Lacrymae – Ian Anderson / Duo Van Vliet (Orchid Classics)
Why did you decide to record this disc?
It’s safe to say that the combination of viola and accordion isn’t the most common or popular in the world. And in terms of repertoire, it is pretty limited. Rafał and I have been playing together since 2011, and we think the combination of viola and accordion has so much to offer audiences and composers, so we wanted to show people that our two much-maligned instruments are worth paying attention to. It’s also an incredibly flexible combination, so we wanted to present a range of music, from the very old to the very new.
This disc has been a long time coming. We began planning it about 4 years ago, but then the whole process of finding funding, then recording, then editing, then finding a label to release the album, then finding more funding to cover release costs, and then finally the actually release process… it all adds up to take a very long time! We are incredibly grateful to Help Musicians UK (who funded our recording), Creative Scotland (who funded our release), and to Orchid Classics (who risked their reputation by releasing it).
It was obviously an important project for you – what made it so special?
The most special thing about it was starting with a blank slate and being able to decide exactly what angle we were going to go for, and which composers we were going to choose to programme. The viola/accordion combination has almost no history behind it, compared to, for example, the string quartet. This is limiting in one way as there is far less repertoire to choose from, but it is also immensely liberating: there are no traditions or expectations, so we could programme exactly what we wanted to, without people saying ‘well you should have started with a Haydn quartet to prove you can actually play together’, or whatever. As a result we made arrangements of Dowland songs, adapted Britten’s Lachrymae, and even programmed two solo pieces to introduce us as individual players within our duo. We felt absolutely no constraints other than what it takes to make a cohesive, convincing programme.
Recording and live performance are quite different experiences. How would you describe the differences between performing this work live and recording it?
I found recording quite challenging, in the sense that I found it quite hard to just let go and perform. I was constantly worried about making mistakes or my chair squeaking – things that really don’t matter in live performance. We recorded with close-up microphones to capture as many details as possible, but this had the effect of capturing every slight blemish or imperfection. Quite a lot of pressure which can distract you from the main purpose of just making music! After a while I got used to it, but you’re right – it is such a different experience from live performance. But I love the outcome of recording: having this document of where our duo was and how we sounded at a specific point in our lives. Although, having said that, there are some parts of the album which I already can’t listen to as I would play them so differently now and I don’t particularly like what I’ve done!
Do you have any other recordings planned?
We currently have 2 more albums planned. As we are a UK/Polish duo, we would like to make an album of British commissions, and an album of Polish commissions, which could be released as a double album or as 2 individual albums. We already have several of these commission written and performed, such as by Andrew Thomas (UK) and Marta Śniady (Poland), but we need to raise a lot more money to fund the other commissions. It is striking the difference between Polish contemporary music and British contemporary music, and these 2 albums will demonstrate that difference pretty starkly. I’m sure the history and the psychology of the two nations plays a big role in this difference and it will make fascinating research, playing and (we hope) listening.
What is the recording that you would most like to make? The dream disc…
A favourite composer of both of us is Sofia Gubaidulina, so it would be incredible to commission her to write for us, although sadly that is highly unlikely considering her age and how in-demand she is. We left it too late to attempt to commission Sir Peter Maxwell Davis, but we didn’t even ask him, which is probably the most galling part. We didn’t even try. My old viola teacher Jim Sleigh once told me that he regularly kicks himself for never crossing the channel to Paris to go to the Church of the Sainte-Trinité, where Olivier Messiaen was organist for over six decades. One of the world’s great composers was there every week, improvising at the organ, and he never thought to go and listen. That is a lesson we should follow.
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