The accordion is probably most closely identified with folk music from Eastern Europe and South America, but the young Lithuanian virtuoso Martynas Levickis aims to prove that it can make all kinds of music, everywhere. His debut album on Decca is a riotous ride through a rainbow of styles, all of them artfully tailored and arranged to show off Martynas’s brilliant playing. From Beethoven to Vivaldi, Ennio Morricone to Lady Gaga, he takes the accordion around the world and back and forth across the centuries.
“Yes, I want to change the image of the accordion”, Martynas explains, “but I’m also trying to show all the different possibilities I have as a performer. All the arrangements are brand new and the pieces have never been played this way before. It’s exciting for me to be breaking some rules.” Martynas recently completed his degree at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and has acquired all the knowledge and technical expertise of a professional classical musician, but he sees classical music as just one part of his personal mix. “At some point in my career I want to record an album of modern accordion compositions. But my new album is contemporary music too, just from a different angle.”
In 2010, while he was still studying at the Royal Academy, Martynas won the “Lithuania’s Got Talent” TV show and became a household name in his homeland. He could easily have built a comfortable performing career for himself there, but ever since one of his teachers back home told him he needed to get out of tiny Lithuania and study abroad, Martynas’s horizons have gone global.
When he first began experimenting with the accordion as a three-year-old child he was merely experiencing the sheer instinctive joy of music. “My uncle, who was the main influence behind my musical education, bought that first accordion for me. It was a very small instrument and there wasn’t a lot you could play on it. A few years later I got a huge Russian accordion. I used to play in front of the mirror so I could see the keys and where to put my fingers.”
Some visiting relatives heard the young Martynas play and recommended a music teacher. At eight, he enrolled in a music school, and when he was 12 his teachers began entering him in competitions. He won awards all over Europe, and advanced steadily to a conservatory. In 2004, he was the first accordionist to be awarded Lithuania’s Queen Morta prize. His prodigious musical talent was becoming his passport to the wider world, and in 2008 Martynas made his fateful move to London. In 2009 he won the 71st American Accordionist Association competition in Memphis, and in 2010 he took second prize at the Gala-Rini International Competition in California. Also that year he won the Coupe Mondiale, literally the accordionists’ World Cup.
It’s onward and upward. Already Martynas has performed at such prestigious venues as the Purcell Room, the Royal Festival Hall and the Wigmore Hall, with The Times of London extolling his “mastery of an instrument once dismissed as a squeezebox”. He has many more dates in his diary for 2013, but for all his success, you can’t take Lithuania out of the boy. “If you want a great weekend away”, he urges, “just go to Vilnius and walk around, because it’s a really nice city.” You may well hear an accordion player too.