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Review of portrait album by David Denton

At the cutting-edge of modernity among Danish composers, Kasper Rofelt numbers among his famous mentors, Bent Sorensen, Per Norgard and Niels Rosing-Schow.

Born in 1982, those years with them at the Royal Danish Academy were followed by a quantity of instrumental works that have received performances on both sides of the Atlantic. Among those are a number of commissions from the Danish Chamber Players, the disc opening with Dichotomy for instrumental ensemble, a score in two sections, playful but quiet in the first, it contrasts with the juxtaposition of rhythms that hold our attention in the following section. Entourage II is scored for violin, horn and piano, a more extended and withdrawn score that Rofelt describes as one of his most ‘neurotic’ works, though there are certainly many others. Maybe best to start your listening experience with the quirky ‘march’, Forward!, lasting for just over two minutes, or the even shorter Around for cello and piano. We return to the Chamber Players for the Serenade for Ionesco and Cantando, the first of those two scores in six sections that Rofelt describes as “the strange juxtaposition of his absurdest style”. It was begun in 2009 and completed in 2019, the same year as the colourful Cantando. All are ‘World Premiere Recordings’, Dichotomy conducted by Anne Marie Granau, with the remaining tracks directed by Ian Ryan. A disc recorded last year that I will continue to explore with interest.

© 2022 David’s Review Corner

Review of portrait album in Gramophone

What emerged was the Nordic New Simplicity movement that has proved so persistent. The Danish Chamber Players' compendium of chamber works by Kasper Rofelt, Dichotomy, is a cleansing listen, full of the composer's combination of shapely lyricism and ascetic argumentation, often thriving on a combination of opposites. 

   The title-work seems to unfurl a philosophical standpoint (first movement) before discussing it heatedly (second). Entourage II is a classic exercise in restriction whereby three instruments are confined to set gestures (a rising arpeggio and a cluster chord), even if each can be transformed. Works titles on states of motion Forward!, Around and Stay recall Steve Martland in their combination of primary colour and structural rigour but the album loosens up with the more elusive six-movement Sérénade pour Ionesco.

Source: Andrew Mellor, Gramophone, August 2022

Interview in The Australian with James Crabb

James Crabb melds accordian and classical music at Mudgee festival


The last time James Crabb busked was 37 years ago. Dressed in his kilt, the bigger-than-average 12-year-old was playing television themes and disco hits to raise funds for the Church of Scotland in Dundee. His instrument: a shiny red piano accordion he had pestered his parents to buy for his fourth birthday. In a corner of Britain synonymous with bagpipes, the only son of James and Violet Crabb gave his first public accordion performance aged five, won an under-12 competition when he was six, and became the go-to accordionist for ceilidhs.

Young Crabb’s instrument — an Alfa 48 Bass — was a mongrel of the aerophone clan. After its 1829 patenting in Vienna, the piano accordion was everywhere and its rudimentary ancestor, the Chinese sheng, all but forgotten, together with its many cousins including the harmonium, melodeon and concertina. The bag of air with its clustered buttons and truncated keyboard pumped out the people’s music, inside the tavern and out on the street. While the Soviets used accordions for propaganda, not everyone was so enamoured of the squeeze box. Edvard Grieg thought they sounded like a pig with a sore throat, the Nazis tried to halt their production, and for a time they were banned inside the Catholic Church.

But their extended family’s latest offspring, fathered by the respected Russian bayan, has been entrusted with Western music’s hallowed classical canon. Equipped with more than 200 buttons on both sides of its bellows and with no keyboard in sight, the aristocrat of the family is the classical accordion. Its pre- eminent virtuoso on the world stage is the boy with the shiny red Alfa — all grown up at 49, bold and bald.

“There is an extraordinary intensity in a Crabb performance,” says renowned conductor Martyn Brabbins. “[He] is a deep-thinking virtuoso musician ... who has been a transformative influence in bringing the classical accordion more into the mainstream of classical music.”

