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Vienna's Accordeon Festival kicks off

By Maddy French

When Friedl Preisl first told his good friend the musician Otto Lechner that they should organise an accordion festival Lechner just laughed and asked "are you crazy?". Nearly two decades later Lechner is playing at the 15th Internationales Akkordeon Festival organised by Preisl, a four week celebration of accordion music in all its forms. With over 50 concerts taking place, it's a busy and energetic event that over the years has helped to pull the accordion away from it's reputation as a noisy low culture instrument and appreciated for its versatility.

Last weekend was the opening weekend and before one of the evening concerts Austrian Times met with Preisl to find out more about the festival and ask him what's so special about the accordion?

"It's in my heart," Preisl says, gesturing to his chest. "It's universal in its use but it had a reputation as a low level instrument. I did not like this. The festival has helped to raise awareness of the accordion and I believe it has now become more acceptable in 'high culture'."

The programme for this year is themed 'neighbouring countries', with acts booked from every country that borders with Austria (with the exception of Lichtenstein, which apparently was a bit short on accordion players). Events range from workshop sessions to swing nights, with everything from jazz ensembles to 15 piece accordion bands in-between. There is even a musical story-telling afternoon called 'Magic Afternoon' and silent films on show at Film Casino, accompanied by live accordion music of course.

"Most other festivals focus on one genre," explains Preisl. "The broad spectrum is what makes the Viennese one special. There is no other festival for the accordion as long and as diverse as this one."

A taster of this broad spectrum was on show last night, the Sunday of the opening weekend, which saw an 11 piece band take the stage at Vienna's popular jazz club Porgy and Bess. Kitted out with two drummers, four brass players, two pianos, a speakerphone, and the accordion, Austrian band The GMH Orkestar treated the audience to an eclectic show of Balkan-esque folk music, jazz solos and a touch of the avant-garde.

The average age of the band seemed young, maybe around the early thirties. Interest from this generation is something that music writer Rainer Krispel, who helps Preisl organise the festival, thinks can help diversify the folk music genre. "There is a generation of older men, often from Latin America, who play in traditional ways," Krispel says. "The younger generation of accordion players have a fresh approach to folk music. Festivals like this give the chance to get unknown people in front of an audience."

The accordion itself is thought to have originated in Austria and is a popular instrument in folk music in Eastern Europe, two reasons why Vienna is an ideal location to host such a festival. "Vienna is multicultural and is a great place to host such a thing," Krispel says. "The attention people here pay to the music is remarkable. It's not like audiences at a rock concert. They're not talking, not drinking lots, they're really attentive."

Good engagement between audience and musicians is something that Preisl and his team value highly at the festival and is one of the reasons they don't want to let it get too big. "It's a festival for ten thousand people for one month. Keeping a good atmosphere between musicians and the audience is important," says Preisl.

Krispel agrees: "In some ways we don't want to become too organisational as it would lose something."

That is not to say some extra funding wouldn't come in handy. Public funds for the festival have been frozen since 2010. When asked what he would do if he had unlimited funds, Preisl smiled and said that Vienna would be set on fire by the cultural events he would put on.

For now Preisl is content with already being a very busy man. Not only does he run the Internationales Akkordeon Festival, every event of which he attends and works at, he also organises the KlezMORE festival as well as finding time to pilot new ideas such as a 24 hour music event.

With four weeks of accordion-based concerts available, there is likely to be one for everybody's taste. Visit www.akkordeonfestival.at to feast your eyes on the programme and find out how to buy tickets.

Austrian Times


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