Aaron Jay Kernis's "Phantom Polka" was commissioned by accordionist Guy Klucevsek for his "Polkas from the Fringe" project. Written for accordion and a couple of prerecorded sounds, "Phantom Polka" is program music with a somewhat unusual program: it takes its images from Abbott and Costello in the Haunted House. Specifically, it depicts a translucent ghost's sudden appearance on a stairway and a subsequent dance in a large ballroom filled with fellow apparitions. The music is gentle and mock-horrific, as the accordion is made to sound like a theater organ. The ghost appears to music which starts out properly spooky and erratic, but which quickly rises to a climax; soon the ghost is darting about to quick melody and thin textures on the accordion. Finally, the ghost descending the stairwell to a pungent, sinking scale on the accordion, and enters the ballroom. The ghosts dance to straightforward music, borrowing polka style and quoting a Dvorak Slavonic Dance. But then a prerecorded human shout intrudes, and the music flitters away. The "Phantom Polka" is warm-hearted and very funny.
-Andrew Lindemann Malone
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