Today, at Review’s invitation, Crabb is busking at Sydney’s Circular Quay. His pate is capped, his sturdy arms wrapped around an 18kg classical accordion nicknamed Black Beauty. Here ferry horns, squawking gulls and city hubbub serenade tourists and locals. It’s a cacophony punctuated with the musical bravado of anonymous buskers — some seeking fame, others the weekly rent.

Crabb demonstrates the newest voice in the classical world to a mobile audience more familiar with a squeeze-boxed Waltzing Matilda than Grieg’s Holberg Suite. Will the unorthodox marriage between accordion and classical gravitas warrant more than an occasional glance?

Crabb’s repertoire spans five centuries: from the Renaissance and baroque periods (arranged by him for the accordion because “they are more transparent than the romantic style of Chopin or Beethoven”) to pieces written for the classical accordion by Kalevi Aho, Bent Sorensen and Kasper Rofelt — a new generation modernising the tradition of bayan composers.

Accordions, their innards and their sounds, have been part of Crabb’s life since he was born. His father repaired them and, more significantly, played them. When Crabb Sr squeezed, “wee Jimmy” was quick to pick up a riff. And once he heard it, he could play it. He has perfect pitch. Shortly after he was crowned British under-16 champion, Crabb’s accordion teacher died. His replacement, an Italian ice-cream vendor in Dundee, introduced Crabb to an all-button model — a cross between the conventional instrument he had been using and the one he plays today. “That opened up a new world of music for me,” Crabb says. Its scholastic capital, however, was in Denmark, not Scotland. About 12 years earlier, Mogens Ellegaard, the leading pioneer of the classical accordion, had convinced the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen to endow the instrument with its own faculty. Ellegaard became Crabb’s teacher (“he was like a god to me”) and the Scot remained in Denmark for 25 years.

At the academy, Crabb befriended a Norwegian who shared not only his birth year but also his passion for the instrument. Geir Draugsvoll and Crabb studied and performed together, and when Ellegaard died suddenly in 1995, both assumed his professorial duties. While rummaging through some old library music discarded by the academy, the duo found a two-piano score of Stravinsky’s fairytale ballet Petrushka, and decided to transcribe it for two accordions.

“[James] was the driving force,” insists Draugsvoll. “He did great, great work there.” “We both loved the music,” says Crabb in response. “The Russian melodies and their orchestral colours suited our accordions.” A recording followed (coupled with Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition), and critics everywhere took note: “Crabb and Draugsvoll have you on the edge of your

armchair with their dash and virtuosity ... compelling you to re-evaluate the instrument’s capacity as a serious concert medium,” wrote The Sunday Times. “[It] will help upgrade the accordion from campfire to the concert hall” echoed The Independent.

With its accordion faculty established, the Copenhagen academy schooled a new breed of composers keen to write for an instrument once considered unworthy. Rofelt — now a leading Danish composer — studied composition at the time Crabb and Draugsvoll were teaching accordion. He relishes writing for an instrument whose versatility allows him to “create very subtle effects” in his compositions, an instrument whose tonal range is greater than a concert grand’s. “On the piano,” says Rofelt, “if you’re lucky and have a big hand you can play 10 notes. But on the accordion you can actually span up to two, maybe three, octaves with one hand.”

During the past 12 months, Crabb has been collaborating with Brett Dean, the Berlin-based Australian composer. “I do love the very particular haunting sound that the accordion can provide,” Dean says. “It’s the most wonderful combination of wind and string instruments.” Dean is writing Hamlet, his second opera, for next year’s Glyndebourne Festival and he chose Crabb to play a major role not only in the pit, but on the stage as well.

For Hamlet’s famous play-within-a-play, Dean augmented the group of players with a travelling musician. “And one of the most transportable street instruments is the accordion,” he says. “[James] is really the leading figure of the play itself, [which] is presented as a mime. He’s providing pretty much all the music in that time. So it’s very much James’s show.”

