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Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009

Venglevski and Lips: Accordion Maestros

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As the Soviet Union dissolved and the Iron Curtain crumbled, many decided to leave their various homelands to seek opportunities elsewhere. Some came to Milwaukee, including a few musicians. One of them, Moldovan accordionist Stas Venglevski, probably had no idea that his new home was once the accordion capital of America.

“I just loved the sound,” Venglevski says of the instrument, on which his father played one tune—over and over. “I listened to lots of Beatles and ABBA,” he continues, but rock was not going to be his direction. His dad’s best friend was an accordion teacher, and the naturally gifted boy from a small town in Moldova was on his way to a first-rate classical music education that would lead to one of Moscow’s best conservatories.

This weekend Venglevski will reunite with his beloved teacher, Friedrich Lips, a professor at Moscow’s Gnessin Institute. Lips is a looming figure among accordionists, respected in classical music circles, an accompanist of Yo-Yo Ma who has played in concert halls around the world. Lips and Venglevski will perform a pair of concerts at Mount Mary College and UW-Milwaukee.

Venglevski has lived here since 1992 when his wife, a classical musician, received an opportunity through UWM’s Fine Arts Quartet to come to Milwaukee. “It was tough to get started,” Venglevski recalls of his first year or so in town. “No one knew me and not many people knew what an accordion could do—it had a certain image.” But he was given a chance to play Sunday concerts in the Joyce Parker series, which led him to the growing Milwaukee Accordion Club, a regular gig during the ’90s at the Uptowner and—not surprisingly—the opportunity to play Polish Fest.

In recent years Venglevski has explored the range of accordion music, performing “Flight of the Bumblebee” with the Milwaukee Symphony, playing with the Irish group Leahy’s Luck, accompanying Milwaukee’s favorite chanteuse Robin Pluer, gigging with Mrs. Fun and even exploring tango and jazz. He has recorded prolifically, written a body of original waltzes, polkas and other songs, and performed across North America and beyond on a circuit of accordion clubs and festivals.

“My music has definitely changed since I came here,” Venglevski says. “You grow up as a musician no matter where you are. My repertoire has expanded since coming to Milwaukee. I’ve met so many good musicians here. Milwaukee has been good to me. I’d never want to move.”

Stas Venglevski and Friedrich Lips perform 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at Mount Mary College’s Helfaer Hall and 3 p.m. Oct. 11 at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts Recital Hall as part of the Music From Almost Yesterday series.

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