Friendship, love of music drives chamber group 'Accordo'

Accordo practice
(left to right) Ruggero Allifranchini, Steve Copes, Tony Ross and Maiya Papach of the chamber group Accordo, practice in the SPCO Center in downtown St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

Chamber music is sometimes defined as the music of friends, written for small clusters of musicians and played in intimate settings and a new Twin Cities-based chamber group called "Accordo," epitomizes that spirit of friendship.

For some, the words 'professional classical musician' mean temperamental, pampered, demanding artist. Just introducing the members of "Accordo" shatters that stereotype.

There's Tony Ross, the principal cello of the Minnesota Orchestra, who seems serious until he deadpans that he's only in the group for the money. The founder of Accordo is Steven Copes, concertmaster of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Then there's the SPCO's associate concertmaster Ruggero Allifranchini, and Maiya Papach, the acting principal viola in the SPCO. Papach might be called the 'quiet Beatle' in the group. But that doesn't mean she's not quick with the quip. What drew Papach to the quartet?

"I really want to play with these guys," she said. "And they smell really good."

Given they're some of the best instrumentalists in the country; these guys are pretty loose, and really comfortable together. They form the core of Accordo, which Copes calls a consortium of players and friends. It also includes SPCO cellist Ron Thomas.

Accordo started when the Southern Theater asked the SPCO's Stephen Copes to put together some chamber programming for the upcoming season. It's become the Southern's house chamber band.

When the music starts, things quickly get serious. But Cellist Tony Ross said that's when the fun and excitement really begins.

(left to right) Maiya Papach, Steve Copes and Ron Thomas; (back row) Tony Ross, Ruggero Allifranchini of the chamber group Accordo.
Photo Courtesy of Nina Fan

"For me, playing chamber music and great chamber music is like looking at an incredible work of art," Ross said. "Sitting down with four other people who see similar things in it, but may interpret them differently, and having a discussion and making that art work come to life."

Top notch classical musicians rarely get bored with their work. Maybe that's because they have the skills and knowledge to find something new in a piece every time they play it. Violinist Ruggero Allifranchini said the chamber repertoire is like an endless discovery.

"The more you work on them the more amazing they seem, actually," Allifranchini said. "First of all you're amazed, and then the more you dig, the more you find incredible things."

And playing in a smaller group, Accordo members perform works they can't do in their larger orchestras, including the more intimate pieces of such masters as Prokofieff, Shostakovich and Mozart. The group is flexible enough to allow them to perform in different configurations, which means duos, string trios and quartets are all possible.

Accordo will be playing Stravinsky, Ravel and Debussy this Sunday and Monday night at the Southern. In rehearsal this week, they were very animated, leaning gracefully into extended notes then abruptly pulling back, taking dramatic swipes at their instruments then slowly and delicately pushing and pulling their bows across the strings. Even if you were deaf to the music you could see they were having a conversation.

"We're connecting in a different way in the rehearsal which leads to different more intimate process in the concert and I think audience members pick up on that," violinist Steven Cope said. "And playing in a nice venue like the Southern really accentuates that."

It's unusual for a community the size of Minneapolis/St. Paul to boast of two world-renowned orchestras. You'd think there would be a lot of competition, but cellist Tony Ross said that's not the case.

"Actually we're all pretty good friends between the two orchestras," Ross said. "I mean our schedules are quite often quite similar so, you know, I'll go for six months and I won't see any of them and they're pretty close friends. So, the music world is small and we do hang out, across the line, and across the river."

And that seems to be the recipe for Accordo; friendship, incredible music and a good time.

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