Although Crabb reckons Dean’s music is “incredibly demanding ... but it’s really worth the effort musically”. Then there’s the acting. “Strong man that he is,” Dean says of Crabb, “he still has to make sure that he has the body strength to not only carry his accordion, which is a large instrument, but also move around.” Rehearsals start in April and after Glyndebourne finishes in July, Hamlet will tour Britain. It’s a long time to be away from home.

Home is Sydney. In 2010, Crabb — Scottish national, Danish resident — settled in the emerald city with his pregnant Australian wife and their two-year-old son. Crabb’s first venture down under 17 years earlier had been underwritten by Queensland’s Goss government extravaganza, the 1993 Brisbane Biennial. Appearances with state orchestras followed then in May 2000, while performing

in Copenhagen, Crabb received an urgent call from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra: could he play Luciano Berio’s 13th Sequenza, and could he come to Sydney for a one-night stand at the new City Recital Hall? He had two weeks to prepare and memorise a demanding eight-minute solo.

In the audience for the rare performance of Berio’s 13 pieces for instruments and voice was Lizzie Jones, a blonde violinist from the Australian Chamber Orchestra. There to see the 5th Sequenza (for trombone), Jones had left before a jet-lagged Crabb took the stage. “They flew me in that morning, I played that evening, and they flew me back the next day.” He arrived in Copenhagen carrying a didgeridoo. “I had to bring something home to prove I’d been here.”

What the ACO’s violinist missed in Sydney — Crabb’s formidable musicianship — the orchestra’s musical administrator had seen in Suffolk. Meurig Bowen was so impressed by Crabb’s performance at the 1998 Aldeburgh Festival, he set about persuading the ACO to engage him for one of its tours. Not everyone was enthused. “We were like, ‘As if we’d have an accordionist!’ ” says Jones. But Bo​- wen prevailed, and two years after his one-night stand with Berio, Crabb was back in Sydney, this time with his Danish girlfriend, to tango with the ACO. Jones recalls the first rehearsal: “Richard [Tognetti] had been practising with James and he was really impressed. And he said to me: ‘Lizzie, he’s the loveliest guy you’ll ever meet.’ ”

On the road with Piazzolla, Crabb and Jones became close friends, and when, later that year, Crabb returned on his own to perform at ACO’s Huntingdon Festival, romance blossomed. Accordionist married violinist in 2005, and is now eligible to become an Australian citizen. “Australia is like paradise, really,” he says. But being based here does have its drawbacks, not least having to travel to Bulgaria to have his $50,000 instrument tuned.

“Has James told you about his other passion?” asks Jones, now a violinist with the SSO. Perhaps it’s the soloist’s isolation, the practice routine — just man and instrument — that accounts for Crabb’s hockey mania. He represented Scotland in the sport at the 2009 Masters World Cup in Hong Kong. “I met a lot of my current teammates there,” he says, explaining how he came to play open grade for the University of Sydney. Furthermore, he plays with local club Masters, coaches his son’s under-11 team, and umpires junior and senior games.

Back at Circular Quay, Crabb’s busking time is nearly up. Few have stopped to listen. Most dawdle or scurry past, oblivious to a performance others would pay a

tidy sum to hear. Throughout the hour, however, one figure has stood nearby, transfixed by Bach, Grieg, Rameau and Piazzolla. He approaches Crabb. “Awesome, just awesome!” he says. Brazilian musician Diago Maia, 30, is in his sixth year busking his way around the world. Crabb offers an encore — a tango of course. “I was going to busk here,” Maia says later, “but when I heard him I thought, ‘no way, I have to listen’. This is the best I’ve heard. Simply awesome.” Maia should know. He too plays an accordion.

Crabb’s Australian commitments on and off-stage are multiplying. He has signed a long-term contract as artistic director of the Four Winds Festival in Bermagui on the NSW south coast, and late next year, after Hamlet, he will curate a 24-hour “mini immersive experience” at the UKARIA Cultural Centre outside Adelaide. And before the year ends, there will be a return to Huntingdon, now under the auspices of Musica Viva. Of the nine works Crabb will perform, five are by Scandinavian composers, underscoring the impact of Ellegaard. One of those, Light Falling, was written for accordion and cello by Rofelt.

