Among the first sketches for the Hamlet opera that I wrote together with librettist Matthew Jocelyn between 2013 and 2016 were various ideas for solo accordion. We had agreed that this instrument would be the perfect musical on-stage accompaniment for the scenes featuring a group of travelling theatrical players. Their performance of a specially modified text before the assembled court in the middle of Shakespeare’s play convinces Hamlet of the guilt of his uncle, Claudius, of his father’s murder. It thereby serves as a significant catalyst for the work’s tragic denouement.
I discussed these sketches at length with Scottish-born accordion virtuoso, James Crabb, who was eventually to join the cast for the opera’s first season and brought this travelling minstrel vividly to life at the premiere at Glyndebourne in 2017.
It was always my intention to create some form of solo work for James from this material and what emerged is “The Players”, a 20-minute concerto with mid-sized orchestra that revisits the players’ scenes from the first act of our Hamlet opera in a suite of five connected movements. Alongside a reworking of the music for the players’ largely mimed performance of “The Murder of Gonzago”, this concerto features newly-composed opening and closing sections that further explore the material.
Brett Dean, 2020