Stas Venglevski is an accordionist, teacher, entertainer, and arranger who is renowned regionally and even internationally for his expertise with the Bayan accordion. Originally from Moldova, he was educated at the Russian Academy of Music in Moscow and immigrated to the US in 1992. He plays original compositions in addition to a broad range of classical and contemporary ethnic music. Earlier this year he released a CD titled “Rhapsody.”
ME: To start, how did you get involved with Wisconsin Music Ventures?
STAS: Well, I know Allison Emm very well; she used to work at Casio Interstate Music and I was teaching there for many years. We became friends from seeing each other every day at work, but then she got another job and I hadn’t seen her for a good amount of years. Two years ago she came to see me play at a gallery and we were so happy to see each other, and she told me all about this Wisconsin Music Ventures. Right away we started collaborating and she invited me to join the group, which I was happy to do. She promotes artists so well and I was very pleased with how this works. She got me some gigs and I became a member, right around when COVID began.
ME: Awesome, right on. She’s really good at doing that, isn’t she?
STAS: Yeah, it’s incredible. For us artists it’s a treasure.
ME: No kidding!
ME: So, I saw that you released a CD earlier this year, “Rhapsody.” I’d love to hear more about that – why did you want to put this thing out?
STAS: On this CD there’s two of my original compositions, which are large ones – not short pieces. One of them is “Full Moon Suite” in four movements; it’s extremely difficult and I wrote it for a well-known accordionist – she’s a professor from Kansas City and she’s retired now – Joan Cochran Summers. I dedicated it to her and I premiered it at the World of Accordions Museum in Superior. And before that I did another – “Poetic Rhapsody.” So those two pieces I wanted to put on CD for a few years and I decided to record it. In addition to that, on that CD I have another composition – “12 Bulgarian Dances” by a composer from Bulgaria – which I recorded in Switzerland like five years ago. It was with pan flute, which was a very unique project while I was on the road; I was introduced to this girl who plays pan flute and she joined me for a show, and her pieces were so good that I had to ask where what she was playing was from. She told me it was from a suite called “12 Bulgarian Dances” and I told her I wanted to record all twelve before I go back home. We rented a studio and I recorded it, and so it’s been on my shelf for many years. While I was working on “Rhapsody” I was thinking what else I could put on it, and I had that one.
ME: That’s awesome that you were able to put new compositions with something you had on the shelf, like you said, and put it all into something cohesive.
ME: So how heavy is the accordion, typically?
STAS: There’s different kinds of accordions. There’s button boxes, which are smaller than concertinas. There’s piano accordions, there’s Irish button boxes…there’s so many – probably of all instruments you have more variety of accordions than any others. The accordion I play is a Bayan; it’s a concert accordion and it’s about 29 pounds. I have another one which is about 20 pounds; it’s a smaller French one.
ME: I was always curious about that since it looks like a lot to hold up.
STAS: Yeah, I never struggled with that. You just have to put it in your lap.
ME: I guess when you’re so used to it you don’t even think about it.
STAS: Yeah. I wish it would be lighter. They’ve tried to come up with lighter accordions but nothing works really. It has to be a decent size for the sound. A regular accordion is 35 pounds but they custom-made mine, reducing just a little bit of size. It’s a perfect size for me and I’m very happy with it.
ME: Awesome! Tell me about the World of Accordions Museum.
STAS: This is a very unique place. For people that have never been there, I always encourage it if you’re ever in Superior. They have over 1500 accordions and you can see the whole history of them. The woman who is director of this place, her name is Helmi Harrington. I’ve been invited to be play there for many years and now I go there practically every year to perform. Now I’m artistic director for the museum; they invited me to collaborate with them and be on the board. It’s a perfect place for an accordion player to do world premieres, and those two pieces I mentioned before I premiered there. There’s a beautiful stage with about a thousand seats. When COVID hit it became all live streams.
ME: Very cool! Well if I’m ever in that area I’ll definitely check it out.
STAS: By the way, speaking of museums, my next performance there will be on January 23rd. I’m sure they’ll stream it, and I’ll be doing several world premieres of not my own compositions but it will be a very interesting program.
ME: Hopefully it won’t be in the middle of a polar vortex.
STAS: Yeah, well, nothing scares me with weather, being from Russia (laughs).
ME: Yeah, that’s a very good point.
ME: My last question for you is, what are you working on now? What do you have coming up in the next few months?
STAS: So I have a few local performances, at UW-Parkside on September 12th, then my big performance is coming up on October 17th where I’ll be playing with Jefferson Symphony Orchestra in Golden, Colorado; I’ll be playing concerto written for accordion with the orchestra. It’s a big piece so that’s my focus for now. For the same concerto I’ll be playing in April in Nuremberg, Germany. Besides this, as I said in January I’ll have some new works to premiere at the museum, plus I’ll be playing a concert at UW-Superior while I’m in town. Then I’ll be conducting accordion camp in Houston, which we do once a year; we stay in a hotel for a few days and then do a big concert. There’s a bunch of stuff coming up…I can’t complain.
ME: You’re gonna be on a plane a lot (laughs).
STAS: Yes, trip to Cleveland in November too. Another local one is in Sheboygan; I’ll be playing a Christmas show December 4th with a wonderful singer who is also part of Wisconsin Music Ventures, Carmen Nickerson.
ME: That will be exciting!