Crabb also plays piano and organ, but bristles at the suggestion his musical talents are wasted on the accordion. “That’s my instrument,” he declares, pointing at Black Beauty. “That’s where I feel I can say what I want to say.” Brabbins agrees: “[He has] a passionate connection to the music he’s playing.” Dean adds, “James is not only a compelling soloist and beguiling character, but also really a musician’s musician. He’s really the player, in my opinion.”

As he approaches his 51st year, how long does he plan to keep playing? “So long as my lungs and arms are working,” Crabb says, smiling, “the bellows will keep pumping.”

James Crabb will perform at the Huntington Estate Music Festival, Mudgee, NSW, from November 23 to 27.

   Brendan Ward


Review of portrait CD

   "Hvorfor ikke gøre sin debutkoncert ekstra festlig?

Bornholmske Bjarke Mogensen, født 1985, nu international kendt akkordeonist, der har givet koncerter fra New York til Moskva, fra Island til Tyrkiet, udgav samtidig med sin afgangsdebut fra Det Kgl. Danske Musikkonservatorium 7. marts i år to cd’er med værker for akkordeon. Om udgivelserne har solisten blandt andet sagt: »At indspille to vidt forskellige cd’er er en drøm, der går i opfyldelse for mig«.

   Der er lidt mindre mangel på (nye) værker for akkordeon, efter at den 36-årige danske komponist Kasper Rofelt har tonesat fem længere værker, hvor instrumentet er gennemgående og, må man sige, i høj grad toneangivende. Karakteristisk for værkerne er den tekniske spændvidde og den udtryksrige klangverden der er lagt ind i instrumentet.

   Det lange åbningsværk, Shadow Pieces, i tre dele, inddrager blandt andet Sofia Gubaidulinas smukke strenghed, Arne Nordheims nordiske karskhed, men der er ligeledes, i midterdelen, spor af et ridt med Ennio Morricones musik ud på de vidtstrakte prærier. Med andre ord: Rofelt overlader det i høj grad til lytteren selv at lægge budskaber, følelser og fortolkninger ind i disse vide værker. Bjarke Mogensens force er her netop at kunne åbne op for de udsyn musikken lægger op til. Vist så, dette er moderne klassisk musik, men overraskende harmonisk og struktureret (hør f.eks. Toke Møldrups syngende cellospil i Nightsong 1 eller Christina Åstrands violin), visse steder med udpræget brug af barokmusikkens yndede op- og nedadgående skalaer; den røde tråd i værkerne, pointen, opdager man allerede ved første gennemlytning. Man bør også lægge ører til de tre akkordeonetuder (Concert Studies for classical Accordion) og den rugende, mørke Charybdis – i fint sammenspil med Rasmus Kjøller.

   Af cd-noterne fremgår det, at komponisten, da han mødte Bjarke Mogensen i 2006, i høj grad har haft denne i tankerne i forbindelse med kompositionerne. Et tæt samarbejde har gjort at de løbende har kunnet finpudse værkerne.

   Solisten løfter dem, og måske har Bjarke Mogensen aldrig været bedre end på denne cd. Den udstiller en smuk balance mellem det teknisk virtuose, indbygget i kompositionerne, og det udadvendte kunstneriske."

   Poul Lund, d. 21/6 2012

   Source: Bornholms Tidende

Review of portrait CD

   "Nu er han her sørme igen. Bjarke Mogensen har haft travlt i studiet. Denne gang sammen med den 29-årige komponist Kasper Rofelt. Ingen af de to kan man anklage for at køre på rutinen, for på denne portræt-cd sendes akkordeon-vindene af sted i alle retninger, og der væltes uafbrudt mure, så spillerummet flot udvider sig.

Med livsappetit, sårbarhed og oppe i tempo - med et frådende akkordeon og sønderbrudte indfald på ”Shadow Pieces” - lyder Rofelt som én, der med et brag sparker døren ind til en ny verden."

