Michael Ward-Bergeman brings the twenty-first century to the accordion through his passion for a wide range of music. From his classical creations on the concert stages of America and Europe to the roots music projects of his trio Groanbox, Mr. Ward-Bergeman brings an extraordinary inventiveness, coupled with deep respect for the past, into all of his creations and collaborations. He is a classical composer who is able to improvise, and he is a popular musician with deep discipline and theoretical knowledge.
Over the past fifteen years Ward-Bergeman has toured the world in search of musical knowledge and inspiration: "My heart is transformed by different musical traditions." He has studied with Romanian Gypsy musicians, immersed himself in the rhythms of Argentina and Brazil, and taken inspiration from England’s Morris Dance. His musical curiosity takes him both into America’s rich and varied musical cultures, as well as around the globe. Wherever he is, he is impelled to probe the local musical heritage. Ward-Bergeman fashions his own musical idiom, while remaining faithful to the spirit that underlies and unites the world’s richest music traditions. As a result he has performed and collaborated with world-class musicians and composers from across a wide range of genres, including Yo-Yo Ma, Dawn Upshaw, Taraf de Haidouks, and Osvaldo Golijov.
Ward-Bergeman started his musical training on piano and violin, but it was his dedication to the accordion that led him to invent a 21st century version of the instrument called the "hyper-accordion." The hyper-accordion extends the acoustic accordion’s potential by allowing for the modulation and modification of its natural stereo signals through the use of creative performance techniques and digital signal processing. The unexpected sonic tones that result expand the accordion’s broad compositional potential even further.
Michael’s composition Three Roads premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2007. Written for voice, piano, flutes, dobro, double bass, and hyper-accordion, Three Roads weaves excerpts from Dante Alighieri, Robert Frost, and Walt Whitman into a sonic tapestry. Treny had its premiere at the same venue in 2008, featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw. Written for soprano, piano, flute, cello, piccolo, and hyper-accordion, the piece was commissioned by the Terezin Chamber Music Foundation as a living memorial to the composers and musicians who died in the Terezin concentration camps. Kicking Up Dust, an exuberantly percussive composition for small ensemble, had its debut in 2009 with New York’s Metropolis Ensemble. His swirling and evocative Barbeich, scored for accordion or trumpet and mixed ensemble, was released the same year. With Osvaldo Golijov he collaborated on the soundtracks for the Francis Ford Coppola movies Tetro and Youth Without Youth. 2011’s Damagomi, commissioned by Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road project, is an exploration of the shaman music of the Achumawi from Northeastern California and from the Jindo region of South Korea. Inspired by the bird-soul and world tree myths of the Yakut people of Siberia, Ward-Bergeman’s Damogami is addressed to the sacred spaces within each of us.
True to his passion for authentic musical traditions, Ward-Bergeman is a founding member of the American Roots music trio Groanbox. Whether reimagining traditional American folk songs like Little Sadie or writing their own homages with titles such as Tuvan Voodoo or Hobo Heaven, Groanbox are developing their own musical legacy. They have released five CDs and are busy at work on a sixth. The UK’s Telegraph wrote of their album The Livingston Sessions, "If the Band had been into world music and performed as a stripped-back, country-inflected trio they might have sounded a bit like Groanbox. With touches of Africa, the Balkans and Siberia bleeding into their wayward Americana, and full-blooded singing that wouldn’t have disgraced Levon Helm."
In 2011 Michael performed at least once a day for an entire year – a self-curated project he called "GIG 365" (and which resulted in a CD of the same name). He performed in most of the fifty United States, in Latin America, and in Europe – anywhere he was invited, whether in prisons, on the streets of New Orleans, or in concert at Harvard University. He performed with Native American musicians in California, with street musicians in New York, with European orchestras. He performed old blues songs such as St. James Infirmary, songs he wrote himself like Mississippi, and compositions with classical ensembles, such as his Patagonia and Golijov’s Azul.
Ward Bergeman has designed and is constructing a reimagined accordion, one that the player “wears”. “Bellowshoes” will provide the air, a bellowless airbox will route the air through a keyboard, and tubes running out of the box to a wire frame supported by his shoulders will deliver the “wind”. Whistles, external reeds in gourd resonators, and bells, set into motion (and sound) by the air exiting the tubes, will hang from the frame, as if perched on the branches of a walking tree. With parts manufactured for him around the globe, he will build and premiere it in his hometown of New Orleans.
Tablas, banjos and hyper-accordions do not usually appear on programs at the Aspen Music Festival, but what a refreshing and dazzling change of pace they provided this week. The sheer virtuosity of masters such as Zakir Hussain (tabla), Béla Fleck (banjo) and Michael Ward-Bergeman (hyper-accordion) puts them in that rarefied place where classical finds harmony with the rest of the musical world. Harvey Steiman, Aspen Times, August 19, 2010