REVIEWS: Northwest Accordion Society News  

Murl Allen Sanders Concerto Premiere
by Marjorie Dick Rombauer

Murl’s appearance with Orchestra Seattle June 6, 2003 was a double thrill, since he not only appeared as a soloist but was also playing the world premiere of the accordion concerto he composed and orchestrated. The work was commissioned by George Shangrow and Orchestra Seattle, which Mr. Shangrow directs.

A brief bellow shake begins the first movement of the concerto, leading into the driving but haunting motif that becomes the dominant theme. Improvised against the orchestral background, it leads into other motifs, moving between pensive and passionate moods, with almost light-hearted melodic interludes. Short call-and-response chord passages with the brass are dramatic. The interplay with violins in this portion of the movement is particularly pleasing. An intricate accordion passage follows. Then the unadorned dominant theme returns, builds to a climax with violins and accordion, and fades away for the conclusion. The composer’s notes indicate that this movement is a Brazilian tango. As such, it reflects the emotion, tension and melancholy of other melodic and haunting tangos without the violence of the most passionate tangos.

The second, andante, movement begins with an extended sustained orchestral bass note, over which the orchestra then introduces the main theme at a very slow tempo, repeated by differing instrumental groupings. The accordion introduces a secondary theme, then picks up the main theme at a jazzier tempo and improvises with the orchestra, interspersed with triumphant repetitions of the theme by trumpets. The tempo slows and the accordion improvises pensively. The main theme reappears in the jazzier mood until the orchestra slows and ends the movement on the main theme as slowly as it began. Program notes indicate that the composer describes this slow movement as a ‘rock anthem’. The movement has anthem-like passages, and a rock-like bass is used during much of the movement, sometimes with a delightful pizzicato. Overall, it has an ‘open spaces’ mood — expansive as the Grand Canyon and open as the prairies.

The third movement is a tarantella, a lively molto allegro. The solo accordion leads the orchestra on a lively chase, with delightful, sometimes restrained, orchestral interludes. The finale is a series of cadenzas, executed with a flair — the more impressive because Murl performed while standing. Program notes report that George Shangrow has termed the finale ‘an Italian wedding turned ominous!’

Overall, the entire concerto is impressive. My appreciation has grown after several rehearings, and the haunting themes of the first and second movements seem to have lodged permanently in my head.

Murl’s part of the program concluded with an American Songbook Medley (music of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter), which Murl performed at the grand piano (also singing two numbers) and on the accordion.

Murl’s work on the concerto is quite remarkable. Although it was commissioned two years before the performance, he in fact completed the scoring and orchestration for it in four months, working from musical ideas he had recorded as they occurred to him in the preceding months. This, too, was his first attempt at orchestration. The total result leads to anticipation for his Accordion Concerto No.2. The accomplishments are all the more remarkable in light of his busy schedule. The ‘Solo Artists’ notes in the evening’s program recount his many activities: ‘His versatility has led him to be in demand as a freelance artist in numerous bands and studios work for MUZAK, TV and radio commercials as well as sideman work on many CD projects in the Pacific Northwest. Mr. Sanders also leads his own band, does solo work, composes, teaches, and arranges music, sings, plays piano, harmonica, Hammond B-3 and electronic keyboards.

Shirlee Holmes also attended the concert and was equally enthusiastic. She comments: ‘It was exciting to be able to attend the world premiere performance of Murl’s Accordion Concerto. Murl played magnificently as the accordion soloist, and his concerto was very well received by the traditional classical enthusiast audience. The orchestration was very impressive, displaying the rarely heard capabilities of the accordion as a classical solo instrument. Congratulations, Murl! Well done!

The concerto performance was recorded and has been aired at least twice on classical KING-FM. It will undoubtedly be aired again in the future. A CD of the performance will be available for sale eventually. Murl has other recordings, his latest being Can You Dance To It, featuring original tunes in a danceable mix of styles he calls ‘zyfusico’, including pop, zydeco, rock, country and blues influences.