Jonathan Dove – Accordion Concerto “Northern Lights” Review by Romano Viazzani


Jonathan Dove’s Concerto launches the accordion into space!

Jonathan Dove

Owen MurrayThe accordion has sometimes been accused of sounding “old-fashioned” and perhaps one might be forgiven for thinking the same when listening to an amateur busker playing a clapped-out, badly-tuned accordion on a windy day on the high street. It is rather fitting then that this most mechanically sophisticated instrument, which was only patented, albeit in a much more primitive form, in the 1820s and conversely, is therefore one of the most recent acoustic instruments to be invented, that Jonathan Dove chose to send it on a journey into space up amongst the Aurora Borealis – the phenomenon caused by the sun’s rays travelling through space and interacting with earth’s magnetic field over the Arctic Circle. The premieres of this concerto coincides with a BBC series Earth from Space which, on the 1st May, the day before the first premiere, showed film taken from a satellite showing the Northern Lights seen from above and the red peaks that we don’t see from an earthly perspective.

In a nod to the accordion’s folk roots Dove also manages to refer to the Scottish Island of Orkney, where Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, to whom the concerto is dedicated, lived. Dove took up the commission after Sir Peter, who was originally to write the concerto, sadly died. I couldn’t attend the Edinburgh world premiere, nor the Glasgow premiere but did manage to get to the Aberdeen premiere and I’m very glad I did as it is a piece which has depth, paints some amazing orchestral colours and is very accessible to all without being banal.

The accordion starts with some left-hand chords and right-hand piccolo reed sounds which are very soon echoed by the orchestra imitating the accordion which builds to the most wonderful orchestral flourish that propels one straight into space. Great to hear the double bassoon responding to the accordion and as the tension builds with accordion interjections the glockenspiel provides some wonderful tingling which rises high above the orchestral throng, taking one up and over the earthly view of the lights to what can only be seen from above. Despite the difference in tonal weight between the accordion and orchestra, the accordion is exposed enough to be heard when it leads but then also adds it’s inimitable sound to passages where it is just part of the bigger orchestral texture. Dove uses some ingenious devices to create the feeling of the vastness of these dancing lights in space and at one moment a very low note from the double bassoon at the back of the orchestra merges seamlessly into the accordion’s low left-hand note at the front of the orchestra, giving the audience the impression that something is coming towards it.

The second movement starts with some melodic accordion playing in the right-hand and Owen Murray’s beautiful left hand registration almost fills that ethereal space, normally the mainstay of high bassoon or clarinet, to counter it with harmony. This woody roundness of the accordion runs which follow are further underpinned by the roundness of the vibraphone which also adds to the other-worldly feel of the piece. The movement ends with very high bowed strings drawing similarities from the accordion’s very high notes cutting through with the assistance of hand vibrato.

The third movement starts with the lovely melody which is a nod to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s Farewell to Stromness, it’s folky feel serving to perhaps to bring the listener back down to view the Aurora from the earth. The orchestra continue to echo the accordion with some trill-like passages. The accordion’s bellow shakes are also echoed in the “scrubbing” strings and then the melody returns triumphantly in the brass. Twenty minutes of music just flies by and whilst other composers have sent the accordion into the cosmos before this piece for me has to be the most successful to date. It’s like listening to a film soundtrack but the pictures are in one’s mind and sometimes you are watching the action of the lights from above, from below and sometimes they are all around you rushing towards you and away again.

Owen Murray, a veteran of many premieres, yet again succeeds in convincing the audience that the accordion has a rightful place both in front of the orchestra as well as in it and therefore part of its entire sound. I was so pleased to see him up there after fulfilling his dream of leaving accordionists with a legacy of wonderful concert material, knowing well the agony he went through to deliver this project even when, with Sir Peter’s sudden death, it all seemed like it was never going to happen. I would urge all accordionists to remember well this piece which Owen Murray will promote for the next two years now in the hope that many will play it after him.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra also played brilliantly under the able baton of Clemens Schuldt with great communication between section leaders and the conductor.  They are so animated and exciting to watch and they feel so youthful even though they are visibly made up of musicians of all ages. It was lovely to see Zoe Tweed playing French Horn so beautifully in the orchestra too.  She is the daughter of accordionist Karen Street and saxophonist Andy Tweed and even dabbled in the accordion herself a few years ago. She told me that she and the orchestra really liked the piece too and I have to say that it showed. They also played Mozart Symphony No.34 in C K338 just before Dove’s concerto and then Ligeti’s Concert Romanesc and Haydn’s Symphony No.90 in C.  The highlight was definitely the premiere and I wish both Owen Murray and Jonathan Dove a lot of luck with it as I believe this piece really has legs. I’m slightly biased but The Scotsman and The Times both seem to agree. I was very pleased to hear that Jonathan Dove has worked with many accordionists over the years and even plays a little himself to aid his composing.  I was even more pleased to hear that he would happily write more for the accordion in the future.


