sensational, cheap, lacking content, artistically simple, or forced, the organizers—and even the “serious” experts—discovered the attraction of this music.
Surely, there is still a lack of suitable music literature as well as a corresponding understanding of music and evaluation on the part of jurors, but the success this rediscovered music brings speaks for itself. Discussion about “the systems” (i.e. whether button or key instrument, melody or standard bass is better for music education or is considered of higher musical value) is not important in this music area. Here what counts is only the music—as pure language.
Pioneering, talented people like Alexander Shirunov define this type of entertainment music anew and give it a high-level standard. They bring back the fascination of this genre and attractiveness of the accordion as an instrument to be taken seriously.
*July 22, 1983
“Primo assoluto”: virtuoso, gallant, musical, a genius.
“An entertainer par excellence and simultaneously a deeply moving virtuoso master of classical music.” – “A Russian who is even more.”
In this way, Alexander Shirunov is described full of fascination and admiration by competition rivals, performing musicians, audiences, and jurors, who attempt to express that he is in every respect far more than somebody who can be characterized with conventional attributes or who can be measured with common knowledge regarding countries, people, musicians, and art.
Alexander Shirunov speaks impeccable English with Oxford accent. He is reminiscent in his overall appearance of the legendary Moscow virtuoso Yuri Kazakov, who for decades was the most exquisite and gallant virtuoso of Soviet show and entertainment business. As epitome of Soviet entertainment music artistry, Kazakov always appeared as a noble high-caliber musician. Kazakov, like Shirunov—without their ever having met—are professed and passionate musicians in all areas of the beautiful art.
The 22-year-old accordionist was born in the city of Nikol’sk in the Vologda region in the northeast part of European Russia. At the tender age of four, he began to play music when his father presented him with an accordion. When he was six years old and entered school—still quite small for his age—he began to play violin after his teacher recognized his exceptional musical talent, but deemed him too small for accordion. Therefore, during the next three years Alexander played violin in school and accordion at home. Later, he had to study piano, singing, and saxophone before he finally could devote himself to the accordion, declaring it was the instrument he had loved from the beginning and the most important to him. At that time, he already had been awarded a number of first prizes and honors from regional and national music competitions in singing and accordion categories.
In 1997, the well-known bayan-accordion virtuoso and educator Alexander Dmitriyev from St. Petersburg discovered him during a visit to the city Elaburg in Tatarstan, where Shirunov was participating in a master course, which Professor Dmitriyev was conducting there. Dmitriyev immediately invited Shirunov to come to St. Petersburg to study with him, which for the 14-year-old Alexander was like a revelation from God. He proclaims: “To go to the world culture city St. Petersburg and study with the famous Professor Dmitriyev, the idol of many young musicians, was something special.” One year later, in 1998, Alexander accepted the invitation and enrolled at the Special Music Vocational High School in the Rimsky Korsakov Conservatory for talented musicians. In 2002, he was automatically accepted into the Rimsky Korsakov Conservatory without further examination after proving to be one of the best students in the special school. He still studies in Professor Dmitriyev’s classes today.
“Shirunov on Stage Is Like a Fish in Water”
When Shirunov is on stage, he says he feels like a fish in water. His performances of everything he presents are exceptionally lively. He experiences the music from the depths of his entire soul and knows how to project this masterfully to his audience. He sings, dances, plays, and moves like an artist with truly universal nature.
Shirunov gives virtuoso entertainment music the quality and noble appearance necessary for it to transform into another genre of musical art. He interprets this “light music” in a manner that has value. A value that high-caliber artists in the classical music area recognize and appreciate. Furthermore, Shirunov plays Baroque, classical, and avant-garde compositions as originals and arrangements so convincingly that professionals conclude he cannot be classified into one category. He is just a class for himself.
“The Musician Who Is Like an Entire Universe”
In his interpretations, borders between virtuoso entertainment and demanding classical music disappear. Tones are crystal clear and as elegant as pearls in the best champagne: tingling, nobly fresh, from deepest aesthetic soul. His music is comprehensive and all-embracing. It portrays a new genre. What’s more, it lives up to the motto: “Music is life.”
Alexander Shirunov’s achievements in the second half of 2005 alone are notable, especially when one considers that even his second place rankings in competitions could have been first prizes if diplomatic calculations had not played a role.
• First prize at Premio Internazionale di Castelfidardo (Italy) in the category for solo virtuoso entertainment music.
• Second prize at Premio Internazionale di Castelfidardo (Italy) in the category for classical chamber music in duet with Nadezhda Guseva.
• First prize at Premio Internazionale in Palaggianello (Italy), where he won the recognition “primo assoluto”.
