by Murl Allen Sanders
In July 2022 I was happy and honored to attend, teach and perform at the ATG Festival in Lisle, Illinois outside of Chicago. It was an action-packed event and can only be described as a smashing success and a wonderful musical celebration.
DAY ONE, July 20
I attended a wonderful workshop by Betty Jo Simon about enhancing one’s playing from a lead sheet and how to create bass lines appropriate to the piece. Betty Jo is a master accordionist and her presentation was full of great tips, excellent demonstrations and satisfied all in attendance.
Betty Jo was a tough act to follow, but next I gave my presentation focusing on successful ensemble playing. I can only report that I had a good time and it seems that other folks might have enjoyed it, too.
Next was a performance by Mary Ann Covone’s Chicagoland Ensemble. Mary Ann conducted a motivated group of 18 players including some seasoned professionals, some beginners and some excellent, more experienced student musicians. The program was very well-received and enjoyable mix of popular song arrangements and lighter classical fare, some pieces expertly arranged by ATG founder, Anthony Galla-Rini. I was asked to conduct the ensemble for one of my own compositions, “Too Nice For Words”.
The day ended with a lively raucous “Meet and Greet” reception with music provided by Gordon Kohl and an enjoyable impromptu jam session with Gordon, myself, Michael Bridge and drummer extraordinaire, Alejandro Salazar.
DAY TWO, July 21.
I was only present for the evening concert which started with a superb performance by Joan C. Sommers’ UMKC Ensemble, nine expert accordionists. Their program featured compositions by Stas Venglevski and Astor Piazzolla among others. Joan consistently chooses excellent arrangements and inspires her musicians to give their best spirited performance. It is no wonder that Joan is known internationally in the accordion world and in demand for her exceptional conducting skill and superior musicianship, a true maestro.
Next up was Italian accordion powerhouse Mirco Patarini with a virtuosic display of light classics and and eclectic modern pieces. Mirco is known world-wide for his work in the accordion world of manufacturing, accordion competitions and numerous accordion organizations.
After intermission, we were treated to another virtuosic performance by the young accordionist, Nikolay Bine playing his own arrangements of Richard Galliano and Ludovic Beier. The audience was duly delighted and impressed by his skill and called him back for an encore.
The evening finished with a performance by yours truly accompanied by Alejandro Salazar on drums and Leo Buczkowski on bass, two excellent energetic young Chicago musicians who learned my material on very short notice with just one rehearsal! It was an honor to play with them and to play for the ATG event. I’m thankful to the ATG for including me. To top it all off, I had a great time performing and the audience provided me with some fine reciprocal energy.
DAY THREE, July 22.
Mirco Patarini started the day with a very interesting workshop “The Future of the Accordion World”. His presentation prompted a number of very good questions from the attendees and a lot of intriguing information and informed opinions by Mr. Patarini.
Friday evening’s concert was given over entirely to ATG board member and young, hard working Canadian virtuoso accordionist, Michael Bridge. His program featured expert performances of classical and modern classical selections and a few popular selections. Michael showed off his ability and range on both acoustic and digital electronic accordion to an enthusiastic audience.
DAY FOUR, July 23.
The festival culminated with two stunning performances. First, a marvelous performance by the ATG Festival Orchestra in the beautiful Amerding Concert Hall at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Eighty accordionists gathered onstage under the masterful baton of Joan C. Sommers. The sound of the ensemble in that hall was absolutely thrilling! Thousands of accordion reeds filled the hall with glorious vibrations and the effect on the audience was mesmerizing. It was a rare and powerful experience for everyone in the hall.
The final performance of the evening was by one of the best accordionists in the world today, the incomparable virtuoso, Stas Venglevski. Stas played a short program of beautiful solo pieces, mostly his own compositions. He delighted the audience with his humor and charm and soulful playing and surprised everyone by singing during one piece! (Something he swore he’d not done in a concert before)
The stage was reset to accommodate the Racine, WI Symphony orchestra conducted by Dr. William Morse for the final piece of the evening: Anthony Galla-Rini’s Concerto No. 2 in e minor for Accordion and Orchestra. Stas’ playing of the piece was nothing less than brilliant and the orchestra rose to the occasion with great skill, feeling and aplomb. A standing ovation followed and Stas was called back to play a lovely lullaby as an encore. It was a sweet dream.
It must be said that Mary Ann Covone, the ATG Executive Board and everyone involved with the planning and execution of this Festival provided us all with an extraordinary experience not to be forgotten. The choice of Wheaton College for the performances was a stroke of brilliance that invigorated and inspired the players and audience alike. Congratulations and thanks to all for putting together the best ATG Festival ever!