The Northern Lights Photo courtesy of Donna May


Borut Zagoranski accordion masterclass with Royal Academy students – Thursday 9th May 2019


Former Student, now professor, gives accordion masterclass

Thursday 9th May 2019 from 10.00 am – 1.00 pm in the Henry Wood Room, Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road, London

It’s wonderful to welcome back Borut Zagoranski to the Royal Academy of Music who is coming to give a masterclass with Academy students next Thursday 9 May.  It is a free event with no tickets required.  Borut is now accordion professor at the Academy of Music in Ljubljana and a former student of Owen Murray at the Academy! The masterclass is open to a public audience so will be of special interest to students and teachers who can observe a wonderful teacher at work with the students.


Accordion Showcase at the Royal Academy of Music, March 12th 2019 at 19.30

Royal Academy of Music

Accordion Showcase

It’s been a bust start to the year for the Accordion department at the Royal Academy of Music with two Master classes in the last two months and now an Accordion Showcase. It’s always wonderful to trace the student’s progress as they work their way through the years of study at the RAM under the expert tutelage of Owen Murray, as well as all the visiting professors. They always welcome audiences to their concerts as it gives them good training in concert conditions for the wider music world. Don’t miss this year’s promising you talents at this event where the Academy accordion students present a varied programme of solo and chamber music works.
Tue 12 Mar 2019, 7.30pm

Emmy Dumitru successfully accepted at the Royal Academy of Music

Emmy Dumitru

London-based accordionist Emmy Dumitru secures place at RAM

Many congratulations to Emmy Dumitru for successfully auditioning for the Royal Academy of Music’s accordion department.  He has been studying with Romano Viazzani for a year and half and will start his studies at the RAM next September under the expert tutelage of Owen Murray.  Emmy has been busy studying free-bass accordion which until a year or so ago he did not play.  Hard work has paid off and Emmy managed to learn the classical accordion alongside preparing his classical pieces for standard bass accordion which he played extremely well managing to master over 11 extremely challenging pieces for that instrument in under a year in preparation for his audition. ZZ Music wishes him well on his new adventure at the RAM secure in the knowledge that his work rate and talent will not let him down.

Royal Academy of Music – Accordion Masterclass with Friedrich Lips 21st Feb 2019

Friedrich Lips

Royal Academy of Music – Accordion Masterclass with visiting Professor, Friedrich Lips

Thursday 21st Feb 2019, 10.00 – 13.00
Space: Angela Burgess Recital Hall, Venue: Royal Academy of Music, NW1 5HT

It’s always wonderful to see visiting professors from the world’s most renowned conservatoires come to London and work with the accordion students of the Royal Academy of Music. The students really get to show how quickly they are able to pick up on the teacher’s ideas and it’s always inspiring for any attending teachers and students alike to see how much can be achieved within one master class with the RAM students. Friedrich Lips, internationally renowned teacher, professor and Head of Accordion at the Gnessin Russian Academy of Music in Moscow has made many, many recordings and has been a key figure both on the concert platform and in the encouragement of new repertoire for the accordion. Accordion teachers, students and accordion devotees all welcome.

Free, no tickets required.

Accordion Master Class at the Royal Academy of Music with Alfred Melichar -24th January 2019


Accordion Master Class at the RAM with Alfred Melichar – professor from Anton Bruckner University in Linz, Austria

Thursday 24 January 2019 from 10.00 to 13.00

The master class will be at the RAM in the Concert Room and will be taken by visiting professor Alfred Melichar who is professor of accordion at the Anton Bruckner University in Linz. He will be working with the students of the accordion department on their pieces. He will also talk about the development of the accordion in Austria. All are welcome to come and watch and may be of special interest to both teachers and accordion students. Admission is free.