• First prize at International Music Prize Città di Lanciano (Italy)
• First prize at Coupe Mondiale in Castelo Branco (Portugal) in the category for classical accordion.
• Second prize at Coupe Mondiale in Castelo Branco (Portugal) in the category for virtuoso entertainment music.
In addition, there are his special performances at the large international entertainment festivals in Ikaalinen (Finland) and Pontarlier (France) in early 2005, where his musical presentations also reached peak levels. Of course, results at competitions for Shirunov are no evidence of musical quality. All too often he experiences, to his disappointment, that jury decisions are often determined by coincidence and luck. He has often delivered performances with which internationally experienced jurors are unable to cope.
Shirunov is in a class unto himself. He depicts, plays, demonstrates—maybe even without knowing it himself—a quite new dimension of demanding entertainment music, whereby for his musical expression actually a new suitable term should be coined.
All recordings on this CD are played exclusively by Alexander Shirunov—in solo—without any technical studio tone alteration—on a piano accordion produced by the manufacturer PIGINI Accordions, Italy. He has created the singing passages as well as percussive effects, that he realizes solely on the accordion, without any further instrument.
Vladimir Zubitsky (* 1953)
Omaggio ad Astor Piazzolla
A homage to the legendary Argentine composer and bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla is created by Ukrainian composer and bayan-accordionist Vladimir Zubitsky. This piece reflects one of Astor Piazzolla’s most famous musical themes: Libertango. And it shows the many possibilities for musical presentation that can be produced by the accordion instrument.
Claude Bolling (* 1930)
A la française
An especially interesting piece that is written in Baroque music style with strict adherence to the musical form—and in the middle it makes an unexpected turn to jazz. The composer, a brilliant pianist and jazz musician, demonstrates an excellent feeling for competently combining quite different music styles.
Paul Desmond (1924–1977)
Arr.: David Gazarov (* 1965), Alexander Shirunov (* 1983)
Over the course of several decades, a number of good jazz musicians took this piece by Paul Desmond, originated in the 1950s, and advanced it to the most famous jazz melody of its time. Take Five also inspired jazz pianist David Gazarov to write his own arrangement, which Alexander Shirunov has revived in order to introduce his own style.
André Astier (1923–1994)
Le Tempête, Route Express, Accordion Rag, L’Aquilon
All four compositions were written by André Astier, probably the most famous French accordion composer. It is said he discovered and created the style of virtuoso varieté music for accordionists and thereby implemented in an unrivalled manner the French flair with the instrument, which he himself played masterfully. The piece L’Aquilon was created in cooperation with Jacky Mallerey, a highly gifted French accordionist and Jazz musician, who breathed the spirit of jazz into the work.
Médard Ferrero (1906–1972)
As five-year-old, Ferrero began his career as accordionist on stages in France and later throughout the world. As a compatriot of Astier, he also was at an early time in France a central personality of virtuoso entertainment music and model for many later musicians. Shirunov places this short, but much-played work Averse after Astier’s/Mallerey’s L’Aquilon in order to present both – attacca – as one piece.
Renzo Ruggieri (* 1965)
Arr.: Alexander Shirunov (* 1983)
Here Italian jazz accordionist Renzo Ruggieri has found a theme that everyone likes thanks to a good combination of sonorous melody and lively Latin American rhythm. “This theme inspired me to write my own arrangement, which reflects the blazing colors of the South American carnival.” (Alexander Shirunov)
Viktor Vlasov (* 1936)
In Russia, Viktor Vlasov is a very popular, well-known composer who has written not only, however a great deal, for accordion and thereby goes into a number of different music styles. These include jazz and virtuoso entertainment music. “Shagi,” meaning “Steps” is probably one of Vlasov’s best and most famous compositions.
Eric Bouvelle (* 1972), Maurice Larcange
Here two generations of composers musically remember one of their great models, the unforgettable accordion virtuoso and composer Médard Ferrero. In the form of a reminiscence about him, they compose a fiery, flashy mazurka with French gusto, which challenges the artist’s highest level of technical proficiency and only really succeeds when the interpreter combines exceptional virtuosity with sovereign laisser-faire and excellent musical taste.
Yuri Kazakov (* 1924)
Variations on an Ukrainian Theme
Although it is only the theme of a Ukrainian folk song, it was no one less than the legendary Yuri Kazakov, who made this melody the object of a skillful, highly virtuoso, and artistic composition. Through a number of variations on the folk song melody, the Russian bayan-accordion virtuoso shows the extent of his fantasy and control of the instrument. This fully justifies his reputation as brilliant entertainer, revolutionary virtuoso, and sensitive aesthete among the most important personalities in Russian accordion history.