Brett Dean: reviews of The Players conducted by Vladimir Jurowski
In December the London Philharmonic Orchestra presented the UK premiere of Brett Dean’s The Players, his Hamlet-inspired concertante work for accordion and orchestra. The streamed performance remains available to Marquee TV subscribers.
Vladimir Jurowski, who conducted the Glyndebourne premiere of Brett Dean’s acclaimed Hamlet opera with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the pit, was on the rostrum again for the UK premiere of The Players in December. The concert at the Royal Festival Hall formed a highlight of the orchestra’s digital season, streamed free to audiences for a week, was broadcast on BBC Radio 3, and is now available on demand for Marquee TV subscribers. On stage with orchestra and conductor was soloist Bartosz Glowacki, providing a virtuoso rendition of the accordion music from Dean’s ‘play within the play’.
> View The Players on Marquee TV
“Dean drew much of the music from the Player’s scene from his opera Hamlet, premiered in 2017 at Glyndebourne, where the on-stage accordionist alongside the actors’ company gave the scene a special dramatic colour. This was not the jolly accordion of café music but the modernist accordion of tiny, sinister sounds on the threshold of audibility, or glacial dense dissonances, or huge gruff bass sounds… Dean has a gift for turning theatrical gestures into real musical substance, and one could almost see the acted-out murder of Gonzago in one’s imagination, while savouring
Dean’s brilliant orchestral imagination and harmonic spice.”
“The ghost being summoned here is Shakespeare. Or Hamlet. Or Hamlet’s dad, who really is a ghost in the play. Or maybe all three. Whichever it is, Dean’s concerto is a distillation and an extension of the play-within-a-play scene in his memorable 2017 operatic treatment of Hamlet, and it is stunning. For most of its course it is a terrifyingly remorseless dance of death, demonically driven yet full of ingeniously interwoven instrumental ideas for virtuosos all around the orchestra, not just the soloist. At the end, however, the momentum implodes into the surreal whimpers and whispers of the madhouse. In 20 minutes I felt I had experienced the essence of the entire five-hour play.”
“…a cavalcade of unfamiliar sounds played on familiar instruments. There is no longer a narrative to be tracked, just a musical itinerary for the listener to follow through variegated landscapes: darting accordion passages over lean orchestral textures; spiky, bustling tuttis; vivid character thumbnails. Pantomime, the most substantial section, is a long movement chock full of smaller movements within, like treats in an Easter Egg. Accordion and violins share a fizz-popping melody that slows down to become something halting and strange, then gives way to eerie effects from both soloist and orchestra.”
The Players was commissioned by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, who gave the premiere in Orebro in 2019 with accordionist James Crabb. Planned performances of the work in Tel Aviv and Hamburg in 2020 were cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. The London performance of The Players was part of Brett Dean’s ongoing residency with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which includes plans for the UK premiere of his Cello Concerto with soloist Alban Gerhardt in December 2021.
> Further information on Work: The Players
Photo: London Philharmonic Orchestra