Accordions take centre stage

Accordions take centre stage in Vienna until 22 March, when the International Accordion Festival is being held once again, bringing together exponents of the instrument from a wide range of genres in various venues throughout the city.

Musician Maria Kalaniemi sitting on a blue bench with an accordion next to her

As long as the accordion is involved, anything goes at the festival, with old and young, quiet and loud, newcomers and veterans and soloists and orchestras all featured. Speaking of orchestras, the Wiener Ziehharmonische Orchester, led by Otto Lechner and traditionally in charge of the closing gala performance, has now grown from 15 to 18 members – where will it end?

You might well ask the same question with reference to the entire festival. More than 50 events in 30 days are on the programme this year in the festival’s 16th edition – by way of comparison, it all began back in 2000 with just 12 events.

Spotlight on women

There is a particular focus this time on female accordionists, the conscious aim being to highlight the work of outstanding female musicians and their importance in the accordion scene. Examples include one of the world’s leading contemporary accordionists, Maria Kalaniemi from Finland (forming a duet with her long-term accompanist Timo Alakotila at the piano), Brazil’s Livia Mattos, the Austrian ensemble ‘Wende Punkt’ led by Wendi Gessner or the ‘Quetschenweiber’, an accordion band from Germany made up of 15 women.

Five ensembles from the series focusing on female accordionists also form a separate festival programme section, the ‘Vienna-Berlin Axis’, which sees five accordionists (and their bands) from the German capital visiting the Austrian capital to give concerts in tandem with other performers. The wonderful ‘?Shmaltz!’ is particularly to be recommended, especially for klezmer fans – they will be sharing the stage with the equally wonderful Geoff Berner from Canada.

Literary texts and sung four-liners

The rest of the programme is of the same standard, with the many highlights including a musical and literary ‘Winter’s Journey’ on which the audience is taken by the actor and director Karl Markovics, along with musicians Krzysztof Dobrek and Aliosha Biz, featuring 12 songs from Franz Schubert’s ‘Winterreise’ lieder cycle juxtaposed with texts by 12 authors, including Thomas Bernhard, Franz Kafka and Thomas Mann.

Don’t miss the evening of Gstanzln – witty four-liners sung in Austrian dialect – performed by ‘Die Goas’ (the famous ‘Attwenger’ duo unplugged), who will be delighting the audience with their (mostly) Upper Austrian stanzas. It obviously helps to be familiar with the dialect, something which is equally true of the second part of the evening, when Sebastian Daller & Bänd will be performing Bavarian Gstanzln.

Silent films at the Filmcasino cinema

The Sunday matinees are an indispensable part of the festival. They feature silent films, like the Buster Keaton classic Go West, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller The Lodger, Wizard of Oz or the comedy Western Wild and Woolly with Douglas Fairbanks, all accompanied by live music, which brings the films – some of which are almost 100 years old – right up to date.


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