Free Spirit

Charismatic and genre-crossing accordionist Ksenija Sidorova signs exclusive Deutsche Grammophon contract and unveils fresh vision of Carmen in stunning yellow label debut album

“Sidorova got her instrument to inhale and exhale like a living creature” (Financial Times)

Countless artists, authors and other sharp creative minds – from Manet and Peter Brook to Nabokov and Nietzsche – have drawn deep inspiration from Carmen. Ksenija Sidorova is the latest to reimagine the tragic heroine of Bizet’s opera. The Latvian accordionist, a massive musical talent with the blazing energy of a comet, marks her Deutsche Grammophon debut with an album driven by her identification with Bizet’s famously free-spirited femme fatale. Ksenija’s Carmen gives new life to some of the most popular of all classical melodies, presented here in seductively fresh arrangements. She describes the character of Carmen as, above all, “a projection of the heart’s most intimate desires”. In response, her album, influenced by Latin, Asian, European and North American musical styles, offers an intoxicating mix of tone colours and pulsating rhythms.

Ksenija’s Carmen, set for international release on 3 June 2016, presents an authentic reflection of the Riga-born artist’s charismatic personality. “Carmen fascinates me,” she notes. “Of course I wanted to bring something new to this music, to let Carmen speak with a different voice. The accordion doesn’t have to breathe like a singer, so there are no restrictions to what I can do with this music. I could be daring and passionate, just like Carmen, and share in the multicultural musical ideas created by my wonderful collaborators.” There’s much more Carmen to come from Ksenija thanks to a run of performances that opens in Dortmund in April and continues in Latvia and Chicago later in the year. “I feel that people of all ages are ready to connect with Carmen and so I want to take this project on the road.”

Her desire to connect with others clearly runs deep. She has already been crowned the “Princess of Accordion” by one critic and praised by another for her “ability to steal a musical heart”. Accordion aficionados, meanwhile, have hailed her interpretations of everything from original compositions by Piazzolla, Berio and Nordheim to arrangements of pieces by Bach, Mozart and Scarlatti. “I love performing modern works and new commissions,” she says. “But I feel it is my mission now to introduce the accordion to a large audience. My heart enjoys playing many different styles of music and I want to share this experience with as many people as possible.”

On 30 March 2016, Deutsche Grammophon announced Ksenija Sidorova’s exclusive signing to the yellow label. “We are delighted to welcome such a remarkable talent to our roster,” commented Ute Fesquet, DG’s Vice President, Artists & Repertoire. “Ksenija puts heart and soul into every performance. In her hands the accordion becomes more than an instrument – it is her voice and gives expression to her captivating personality. She is one of those genuinely rare performers who can transcend genre boundaries and beguile audiences with the intense beauty and vitality of her music-making.”

Ksenija has tested the accordion’s popular appeal with a series of guest appearances at large venues. She shared the stage with guitarist Miloš Karadaglić at the Classic Brits in 2012. The show, presented at London’s Royal Albert Hall, paved the way for her to work with, among others, Avi Avital, Juan Diego Flórez, Sting, Bryn Terfel and Rolando Villazón. Last year she toured an early version of her Carmen project as part of the “Night of the Proms” concert series, delighting tens of thousands at major arena and stadium venues across Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. “It was so exciting for me to explore the idea of ‘classical meets pop’. I saw just how open people were to this music and to the instrument.”

Ksenija’s Night of the Proms experience confirmed what she already knew: people love the accordion. The instrument belongs to everyday culture in Latvia, ever-present at weddings, funerals and all other social occasions. Young Ksenija’s grandmother introduced her to the accordion at the age of six. “My parents were not so keen at first,” she recalls. “They didn’t think accordion was quite worthy enough. My mum said, ‘Why not study piano or violin?’ But I’d already learned a few songs that my grandma really enjoyed. She’s just as stubborn as I am and wouldn’t let me give up playing accordion!”

One afternoon, on impulse, Ksenija’s mother decided to consult the neighbouring music school about her daughter’s burgeoning abilities. “They were puzzled at first because usually people play accordion after they’ve failed at piano!” The talented eight-year-old made a striking impression at her audition and was sent to study with Marija Gasele. “She was such a wonderful teacher and has been like a second mother to me,” says Ksenija. After ten years, Gasele recognised it was time for her protégée to find another teacher. “By chance I heard about the accordion faculty at the Royal Academy of Music through another Latvian family. They introduced me to the professor there, so I sent him my demo CD and he invited me to play to him.”

Ksenija arrived in London to discover that she was there not for an informal meeting but to take the top-flight conservatoire’s daunting entrance audition. “I was so terrified I tried to escape! But I played and was asked back to audition for the Principal, who awarded me a scholarship.” In 2005 Ksenija enrolled at the Academy to study with Owen Murray, one of the world’s leading pioneers of classical accordion. She completed her undergraduate years as a prize-winning student and went on to gain a Master’s degree with distinction. Ksenija made her Wigmore Hall debut in 2009, and in January 2010 was hailed by The Times (London) as “one of the real finds” of the prestigious Park Lane Group Young Artists New Year Series.

Ksenija’s early career gathered momentum in 2012 after she received the first International Award from the Bryn Terfel Foundation. The great Welsh bass-baritone subsequently invited her to take part in his 50th-birthday concert, staged at the Royal Albert Hall last October. “I performed Sting’s Roxanne with Bryn years ago,” she recalls. “When I received the award from his Foundation, he promised that one day we would perform it together with Sting. I forgot all about it, but Bryn kept his word. It was amazing to perform with Sting and Bryn Terfel! That experience strengthened my belief that it’s time to take the accordion to places it has never been and to reach new audiences. Carmen, which is so important to me, has the power to do that.”