   Jens Povlsen, Jyllands-Posten


Review: "Apsaras' Music"

   "Således også Kasper Rofelt (f.1982) på mandagens koncert. Men musikken klarer sig meget bedre ved bare at hedde f.eks. Apsaras’ Music uden at man samtidig skal holde styr på, om det er en naturånd for skyerne eller for vandet. Det var nemlig et fornemt komponeret stykke slagtøjsmusik, som Rofelt havde skrevet, fængslende fra begyndelse til slutning og virtuost udført af Mads Hebsgaard Andersen."

   "The same goes for Kasper Rofelt (b. 1982) at the concert Monday evening. The music stands much better on its own by being called "Apsaras' Music" without the interference of information about whether it's a spirit of the clouds or the water. This percussion piece was in fact ingeniously composed by Rofelt, captivating right from the start and performed skilfully by Mads Hebsgaard Andersen."

   Anders Brødsgaard, Seismograf.

   Source:, 29th March 2012

Review: "Entourage" for recorder

   "Ikke uventet imponerede blokfløjtenisten Pernille Petersen. Det er oftest en falsk varebetegnelse at skrive debutkoncert om elever, der afslutter deres uddannelse fra konservatoriernes solistklasser.

Tirsdagens debutant er repræsentativ og endda lidt mere: med sine kun 27 år har blokfløjtenisten Pernille Petersen vundet flere prestigefyldte internationale priser, er solist og kammermusiker her og i udlandet, og er efter flere cd-indspilninger i gang med sin egen solo-cd."

   (...) " Pernille Petersen ville gerne vise mere af sin tekniske alsidighed, og havde bestilt et fint lille værk hos den unge komponist Kasper Rofelt. I hans Entourage afsøger instrumentet sine muligheder, musikerens stemme synger duet, tostemmigt eller unisont, med fløjten, besindigt, afmålt, idérigt."

   Mikael, Fyens Stifttidende, d. 17/9 2010. Anmeldele af Pernille Petersens debutkoncert.

   Source: Fyens Stifttidende, d. 17/9 2010.


   "Stjernefrø"..."veluddannet og rost af fornemme kollegaer, og så er han musikalsk yderst velformuleret."

   Henrik Friis, Politiken, d. 17/8 2009. Omtale i forbindelse med koncert med Toke Møldrup og Bjarke Mogensen, da de uropførte duoen "Lysfald".

   Source: Politiken, d. 17/8 2009

Klassik Heute review of Dialogue CD

  Die dänische Blockflötistin Michala Petri hat sich zusammen mit ihrer chinesischen Partnerin Chen Yue auf eine faszinierende musikalische Reise begeben. Ihr Projekt „Dialogue – East meets West“ stellt Duette für (westliche) Blockflöte und (chinesische) Querflöte einander gegenüber, die 2007 von je fünf chinesischen und dänischen Komponisten eigens für diese CD konzipiert wurden.

   Ich war auf das Resultat mehr als gespannt: Chinesische Folklore versus westliche Avantgarde? Pentatonik gegen Dodekaphonie? Hedonistischer Schönklang im Kontrast zu modernen Spieltechniken? Es würde den Rahmen sprengen, auf alle zehn eingespielten Werke näher einzugehen. Soviel sei gesagt: Alle zehn Stücke sind überaus hörenswert und bieten ein breites Spektrum von ästhetischen, stilistischen und formalen Ansätzen. Alle Konzepte überzeugen, spielen sie auf traditionelle Volksmusik Chinas bzw. der Inneren Mongolei an (Li Rui, Gang Chen, Siqin Chaoketu), verbinden sie beide Welten (Hu Yao, Pernille Louise Sejlund) oder präsentieren sie sehr persönliche kompositorische Lösungen (Anders Monrad, Mette Nielsen, Kasper Rofelt, Benjamin de Murashkin und Ruomei Chen).

