Pushing the right buttons

Despite the accordion’s unsexy image, it makes all kinds of music.

French accordionist Vincent Peirani will perform at the Chamber Music Festival in Eilat on February 27, together with compatriot cellist Francois Salque. (photo credit: DEAN BENICCI)
French accordionist Vincent Peirani will perform at the Chamber Music Festival in Eilat on February 27, together with compatriot cellist Francois Salque.
(photo credit: DEAN BENICCI)
Vincent Peirani knows no bounds, which probably isn’t a bad thing considering that he is a musician and he plays an instrument which, in general, is not considered the sexiest of things to tote on stage.
The 32-year-old French accordionist will be front and center at the ninth annual Chamber Music Festival in Eilat, where he will perform on February 27, together with compatriot cellist Francois Salque.
The concert goes by the name of “Just About Midnight,” which may refer to the fact that the shows starts at 11 p.m. , or to the jazz standard “Round Midnight.” Either way, the audience will get plenty to feed off, and the two Frenchmen will present just about as wide-ranging a lineup of works that you could ever hope to find in a single program.
The Just about Midnight roster features creations by 20th-century Swiss-born American composer Ernest Bloch, 19th-century Jewish Bohemian cellist and composer David Popper and Argentinean nuevo tango pioneer Astor Piazzolla, along with some lively jazz numbers and gypsy music.
It appears that Peirani and 63-yearold compatriot accordionist Richard Galliano are doing their best to give the instrument a good name in as many musical market sectors as possible. As far as Peirani is concerned, he has carte blanche to delve into whatever area of musical pursuit he deems fit. “Everything is new for the accordion,” he notes. “For so many years it was played just for folk music and maybe in big bands, but now we can do anything we want with the accordion. For me the accordion is like a small orchestra. You can play jazz, klezmer, classical music on it. I also play music from Mali on it. There are really no limits.”
THESE DAYS Peirani thrills people all over the world with his mastery of his squeezebox, but if he’d had his way as a kid, he’d be playing something else entirely. “My father told me to play the accordion but, 20 years ago, it was an instrument for really old people. My father played all kinds of instruments himself, and one day I went to him and told him I wanted to play the drums. And he said no way, and that I would play the accordion. My father was a very big, strong man and when he said something you obeyed.”
So, willy-nilly, the youngster began to learn the accordion. “Every time my father put the accordion on my knee I started to cry, but I played it,” recalls Peirani. A year or so later, he thought salvation was at hand when Peirani Sr. congratulated his son for the progress he had made on the accordion, and told him it was time to add a second instrument. “I was so happy and I told him I wanted to play drums, but he said the second instrument would be a clarinet,” says Peirani. “The saxophone would have been a sexier wind instrument to play, but I am a good soldier and I follow orders.”
Peirani’s efforts on the accordion soon received a paternal push in a beneficial direction. “One day I heard some classical music, I think it was Bach or Mendelssohn, and I really liked it. My father was a really smart guy, and he said: ‘You know you can play this music on accordion.’ Then he took me to a classical music teacher who also told me I could play any classical composition on accordion.”
That set the classical ball well and truly rolling for Peirani. “I really fell in love with the instrument then,” he says. “It’s really magic.”
Peirani’s interest in jazz was sparked by a dramatic and potentially lethal episode in his young life. “When I was 16 I became really sick with cancer, and I had to stop playing for two years,” he explains. “While I was in hospital someone came to visit me and he brought me two jazz records, one by a French fusion band and one by [iconic pianist] Bill Evans. That really blew my mind.”
IT REALLY shook up Peirani’s musical perceptions, and was like nothing he had ever heard before. “I called my friend and told him how amazed I was about the pianist, and I asked him what it was, and he said: ‘What do you mean? It’s Bill Evans.’ And I said: ‘Bo, what is this music? It’s not rock or pop, what is it?’ He thought I was kidding, but he eventually told me it was jazz. That’s when I fell in love with jazz. I thought that if I get better, I’ll play jazz.”
Thankfully cancer is now well and truly behind Peirani, and he began getting seriously into jazz by enrolling at the Conservatory of Music and Dance in Paris, soon getting into the lively Parisian jazz scene.
But Peirani is clearly not someone who makes do with “just” classical music or “just” jazz – or “just” anything. “I am always looking for new stuff – you know, hip hop, ethnic music and that sort of thing,” he says. “I don’t sleep much and I am always looking for new kinds of music on the Internet. I am into Andalusian music and Arabic and Gnawa [Islamic spiritual music from North and West Africa]. I have performed in Morocco.”
Commercial Western music is also a source of inspiration for Peirani. “I play stuff by Deep Purple and Rage Against the Machine. You know, it is amazing that in rock you can play so much music with only four chords.
That is so inspiring. My motto today is less is more. All you have to do is play the right note at the right time.”
Sounds simple enough.
For more information about the Eilat Chamber music Festival: www.eilatfest.