Who or what inspired you to take up the accordion, and make it your career?
After beginning piano lessons at the age of eight, my initial interest in the accordion came from hearing Scottish traditional music and one day I just walked past the local music shop and decided that I would like to begin learning the accordion. A few years later I attended a concert given by the Russian accordionist Oleg Sharov who is professor of accordion at the Rimsky Korsakov Conservatoire in St. Petersburg. A whole new world of possibilities was opened to me as I realised that the accordion could also be a serious classical instrument.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My father was a professional violinist and so I was immersed in classical music whilst growing up – his well honed performance skills and immense knowledge of repertoire, both orchestral and solo motivated me to focus on music as a career. I was very lucky to study with the Serbian teacher Dr Djordje Gajic, one of the most accomplished and inspirational performers I have met.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The classical accordion is still a very unfamiliar concept to many people, who tend to think of the accordion as purely a folk instrument. I have worked hard to promote it’s diverse repertoire and bring it onto the concert platform as an equal with other instruments.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
As an undergraduate at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I gave a recital which won me the Governors Recital Prize for Keyboard – a competition which was completely dominated by pianists, and this helped to raise the profile of the accordion within the Conservatoire.
In February 2012 I performed what I believe was the first solo accordion recital in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, as part of the Manchester Mid-Day Concert Series which was a great privilege.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
The Bridgewater Hall would have to be one of my favourite venues due to its wonderful acoustics which allow the sound of the instrument to fill the hall, but maintain pure clarity of tone. I have also greatly enjoyed performing in the beautiful setting of cathedrals such as Peterborough, Ripon and San Francisco.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I enjoy performing baroque works such as Bach and Scarlatti as they transcribe very nicely onto the free-bass accordion. ‘Romance’ by Franck Angelis is a contemporary work which allows the listener to descend into pure tranquility and is another of my favourite pieces to perform.
I listen to a wide range of music and have become fascinated with Tango – Astor Piazzolla took the genre from the dance halls to the concert stage and I am a founder member of the Scottish Tango Ensemble. Listening to the music being performed live by the Tango Orchestras on a visit to Buenos Aires in 2010 was an amazing experience.
Who are your favourite musicians?
There are so many to choose from, but I admire the playing of Alexander Skylarov and Mika Varynen and I very much enjoy listening to the recordings of Horowitz as his musical mastery shines through.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
This would have to be attending a concert of the Halle Orchestra conducted by Sir Mark Elder in a performance of Berlioz’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ in Manchester. He brought it alive in a terrific way, conjuring up such vivid images with the music.
As a performer sometimes the more intimate venues can be some of the most rewarding, and when in California earlier this year I gave a concert in Santa Cruz public library. Almost all of the audience were completely new to the concept of classical music being played on the accordion and had no idea what to expect. I began with Bach’s famous Toccata & Fugue in D Minor, and they were completely engrossed. A huge number of the audience came to speak to me afterwards and were astounded by the repertoire and possibilities of the instrument and it was humbling to hear their kind comments.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Trying to understand what the composer is really trying to convey in his music so that we can interpret it, taking into account things such as their influences, religious beliefs, emotional state. Just as an actor would get into character, as musicians we must do the same in order to fully engage with music and convey its message to the audience. I believe that the use of mental imagery is a great tool as the associations it creates, help to shape the performance and project it to the audience.
Being focussed and efficient in practise is essential, as is an understanding of the business and promotional aspects of being a musician so that they come out of music college knowing how to actually find and make work for themselves.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on some repertoire for a new CD to be released in July, which will include full transcription of Weber’s ‘Concertstuk’ as well as Piazzolla’s ‘Grand Tango’ for violin and accordion.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My idea of perfect happiness is being able to balance professional and personal life so that my practise time and performance schedule allow me to spend quality time with my wife and young daughter.
Paul Chamberlain’s new album ‘Accordion Sensations’ is released on 1st July. Further information and soundclips here
Paul Chamberlain was one of the first classical accordionists to graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, where he studied with Djordje Gajic. He completed a BMus (Hons) degree and subsequently graduated from the conservatoire with a Master of Music Performance with Distinction.Whilst studying there he was awarded the acclaimed Governors Recital Prize for Keyboard, and was also one of the keyboard section finalists in the 2011 Royal Overseas League competition. Paul is a highly accomplished player with appearances at international music festivals such as Baltica Harmonica in St. Petersburg – Russia, Sata-Häme Soi Accordion festival in Ikaalinen – Finland, and the world famous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, held annually in Scotland. He has also performed in France, Italy, Greece, Bahrain and the USA. In February 2013 he undertook a very successful tour of concerts around the UK and California which included his Bridgewater Hall debut with a solo recital as part of the long established Manchester Mid-Days concert series.In 2011, Paul released his debut solo album entitled “Classical Accordion” featuring a mixture of transcriptions of works by J.S. Bach, Rameau, Moszkowski and Khachaturian, as well as original works by Alexander Nagayev and Franck Angelis.He has also performed with the Paragon Ensemble as part of their “Travelling Home” concert celebrating their thirtieth anniversary, with the Scottish Opera Connect orchestra, and is a founder member of the Scottish Tango Ensemble.Paul has been featured on BBC Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ programme with Sean Rafferty, performing live in the studio, BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Classics Unwrapped’ and California’s KDFC Classical Music Radio Station in San Francisco.