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Paul Chamberlain’s free concert will put the accordion in a whole new light

Paul Chamberlain, one of few classical accordionists in the UK, is to give a free concert in Newcastle as David Whetstone finds out

Classical accordionist Paul Chamberlain who is coming to perform in Newcastle

Curiosity alone might drive music lovers to Paul Chamberlain’s lunchtime concert in Newcastle.

While classical pianists, violinists and flute players abound, you would normally have to travel a long way to hear a virtuoso classical accordion player.

The Edinburgh-based musician doesn’t deny that he’s one of a very select group in Britain where the accordion is more readily associated with folk than classical music.

In other countries, apparently, this isn’t the case – and it’s certainly not in Russia.

“I started playing accordion when I was about 11 and originally I was playing traditional Scottish music,” says Paul.

“Both my parents were classical violinists so I was brought up in a musical family. But the accordion was something I always liked the sound of.

“I played for a number of years and then I went to Russia to play at a festival over there and that was when I first came across the classical accordion.

“I was in St Petersburg. The accordion, I found, is a much more mainstream instrument out there.”

That was in 1998. Paul, now 32, recalls that he came back determined to study classical accordion... only to find that there was nowhere in Britain to do so.

“I got sidetracked into banking for a while, working for HSBC, before deciding I really wanted to give the music a go.”

In 2007 he got a place at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow where the piano department had been renamed the keyboard department to allow for the tentative introduction of the accordion.

“I was very lucky to study with a teacher from Serbia, Djordje Gajic, who studied in Moscow where he met his wife, a Scottish violinist,” says Paul.

The couple are now back in Scotland where Gajic is tutoring a small number of music students in the art of classical accordion.

Paul was one of the first to graduate (with first class honours) from the conservatoire in this discipline and received the coveted governors’ recital prize for keyboard.

He accepts he is something of a pioneer.

“A lot of people don’t know what to expect when they come to one of my concerts but generally I get a very good response,” he says.

“I think most people do expect to hear folk tunes but there is quite a wide range of repertoire for the accordion.

“There’s a big body of original music, some of which is great, although some of it is quite avant garde and not the sort of thing you would play in a mainstream concert.”

He says one of the pieces he enjoys playing is Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor because the accordion and the organ function similarly.

His first album, Classical Accordion, came out in 2011.

The Bach piece featured as did Toccata by Khachaturian. It got a lot of radio airtime in Scotland but, says Paul: “I did everything myself and perhaps didn’t push it as hard as I could have done.”

It seems that interest in Paul’s music is growing.

Last year he did a six-date concert tour of the UK and then went to perform in California where he found receptive audiences. He has been back to Russia five times and has performed in Italy, Greece and Bahrain.

He has also helped to organise a classical accordion summer school at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland where there are four students following in his footsteps.

The second album, Accordion Sensations, comes out this month to coincide with a bigger UK tour.

It features music spanning the centuries from composers including Scarlatti, Carl Maria von Weber, the Russian Vladislav Zolotaryov and the Argentinian Astor Piazzolla.

Those who buy it will get the chance to put to the test Paul’s assertion that the accordion, a synthesis of keyboard and wind instrument, is a very expressive instrument capable of sustained sounds and a wonderful variety of timbres.

He has composed a little himself himself but says he has never found the time to give it a serious go.

He is spurred, however, by memories of his grandfather, Ronald Chamberlain, who was a respected music examiner.

On long voyages to examine pupils in Australia or America, says Paul, his grandfather would while away his time by composing to a good standard.

In Newcastle Paul will perform with Michael Haywood, a multi-instrumentalist who graduated from the folk and traditional music degree course at Newcastle University.

Their free concert is at the Lit & Phil, Westgate Road, Newcastle, on July 18 at 1.10pm.

You can reserve a place via www.litandphil.org.uk or tel. 0191 232 0192.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer