Forget what you know about accordion music – this isn’t your grandmother’s polka.
Hundreds of the best accordion players in North America descend on Victoria this week for competitions and concerts, led by the city’s own Jelena Milojevic, Canada’s foremost classical accordionist.
Growing bigger and better, this fifth Victoria Accordion Festival has expanded its competition prize purse to accordion orchestras for the first time, drawing three teams from Alberta.
“We should have 70 or 80 people in the competition alone. We are expecting hundreds of musicians,” says festival director Aleksandar Milojevic, husband of Jelena.
“Every year people say the festival is spectacular and this will be the biggest festival in Canada soon. But we are still growing, still experimenting and trying new things.”
One of the events will be a live-streamed, interactive workshop from an accordion master in France. This year, American accordion virtuoso Frank Marocco is sharing the stage with Jelena during Saturday’s concert at St. Andrew’s Church, and both will lead workshops.
“Frank Marocco is a living legend in accordion,” Jelena says. Adds Aleksandar: “Any accordion music from a Hollywood movie is (Marocco’s) recording. He is the most recorded accordion player in the world.”
The Milojevics are the driving force behind the small, but growing renaissance of accordion music in Greater Victoria. Beyond organizing the festival, they have established a two-year accordion program at Camosun College, the only location outside Toronto a musician can earn a post-secondary certficate in the accordion discipline.
“It’s growing, but it’s not that easy to start. Our goal is teaching the next generation,” Aleksandar says. “Our idea is to promote classical accordion as much as we can. We do classical, jazz and tango, not just old polka music.”
Jelena is teaching two students at Camosun and a handful more privately, occasionally at a distance using online tools such as Skype. Over the next three months she’ll be performing 50 concerts across Canada and then will perform in Japan using a Roland digital accordion.
“It’s quite intense with teaching 20 students and Camosun students,” Jelena says. “But accordion is growing. People are playing at a higher level in Canada.”
Jelena is known for her passionate and striking performances of classical accordion and has helped boost Canada’s profile. Last year she placed third at the accordion Coupe Mondiale (world cup) in Rome, the best showing ever for a Canadian. At 29, the native of Croatia is energizing a new generation of fans.
“Younger performers definitely attract younger people. They come in with fresh ideas and enjoy exploring new things. They push the limits.”
“Younger people are getting interested in accordion,” Aleksandar says. “Grandparents are bringing kids to concerts, and they see it’s cool, that it’s not only polka.”
The Milojevics are setting the stage for Victoria to host the Coupe Mondiale in 2013, coined as the Olympics of accordion performance. It would be the largest accordion event ever held in Canada.
Aleksandar, who is on the jury for the 2011 Coupe Mondiale in Shanghai, China, is lobbying the International Accordion Federation hard for the 2013 slot.
“I should know by the end of July,” he says. “I’ve got to convince a few more people. But everything is in our favour. We are so close.”
• Victoria Accordion Festival runs July 14 to 17.
• The concert of orchestras happens July 14, 7:30 p.m. at Alix Goolden Hall.
• Frank Marocco and Jelena Milojevic perform July 16 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Church.
• For a list of workshops, competitions and events, visit www.bcaccordion.ca.