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Relative Man: the Music of Ionel Petroi, in Conversation with Ivanka Stoïanova

Relative Man: the Music of Ionel Petroi, in Conversation with Ivanka Stoïanova

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Relative Man: the Music of Ionel Petroi, in Conversation with Ivanka Stoïanova

79 pagine
1 ora
Mar 15, 2019


Born in Yugoslavia into an ethnic Romanian family, raised in Serbia, groomed in the Paris music circle before relocating to New York, if anything, provide a strong metaphor for Ionel Petroi's "Musique Relative." What came first the relative identity or the music? Is this latter the emanation of the former? In this long overdue memoir, Ivanka Stoïanova, a musicologist with worldwide experience, explores the relative journey of this complex modern, contemporary musician. Ivanka's pointed questions allow Petroi to unravel himself in many unexpected ways. But always with sincerity and humility. We follow him from his humble beginning playing accordion in Serbian villages to his rise at the Paris Conservatory of Music, through his meetings and conversations with likes of Boulez and Ionesco, and scoring half-tone pieces for various ensembles, via the endless obsessive quest for honing and refining a personal musical style. Of course no journey, especially such an eclectic musician's, would be complete without a little detour to visit his love of cinematic scores. This memoir spans a wide reaching scope of Petroi's entire musical productivity to date.

Mar 15, 2019

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Relative Man - Ionel Petroi


The Conversation

Ionel Petroi in conversation with Ivanka Stoïanova.

Paris, 02/08/2012-2018

IS: Welcome back to Paris. Still moving around . . . Not so typical for a Western composer. Which can be explained, at least in part, by your roots. Could you talk about your origins and how you got started in music?

IP: I was born in 1958, in Uzdin, Vojvodina, Serbia, ex-Yugoslavia. At first, I had a tiny violin. It was my first instrument. My grandfather had bought it. He was a violinist and played in tarafs. They are small bands that play at weddings and funerals. In fact, all these things from my childhood have conditioned my musical tastes and explained how and why I came to some works, titles, and I approached my compositions. I was only four, and I got this tiny violin. At that time, my grandfather had a regular size violin with a beautiful sound. Whereas me when I tried to play, I only made creaking, unpleasant, and ugly sounds. I think I only kept this violin two or three days before breaking it into pieces.

I was very unhappy with the sound. My grandfather who was very sad about it, asked: What’s that about? Why don’t you like it? I want you to be a violinist. I remained firm: No, I don’t want to." So a second instrument showed up fairly quickly. It was a small accordion. Indeed, getting pleasing sounds out of the accordion was much easier, and I learned to make music a lot faster.

Music was always done in public. I was seven years old when my grandfather began to take me to band rehearsals. They took place in a private home, and while the musicians drank, I was entitled to a glass of orange juice. This is history, my past.  This is where traditional music - Romanian, Serbian, Hungarian, Czech, gypsy, even Russian—took roots in my ears. No music theory needed.

IS: You were born in Romania?

IP: I was born into an ethnic Romanian family, in the village of Uzdin, in the former Yugoslavia, located 55 km north of Belgrade and 30 km from the Romanian border. Though it was a multicultural place, unfortunately, I didn’t learn to speak Czech or Hungarian, even though I understood them pretty well then. Serbian was the official language in school. I was bilingual from birth since we spoke Romanian at home and at school.  Until the age of fifteen, all subjects were taught in Romanian in this part of Yugoslavia (1965-1973).

IS: So you started very early to play the accordion?

IP: Yes. And playing it at the age of five taught me something very important, namely traditional music. It was this traditional music which led me eventually to enter a music school in Pancevo, near Belgrade. And all this happened because of a family friend who came to the house when I was about 10 years old. It was normal in Eastern families at that time for children who played an instrument to entertain the adults while they ate, drank and chatted. I played the accordion as if I were in a small bistro, so to speak, although it was just at home for the family.

Then this family friend asked me: Do you want to go to a music school? I said, Would love too!" And it happened like that. I started with the accordion.  I had no concept of music theory. All the music I played, harmonic, melodic, or improvised, was by ear. My teacher at school was Hungarian. She taught me music theory and chords. From the start, it was unsettling, because I did not really understand the relationship between the musical notation I was learning and the music I practiced. This relationship seemed very strange because, in fact, I spoke another musical language. I had no idea about the tonal function of chords, of their inversions, and the way they work together. I just heard the notes as they were.

I was a bit lost at school. Suddenly I discovered that I could not play my music. I had to play scales, arpeggios and do exercises. I could not understand at all why this woman was asking me to do all this. I was disappointed, sad even, because I thought we would learn new songs! It was a total disappointment! Ultimately, I got quickly into the game of more intellectual and formulated than playful and instinctive music. This is when I discovered Boccherini, Bach and other composers. Of course, I played adaptations and transcriptions for accordion. In fact, between ten and fifteen, before going to music high school in another town called Zrenjanin, near Novi Sad, in Serbia, I discovered classical music for accordion. It was only in transcriptions. My grandfather was very happy, of course, and he asked to do some arrangements—and orchestrations—for his orchestra. It was immediately a very practical investment.  Things had changed, and someone had to write real orchestrations.  I continued playing with my grandfather at weddings, funerals and celebrations during the weekend. At 15, I wanted to continue with the accordion, but there was no school for it. One had to go somewhere far away in Serbia.  My parents were not ready, financially either to support me. I said to my grandfather: Listen, this is not the end of the world. I’m going to learn the piano. And he said: But where are we going to put it? Don’t worry, I will continue playing the accordion. I started the piano, with an advanced right hand, since I

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