Interview to Igor Sayenko, Bayan and bandoneón player in Ukraine. Interview to Igor Sayenko, Bayan and bandoneón player in Ukraine.

Interview to Igor Sayenko

Bayan and bandoneón player from Ukraine

It is a great pleasure for me to introduce Igor Sayenko, an Ukrainian musician who plays the bayan and the accordion professionally. Igor started to study bandoneón with excellent results. We "met" because he contacted me for some bandoneón lessons (this instrument is still not very widespread in Ukraine). It was a great pleasure for me to share my study experience at the Conservatory of Buenos Aires with him, and every time we meet via videoconference for a lesson I feel enriched by his experience and musical sensitivity.

Igor Sayenko playing bayan during a Concerto.

1) Hi Igor, let’s talk about you... what is your musical story?

Well, I have started playing accordion at the age of 7. My mother used to study button accordion at school age. So, she has kept an old chromatic box since that time and one day she said: "Why do we keep that instrument useless? Let’s bring Igor to music school, so he could play one!" And that’s how I started learning button accordion. Cannot say I was in love with that instrument. It was interesting for me, but nothing more. I’ve got a real passion of music when I entered the Musical College and met so many students doing the same - practicing and playing every day...

2) Can you tell us more about the bayan?

Yes, we call it bayan. In other words this is chromatic button accordion (B-system). At professional stage most of bayan players would use instruments with convertor system in left manual. It means we can play separate melody notes (free bass) or choose Stradella bass and chords system. Bayan system remains the most popular within Eastern Europe Area (former USSR). But nowadays you definitely can order bayan system instrument from major International accordion manufacturers as Pigini, Scandalli and others.

3) How did you meet the bandoneón?

Probably, as any other accordion player, I love and play Piazzolla's music. Thanks to huge internet sources we can watch Grand Astor playing himself now. But twenty years ago there were few rare audio records only. However, I loved listening all of these and tried to imitate the sound and the manner of playing within my button accordion.

But last year (2020) when I have realised that we all were going to stay home for indefinite period due to COVID-19, I decided to give a challenge to myself. So, I bought the old 144 tones Alfred Arnold bandoneón and started restoring it.

4) Accordion and bandoneón: what are their differences and their similarities?

I thought there is much similar between accordion and bandoneón. But as soon as I started learning, I realised that accordion and bandoneón are two absolutely different philosophies! Yes, these both have reeds, bellows and buttons.

But all the skills you have for accordion don’t help you with bandoneón at all! I would say, they even disturb! So, I was so happy find you one day via internet and get bandoneón lessons from you, Omar! Otherwise I would play bandoneón as accordionist and this is not what I want.

5) In your opinion, what can a bandoneón player learn from a bayan/accordion player (and vice versa)?

Difficult question, as I said these two instruments are quite different for me. I can definitely say that bayan/accordion player can learn to take much more care about changing bellows. Because we can see sometimes, when bayan/accordion players change bellows randomly which is not very good.

Igor Sayenko playing bayan during a concert.

Igor Sayenko playing bayan during a concert.

With bandoneón you always should know exactly when to "open" and when to "close". So, the value of every single note is increasing, and I believe the quality of sound much improves then.

6) You play 144 Einheits bandoneón (like me). Why? How do you feel with it?

I am not able to compare with 142 tones instruments. I would say, I have never played any other instrument but my one. Bandoneón is really rare instrument in my country. Speaking about Piazzolla’s works, I only miss the highest ‘B" tone in left keyboard. But at the same time I feel I can easily learn and play some Bach or Scarlatti’s works for instance, without replacing octaves, keeping original pitches.

Igor Sayenko playing Bach's WTC1 Prelude 1 on 144 bandoneón.

7) Can you talk a bit about the musical career in Ukraine?

I can say Ukrainians are very musical as a nation. Most people wouldn’t know, but Prokofiev and Stravinsky were from Ukraine, Tchaikovsky had clear Ukrainian roots. But at the same time I wish our government paid more attention to the culture. At the moment it is hard to survive for professional musician compare to EU.

I work for the National philharmonic society of Ukraine. This is the top state establishment where accordion player can work. But as the most of my colleagues, I have to work part time somewhere else to support my family with appropriate funds. However, I feel lucky to perform with different kinds of ensembles and orchestras, to learn different styles of music for myself.

8) Accordion has a confirmed role as solo and concert instrument. Do you see a similar evolution for the bandoneón? Which future do you imagine for the bandoneón in Ukraine?

As for accordion’s place on the stage I can agree and disagree simultaneously! Yes, this instrument is very popular nowadays and we can say about strong "accordion traditions" in France, Italy, Germany, of course in former USSR countries like Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. Chinese accordion players number grows with every single day I would say!

Igor Sayenko Accordion Quartet.

But at the same time we must confess that most of people who are not musicians would consider accordion as a folk instrument, or instrument for weddings and gigs. So, accordion is still a rare guest on a "big classical stage".

I think the bandoneón has a similar way to go through. It’s still very exotic instrument. I think the best way to promote both is cooperation of performers and composers. Yes, performers should try their best to encourage composers to write new works to show their music not only for accordion or bandoneón players (as it happens sometimes) but for the whole world of listeners who are looking for new listening experiences, but maybe don’t know about such an opportunity. I believe that both accordion and bandoneón are still on their own way of developing and improving to take their own places on musical stage.

9) What are your next musical projects?

I am lucky to be in company of other enthusiast musicians here, in Ukraine. So, despite of quarantine concert limits we are working hard to bring the music back live on stage. At the moment we can hold concerts getting audience up to 50% of the concert hall capacity. So, I am practicing a lot at the moment to take part in a project devoted to Piazzolla’s 100th anniversary. I am going to perform Maestro’s bandoneón concerto "Aconcagua" there.

Igor Sayenko's tango formation.

At the moment concerts are scheduled in three major Ukrainian cities – Kharkiv, Lviv and Kyiv. The first concert will take place on March 11th, right on the Piazzolla’s day of birth. And I hope the situation with quarantine will improve to better, so we would show this programme on many other stages...

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