A first solo accordion CD from Miloš Milivojević! Accord for life

Miloš Milivojević - Accord for life - CD

A long-awaited first solo album by Miloš Milivojević is released by Nimbus

ZZ Music is so pleased to present Accord for life this outstanding new album by one of the world’s top accordionists. Miloš Milivojević was part of Owen Murray’s golden generation of accordion students at the Royal Academy of Music in the early 21st century when he studied there after arriving from that other hotbed of accordion talent, Serbia, and has since been very active both in his adopted home city of London and all over the world. The album is well worth the wait. It’s beautifully recorded and played on Milivojević’s super Pigini Nova classical accordion which he has recently acquired.  It is programmed much like a live concert taking us on a journey from the accordion’s popular transcription works of major Baroque composers like Bach and Scarlatti, rarer transcription works from the Romantic period with composers like Mendelssohn and Sarasate and then on to contemporary works by Vlasov, Angelis and Semenov. The Sarasate is saved though for the finale with the blistering Tarantella rounding off what is a really enjoyable and excellent album and shows what a mature musician Milivojević is, with extraordinary technical ability, sensitivity and good taste.

We wish him well with this wonderful classical accordion album and he deserves success as it is rare that one finds one so talented, seriously dedicated and musical in his playing and yet so humble, fun and easy-going in person.

1.  Domenico Scarlatti Sonata in D Minor, K. 1
2.  Domenico Scarlatti Sonata in F Major, K. 44
3.  Domenico Scarlatti Sonata F Sharp Minor, K. 25
4.  Felix Mendelssohn Organ Sonata in D Minor, Op. 65, No. 6: I. Chorale and Variations
5.  Johann Sebastian Bach Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639
6.  Viktor Vlasov Five Views on Gulag State: I. A zone
7.  Viktor Vlasov Five Views on Gulag State: II. A stage – Marcia Funebre
8.  Viktor Vlasov Five Views on Gulag State: III. Thieves
9.  Viktor Vlasov Five Views on Gulag State: IV. Wood Cutting Area
10. Viktor Vlasov Five Views on Gulag State: V. Criminal authority and creep
11. Franck Angelis Interieur
12. Viacheslav Semenov Don Rhapsodie, No. 2: II. second movement
13. Pablo de Sarasate Introduction and Tarantella, Op. 43
Milos Milivojevic and his Pigini Nova

Accordion Open Day and Concert at the Royal Academy of Music – 8th November 2018

RAM Accordion Dept

Two RAM Accordion events for your diary

Thursday November 8th sees a concert of chamber music by the accordion students of the Royal Academy of Music followed by an accordion open day given by Owen Murray the professor of accordion. Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5 HT. Please see below for details.

Accordion Chamber Music

Thu 8 Nov 2018, 1.05pm

A concert of chamber music with classical accordion.

Free, no tickets required.

Accordion Open Day

Thu 8 Nov 2018, 2.30pm

Tickets: Free, no tickets required.

For further information please email

Head of Accordion Owen Murray gives a talk on the Accordion Department, career possibilities and repertoire development to prospective students. Young accordionists will also have the opportunity to play and receive advice on how to further their development. Anyone wishing to play should email the above address. Teachers are also welcome, and everyone attending is invited to the Accordion Recital in the David Josefowitz Recital Hall at 1.05pm, see above.


Royal Academy of Music – Accordion Dept. Chamber Music Concert 15th February 2018

Accordion close up

Accordion Chamber Music: The Emperor’s Nightingale

Don’t miss the wonderful playing of the accordion students of the Royal Academy of Music, London playing a selection of chamber music works.

Thursday, 15.02.2018 19:30David Josefowitz Recital Hall

Tickets: £7.50 (concessions £5.50) from the Academy’s Box Office:

An evening of chamber music by DvořákMozart and Efrem Podgaits, as well as Václav Trojan‘s beautifully descriptive and poetic The Emperor’s Nightingale for violin, guitar and classical accordion.


Royal Academy of Music – Two important events for accordion department

RAM Accordion Dept

Royal Academy of Music Accordion Department with chamber orchestra and symphony orchestra

Wonderful to see Owen Murray’s accordion department take on these important chamber and symphonic works. See Ben de Souza, Inigo Mikeleiz-Barrade, Junchi Deng and Qianyu (Samantha) Zhang in orchestral action on these dates:


Thursday 15th February, 7:30pm, Royal Academy of Music. Accordion Chamber Music: The Emperor’s Nightingale. An evening of chamber music by DvořákMozart and Efrem Podgaits, as well as Václav Trojan‘s beautifully descriptive and poetic The Emperor’s Nightingale for violin, guitar and classical accordion.

Tickets £7.50 (concessions £5.50) from the Academy Box Office.


Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. Royal Academy of Music accordion department plays the accordion parts in Prokofiev’s Cantata for the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution. Tickets available from the Philharmonia Orchestra box office.

Friday 18th May, 7:30pm. St David’s Hall, Cardiff.

Sunday 20th May, 7:30pm. Royal Festival Hall, London.