   Von der ersten bis zur letzten Minute habe ich mit Spannung, Freude und Staunen zugehört. Manchmal war es sogar schwer zu unterscheiden, woher welche Musik kommt. Ein gutes Zeichen, denke ich. Wieder einmal erweist sich das „kleine“ Dänemark (damit wohl stellvertretend für viele skandinavische Länder) als Hort stilistisch-ästhetischer Pluralität jenseits festgefahrener akademischer Begrenzungen, wie sie so in Deutschland etwa mit seinem faktisch klar umrissenen Bild, was sich in der „Neuen Musik“ ziemt, kaum denkbar wäre. OUR Recordings hat dem Projekt alle nur denkbare Liebe und Sorgfalt angedeihen lassen: Aufnahmequalität, ausführliche Werkkommentare, Design – alles vom Feinsten! Herausgekommen ist eine der aufregendsten, inspirierendsten und inspiriertesten Blockflöten-CDs der vergangenen Jahre. Michala Petris Ost-West-Projekt markiert den Idealfall eines interkulturellen Dialogs: Musik, die mir Hoffnung gibt, dass die Zeitgenössische Tonkunst eine Zukunft hat!

   Heinz Braun, Klassik Heute, d. 20/7 2009


Helsingør Dagblad review

Det er for mig forfriskende at høre musik, jeg ikke har hørt før, især når det er unge nulevende komponister der har skrevet den, og når det er unge musikere, der fremfører den!

   Så søndag eftermiddag i Sthens Kirke blev en rigtig god dag, hvor den unge accordeonspiller Bjarke Mogensen sammen med en anden ung musiker, pianisten David Lau Magnussen fremførte ny musik af Kasper Rofelt og Martin Lohse hhv 26 og 38 år gamle. Jeg ved intet om dem, sikkert fordi jeg ikke er ’på nettet’ men et kort soloværk af Rofelt for accordeon var et meget udtryksfuldt værk, hvor accordeonens rige klangmuligheder blev udnyttet lige fra sarte, sfæriske klange til noget, der lignede et uvejr i anmarch, flot spillet! Af samme Rofelt spillede pianisten et værk, Complexions, etude nr. 1 pour piano, som det så smukt hedder på fransk. Musik af vor tid er det, ingen skelen bagud, men friske og følelsesladede toner, som det nok var rart at høre en gang til, for at danne sig nye billeder. David Lau Magnussens fine klaverspil har vi hørt flere gange i Sthens Kirke, idet han som en af docent Tove Lønskovs eliteelever, har været med, når hun har præsenteret sine studerende i kirken. Han lader til at være i stadig fremgang. Oddmund Opsjön fortalte mig, at han også spiller orgel, så ham hører vi absolut mere til. Bjarke Mogensen er også et stort ungt navn på ’trækspillet´, der har fået en formidabel succes. Bl.a. havde selveste Gidon Kremer inviteret ham med til en koncert på Louisiana for et par år siden, hvor han høstede stort bifald i den berømte violinists ensemble af unge musikere med fremtid i.

Grethe Jørgensen, Helsingør Dagblad, d. 17/2 2009

  Source: Helsingør Dagblad

Per Nørgård om Kaspers musik

"Kan du nævne en herboende kunster, som du mener er nyskabende og inspirerende?

   PN: Vi har så mange nyskabende kunstnere, at jeg ikke engang kan begynde at opregne uden at måtte udelade nogen. Så lad mig blot nævne blandt de yngste - inden for ny kompositionsmusik, sangskrivere og bands: Kasper Rofelt, Aura, Mew: Nyskabende og inspirerende (og utvivlsomt inspireret af alle de foregående)."

Per Nørgård til "Spil Dansk Dagen", november 2008


Omtale af "Twilight Toccata" og Bjarke Mogensen

"...Også Bjarke Mogensen spillede solo. En virtuos "Twilight Toccata" af Kasper Rofelt, som udnytter alle instrumentets virkemidler, og som modstykke - for at vise forskellen på accordeonen og harmonikaen - en Scarlatti-sonate, spinkelt og følsomt fremført."

   Fyens Stifttidende, Ole Lauritzen, d. 9/9 2008