ELMHURST—For many, accordion music conjures images of romantic evenings at a French café sipping a latté.
For the last two decades, however, Spanish-born accordionist Victor Prieto has been working to break the instrument out of that mold, transforming it into a versatile tool that can be used to play classical music, tango, jazz and Celtic tunes.
“A lot of times music from the accordion in France and Italy sounds melancholic,” said Prieto, 36, who lives in Washington Heights and performs across the city.
“But my music does not sound that way…It sounds cheerful, rhythmic.”
Prieto hails from Galicia, a province in Spain with a strong Celtic influence which he brings to bear on his music.
“In Galicia, the accordion is the second national instrument," he said.
"The first is the Bagpipes.”
Growing up, Prieto played music written for bagpipes on his accordion, something the musician said was not hard to do.
For the last decade, Prieto said he has written his own compositions that are true to his Celtic roots.
“Celtic music is part of my blood…my culture,” Prieto explained. “People want to hear this music.”
Prieto, 36, got his start in music at the age of nine when he first started playing the accordion in his hometown of Ourense, Spain.
He then received a scholarship from the Berklee College of Music, where he became the first student to specialize in the accordion at the college.
In 2002, Prieto moved to New York where he plays in seven different bands in the city, teaches accordion master classes in Europe and holds private lessons from his Washington Heights home.
At Terraza 7 bar in Elmhurst, where he plays regularly, Prieto said he gets an international audience from Italy, France, Spain and other places that appreciate his roots and music.
“It’s a magical place,” he said, referring to the bar.
“It’s like an oasis in the middle of the desert…you cannot imagine such a place exists.”
Prieto performs Thursday, July 19 at 9:30 pm. There is a $5 cover charge.