When one hears, “accordion,” classical is probably not the genre of music that comes to mind. But when classical accordionist Hanzhi Wang takes the stage of The Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall tomorrow for a UCSB Arts & Lectures performance, she will aim to make her first ever Santa Barbara audience leave the show with a new impression of the instrument.
Originally from China and currently based in Copenhagen, Denmark, Ms. Wang started playing accordion at the age of five. Though she grew up in a very musical family, for the first few years of her life neither she nor anyone else in her family had ever seen or heard an accordion. When she was a little girl, that changed one day when her family was watching a movie that featured someone playing the instrument, and Ms. Wang was immediately enamored with the sound it produced. Her parents wasted no time getting her started on learning it.
According to the Arts & Lectures program, Ms. Wang received her bachelor’s degree at the China Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing before receiving a masters degree from the Royal Danish Academy of Music, where she now works as an assistant teacher. In 2017, she won first place in the international auditions for music nonprofit Young Concert Artists and opened its 2018-19 season with a performance in Zankel Hall, located in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. She continues to perform through Young Concert Artists to this day.
Classical accordionists like Ms. Wang are a relatively rare breed. While speaking to the News-Press, she remarked that the instrument’s public exposure in her chosen musical genre has been limited because higher education music programs for accordion aren’t very common. To open her Santa Barbara debut, Ms. Wang will perform “Chaconne from Parita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004” by Johann Sebastian Bach. This is a well-known piece that she described as a good choice for introducing the audience to the idea of classical music played on accordion. This will then be followed by three sonatas by Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti and selections of “Pieces de Clavecin” by French composer Jean-Philippe Remeau.
Following an intermission, Ms. Wang will open the concert’s second half with its most contemporary selection, Alfred Schnittke’s “Revis Fairy Tale.” As it is one of the pieces that Young Concert Artists just recently added to the repertoire for its current season, the accordionist said it is a piece that she hasn’t played very often. As she lives in the Nordic country of Denmark, Ms. Wang wanted to dedicate a section of the show to the music of Scandinavia. This will be represented by the closing piece, selections from Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite, Op. 40.” The accordionist described the piece as “cheerful” and one that will especially appeal to “music lovers” who know a lot about orchestral music.
By hearing these works translated through the sound of her instrument, Ms. Wang hopes her audience has an “eye-opening experience” and discovers that the accordion isn’t limited to the genres in which it is ordinarily used.
“I know the accordion in the States might be considered as pop music or country music… Playing the classical repertoire in a different way, I really hope that it’s going to be a different experience for them,” she said.
Tickets for Hanzhi Wang’s performance cost $25 can be purchased online at www.artsandlectures.ucsb.edu. The concert begins at 4 p.m. at Hahn Hall, located on the campus of the Music Academy of the West at 1070 Fairway Rd.