by Alexander Selivanov
On Sunday 19th February, Valery Kovtun of Moscow unexpectedly passed away. His next solo concert (with invited guests) was scheduled for February 28th at the State Kremlin Palace, Moscow, which, like so many years in a row, there would be no space in the 6,000 seats concert hall. The concert has sadly been cancelled.
Legendary accordion player Valery Kovtun, People's Artist of Russia, enjoyed the great affection of many generations of listeners in the USSR and Russia.
He was born in Kerch (Crimea) in 1942. In Kerch, he finished music school and college as an accordionist, and then served in the Army in the military brass band.
As a soloist and member of different ensembles he has performed with many outstanding Soviet actors, singers, dancers. His instrumental quartet - accordion, guitar, bass and drums - toured making concerts all over the Soviet Union and also many different parts of the world: USA, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, Spain, Yugoslavia, Korea, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary and many other countries.
His own compositions and arrangements of popular tunes, folk, jazz and classics are still very popular. He released many LP’s and 22 CDs.
For years, Valery Kovtun was the only accordionist in all the territory of the former Soviet Union, who continued to perform on the big stage, attracting a full audience for even the biggest concert halls.
Every year Kovtun had a full hall at the Kremlin Palace with just acoustic accordion music. He was playing with his quartet and often with symphony orchestra. Audience at these concerts were not only from Moscow, but whole families travelled from different cities of the country to listen Kovtun’s art.
Valery Kovtun took care of Russian accordion’s future, its preservation and development and he supported young generation of musicians.
For many years he was lobbying Moscow City Government to open a private accordion school where Valery could share his invaluable experience with other accordionists. He wanted to teach the young generation about repertoire and performance style and technique, to grow from being a good player to becoming a successful artist.
Kovtun often invited his friends, accordionists, guests, outstanding musicians from around the world, such as Richard Galliano and Art Van Damme. He also invited talented children (accordion) to support the young and to give them on stage opportunity at the most famous halls of Russia. Schoolchildren and students, winners of music competitions, all played together with Kovtun, solo and in duo with maestro.
His next concert was going to feature young artists from different cities of the country, playing the accordion and bayan of Scandalli. As planned by Valery Kovtun, it had become a kind of gratitude to his favorite Scandalli Super VI. His accordion, manufactured in 1959, Valery Kovtun felt was the best instrument in his life, his favorite accordion, which he would not trade for any new model.
At 74 years, Kovtun was full of creativity, and for the next year (2018) planned his 75th anniversary concert, inviting artists from different countries, such as his longtime friend, Director of Scandalli factory, accordionist Mirko Patarini.
Mirco Patarini performing at the 2016 State Kremlin Palace concert. Left is Valery Kovtun and right holding the microphone is obituary author Alexander Selivanov.
Over many years, they worked together for the accordion competition Acco-Holiday in Kiev, Ukraine, organized by another outstanding accordionist of the former USSR, Jan Tabachnik.
Tabachnik and Kovtun connected long-lasting friendships and creative communications. In this competition they opened and supported many young artists from around the world.
Yan Tabachnik performed on Kovtun's concerts in Moscow and organized concerts for Kovtun in the Ukraine. As two pillars of the accordion art, originally came from the Soviet Union many years ago, strength of their personal authority and outstanding art they protected accordion, to of blame in primitiveness and obsolescence.
I had and occasion to talk with Valery Andreyevich not so many times.
I knew very well from childhood his recordings, but first time I heard him alive in the early of 2000s, it was one of his concerts in Kremlin, where guest of Kovtun was Richard Galliano.
We were young and daring students who have come to the concert, ready for critics. After the first part of concert, where Galliano, played music of Piazzolla, we vigorously discussed his style and interpretation of Piazzolla music.
However, the second part of the concert for me was unexpectedly great discover, full house applause greeted the maestro, people of all ages listened with pleasure the sounds of accordion Kovtun. People from audience booed us, the students, too loud whispering while discussing of nuances of the preformance.
Next meeting with Kovtun I had during the concert in Minsk, Belarus. Kovtuns’ quartet had to play in second part of the concert, which was attended by leading young accordionists and accordion of Russia and Belarus. Second part of concert transferred to full concert, the audience did not want to let the artists off the stage, and Kovtun continued to play new and new pieces and almost missed the train back to Moscow. During the trip back Kovtun spoke with us with all his enthusiasm about his new plans, about opening of the school, about his views on the accordion art.
Over the past 2-3 years, I had the opportunity again to meet him and talk about many artistic and life themes, participate in preparation for his new concert.
I had always a feeling that I speak not with patriarchal, burdened by fame and people’s love artist, but with full of energy, in the prime of his physical strength musician who who still has much to do, how learn new pieces, create new arrangements, look and prepare a new programs.
It is so sad that neither I nor the other will not be able anymore to stay with Valery Kovtun on the same stage, will not be able to hear his comments and suggestions. I remember his words during last discussion of the concert program: "We need to find something emotional, cheerful for you, to have success in the Kremlin, I really wish it.»
Perhaps, in this Kovtun’s words is the main meaning of his work - make success of the accordion, success at all stages, bring the sound of the accordion to all people, make them all fall in love with this instrument, make a holiday for audience. I wish we can only continue to follow his way by all means, and try to comply with the precepts of the master and worthily carry accordion flag around the world.
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