NYCJR Profile/Interview


by mike cobb
Guy Klucevsek was born in New York City and raised in Pennsylvania. At six, he convinced his father to buy him an accordion after seeing Dick Contino playing one on TV. He went on to pursue music composition with Robert Bernat at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Morton Subotnick at the University of Pittsburgh and California Institute of the Arts. Klucevsek is on the New England Conservatory of Music faculty and recipient of a 2010 United States Artists Collins Fellowship.
After spending 1972-76 in the Philadelphia area, where he began a decades-long musical relationship with the contemporary music ensemble Relâche, Klucevsek returned to New York City, where he has lived ever since. Over the last 50 years, he has created an extensive body of music for solo accordion, chamber ensembles, bands, modern dance, theater and film.
He has performed his music internationally as a soloist; in duos with Alan Bern (accordion/piano), Phillip Johnston (saxophone) and Todd Reynolds (violin); and with his group projects Accordion Tribe, Polka from the Fringe and The Bantam Orchestra.
Klucevsek has also appeared as a subject in the documentary films Accordion Tribe: Music Travels (Stefan Schwietert), Accordions Rising (Roberta Cantow) and Behind the Bellows (Steve Mobia).
“I’m not a jazz musician, but I’ve been used in jazz contexts with Bill Frisell, Dave Douglas and John Zorn. The biggest challenge is the left hand. In a standard accordion the buttons have preset chords and so chromatic movement is not so easy,” he says.
Selected works by Klucevsek will be performed this month for his 75th Birthday Celebration at Roulette. Due to health issues, Klucevsek no longer performs in public but will be in attendance. “I’ll just be sitting in the audience enjoying other people doing all the hard work for a change,” he says.
The pieces Klucevsek has chosen represent
40-plus years of his composing, from “Oscillation No. 2 for piano “(1980) through “The Grass, It Is Blue (Ain’t Nothin’ But a Polka)” (1986), “Flying Vegetables of the Apocalypse” (1988), “Eleven Large Lobsters Loose in the Lobby” (1991) and “Bar Talk” (1998), up to pieces from the 21st Century, including seven world premieres. He is proud to hand over the performances in this program of solos, duets and quartets to a distinguished cast of musicians he has worked with over many years: Reynolds, pianist Jenny Lin and the Bachtopus Accordion Ensemble (Robert Duncan, Peter Flint, Mayumi Miyaoka, Jeanne Velonis) and accordion players Bern, Will Holshouser and Nathan Koci.
Klucevsek stopped touring years ago but has been productively working from home, which allowed him to adapt seamlessly to the pandemic. In March 2020, Klucevsek published Vignettes: Short Pieces for Accordion, scores he wrote between 1988–2019, along with photos, drawings and posters from his life as a performer and digital recordings of all the pieces.
About these works he says, “These are all solo pieces. Each player would record them on their own in different ways. They did what they could. My pieces had been on albums but never published in sheet music form. I wanted to include some that had never been recorded, which I did right from my living room with the help of a friend and very talented sound engineer named Jeanne Velonis. It was largely musicians doing this as a favor to me, so it was like a great community project. It came out on Mar. 10th, 2020, almost exactly when the pandemic hit. It seemed like terrible timing, but it actually reached a lot of people. I was happy that it filled a void, though I wish it happened under better circumstances.”
Klucevsek had also been recording videos from his home prior to the pandemic, a project he continued throughout these challenging years. “When I retired
I wanted to stay connected to music and my audience. I decided video was the best way. My friend Ray Foley is a brilliant director, producer and camera person. Before the pandemic, I proposed recording some pieces and we did that in my living room. It took a while to edit, but then he put them out and we were very pleased. Each video is dedicated to one piece of mine. They’re pretty short, averaging about three minutes. Ray does very creative things with the camera, though it is all a recording of the performance. We used different props and setup depending on what the piece suggested to Ray. There are 12, which are available on YouTube. The health issues I’m dealing with make it difficult for me to get into a studio, but I can still create and record. It was great to be able to perform for the public,” he says.
Other recent projects include a collaboration with Lin for a collection of 33 miniatures by Georgian composer Giya Kancheli. “Kancheli was known for his large-scale works, oratorios and symphonies. He encouraged interpretation and improvisation, which is what drew me in. The pieces are very short, one to four pages. They’ve been done as duos and various interpretations over the years. Jenny proposed that
I explore them as accordion solos and as duos with her. I picked out six and made my own versions of them,” he says. “For the duos, we spoke over the phone. She’d play piano and I’d come up with a counterpoint,
a harmonic line or sometimes alternate voices. It all had to be done virtually because of the pandemic. We never got to rehearse anything. Jenny has a recording studio and did all her solos and parts for piano there and sent me the piano parts for the duos. I rehearsed with them and then the record label hired a producer who did it by Zoom from the Carolinas. The engineer was in my basement, the mics in my living room and
I was listening to Jenny in my headphones. It was a true pandemic project and turned out beautifully. Jenny’s time is fantastic, so I had no problem playing in sync with her. The editor and producer did a great job mixing the two parts. People say it sounds like we’re playing in the same space. I still have not met Jenny by the way;
I hope we can sometime soon. I loved doing it and am very pleased with the way it turned out,” he says.
Looking back over a long career, Klucevsek says, “It was great touring with Dave Douglas and performing for his score with the Trisha Brown Dance Company. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, I wrote a lot of scores for dance companies. I loved collaborating with people from other mediums such as theater, dance and documentary films. I loved that the concepts came from outside me. I loved the limits of it sometimes, e.g. choreographers who’d ask for something short and energetic.”
Other career highlights included working with John Williams to score films by Steven Spielberg including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Terminal and The Adventures of Tintin. “Watching Williams work as a conductor was a beautiful experience. He put everything on himself and never put anybody down. Spielberg was at every session. He’d walk over and speak to Williams quietly.
Spielberg knew the timing of the editing and the mood he wanted. It was a workshop on how to be a collaborator. You never show another person up and you always treat the other person with respect and love. It taught me a lot.”
One of the most meaningful moments came when Klucevsek was a guest on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1988. “I’d written an article for Keyboard Magazine about regional accordion styles. Fred Rogers read it and I was contacted to appear on the show. I did an original piece called ‘Scenes From A Mirage’. It was beautiful. He asked me, ‘What might you play if you’re happy? What might you play if you’re sad?’ Since I was originally inspired to play accordion from watching TV, it practically brought me to tears knowing that I could inspire others by playing on TV,” he says. v
For more information, visit Klucevsek’s 75th Birthday Celebration is at Roulette May 14th. See Calendar.
Recommended Listening:
• Guy Klucevsek–Manhattan Cascade
(Composers Recordings, 1986-7/1991)
• Bill Frisell–Have A Little Faith
(Elektra Nonesuch, 1992)
• Dave Douglas–Charms of the Night Sky
(Winter & Winter, 1997)
• Accordion Tribe–Sea of Reeds (Intuition, 2001)
• Guy Klucevsek–Dancing on the Volcano
(Tzadik, 2008)
• Jenny Lin/Guy Klucevsek–Giya Kancheli: Simple
Music (Steinway & Sons, 2020)

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Susan Gibson
Susan Gibson
1 year ago

Great article Guy! I can’t wait to attend your concert in a week and a half!