Rebecca Bracewell is travelling in uncharted territory. The 17-year-old Nelsonite is a classical accordionist, one of only a handful in the country and one of the best. And although it is almost unheard-of for an accordionist to solo with a symphony orchestra, she will be doing just that with the Victoria Symphony on August 2.
At the world accordion championships in 2013, Rebecca was named the best accordionist under 18 in Canada.
Each year Victoria’s Symphony Splash event auditions youth soloists and chooses two to perform with the Victoria Symphony on a floating stage in the Victoria harbour for tens of thousands of people. This year Rebecca will one of those soloists.
She says the accordion is normally associated with various kinds of folk music but it is gradually making its way into classical and other kinds of music.
“Accordion is slowly coming back and it is getting cooler,” she says.
Rebecca plays a special kind of accordion called a Bayan, developed in Russia in the early part of the 20th century.
“Most traditional accordions only have chords on the left hand, but mine has an entire keyboard, and that means I can play anything a piano can play.”
She started playing piano at age seven. At 14, feeling uninspired, she gave it up.
“I decided I really like music but piano was not what I wanted, so I started playing the accordion. It felt more like me. It was different. No one I know plays it, so it was the uniqueness, and it is so versatile — you can play any kind of music with it.”
Living in her teacher’s house
Last year Rebecca moved to Victoria to attend school so she could study with the internationally recognized accordionist Jelena Milojevic, one of the few classical accordion teachers in Canada.
“I live with her and her husband and three kids. She is really young and cool, and very un-music-teacher-like, but she is very good at teaching. Outside of practice she is a friend.”
A role model
Milojevic told the Star that Rebecca’s upcoming performance with the Victoria symphony is big news throughout the accordion community in Canada.
“It has a tremendous impact on everybody. Young accordionists in Canada, this affects them, knowing they can get an opportunity to play with a symphony — they didn’t know it was possible. Rebecca has opened the door. They are looking at her as a role model.”
In 2013, Milojevic brought the world accordion championships to Victoria.
“It was a really high level of music,” says Rebecca, “and that is when I really got to see what was possible. I had hit a dead end because I didn’t see how far you could go with it, and then I saw those players.”
It was the first time she had heard the music of Astor Piazzolla, the Argentinian composer who revolutionized tango music during the last half of the 20th century. That was a turning point for her.
“It is not too classical and not too folk. It is just perfect,” Rebecca says. “It is a classical spin on tango. For the Symphony Splash I will be playing two of his pieces — Libertango and Oblivion.”
Returning the accordion to acceptance
Rebecca says she plans to finish high school and travel to Europe with her accordion teacher, “to experience European accordion culture, because there is not a lot of that here.” She says accordion culture exists mostly in Eastern Europe.
After that, “I would like to be in a small ensemble to perform and write music, and to bring the accordion back into acceptance. There are only about five classical accordion players in Canada who play at a very high level.
Growing up in Nelson
Rebecca says Nelson produces many young performing artists because “people support each other here in a way that people can’t in big cities, and you experience a lot of art when you grow up here. You are immersed in it. You are healthy and happy. It’s safe, the people are amazing, it is beautiful and green. It’s such a great place to grow up.”