Vinohrady's "Narodni Dùm" resounds with accordions

The stately "Narodni Dùm" building in Prague's Vinohrady district resounded with accordions at the weekend, as the second annual European accordion festival got underway. Alena Skodova was there and brings back this report:

Vinohrady's "Narodni Dùm" reminds me of my younger years, as it was here that I attended my first dancing lessons. But on Saturday the big hall was packed to the rafters with people of all ages - accordion enthusiasts who came here to enjoy a whole day of accordion playing.

At noon, the competition was still in full swing but I soon found young musicians from Scotland, who had already taken part in the competition.

"We came with an orchestra named Coda who are based in South Scotland, a place called Lanark. There are eight accordionists, a singer, a fiddler, a piper, a drummer, a percussionist, a guitarist, a keyboardist and a pianist."

How did you learn about this festival?

"I was told by my music teacher, Keith Dixon, the person who runs the orchestra."

So that means you are studying accordion playing at school now?

"I didn't do it at school, I got private lessons."

And you?

"I got private lessons as well."

So are you like finished musicians now?

"Yeah, we are doing a lot of large music festivals in Scotland, played at various concert halls in Scotland as well. We do do very well, we have a CD out as well, and we do various things. We're making another CD later on in the year. And hopefully doing other gigs, and coming back here hopefully!"

How do you see the atmosphere here, have you heard anybody else?

"We just got here yesterday and we've heard a few bands and they're in a different league more or less. It's all classic music that they're playing, so it was good, it was really good."

Is accordion still played in pubs?

"Yes, yes, definitely, they definitely do and they're coming back."

Well, what I heard was certainly not pub playing, and during the lunch break I spoke with the chairman of the jury, Dr. Jindrich Feld:

"We are very happy that we are organising this festival for the second time already after two years, we have 25 orchestras who came to Prague from 15 countries of Europe. After the morning session I can say that the standard of playing was very surprising, we have heard several excellent performances. We have three categories: popular category that we heard now, in the morning, in the afternoon there will be classical category, best ensembles which will certainly play more important and more artistic music, and then there's a category of young people."

And what is your relation to accordion, are you a player?

"No, I'm a composer and I wrote several pieces for accordion, so I'm a little bit involved in the world of accordionists, this evening there will be an opening concert, where an orchestra from Germany - they are winners from Innsbruck -will perform my composition for accordion orchestra called Evocations."

In the evening the competition was over. The winners in the three categories were accordion orchestras from Germany, Russia and Slovakia. But that was not the end of he festival, which continued with a gala performance in the St. Jude and Simon church in the Old Town, and on Monday some orchestras left for Marianske Lazne to give a concert in this well-known West Bohemian spa.