James Crabb

Classical Accordion
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Scottish-born James Crabb is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading ambassadors of the classical accordion. He studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music with classical accordion pioneer Mogens Ellegaard and was awarded the Carl Nielsen Music Prize, Denmark, in 1991. He was professor of classical accordion at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen from 1995 to 2010, held a long-standing guest professorship at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz, Austria, and was most recently Artistic Director of Four Winds Festival, NSW.

He has performed worldwide as a soloist with the BBC, BBC Scottish, London, Sydney, and Melbourne Symphonies, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic, Hallé Orchestra, Rotterdam Philharmonic, London Sinfonietta, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Nash Ensemble, Hong Kong Philharmonic and Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

This year James’ concerto engagements will include Piazzolla’s Aconcagua with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra; he returns to the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Melbourne Chamber Orchestra and the Australia Ensemble for chamber music performances and appears with Genevieve Lacey again at the Brycefield Estate Festival. James will also feature in Opera Australia’s presentation of Brett Dean’s opera, Hamlet, in the role specifically written for him, which he has previously performed for Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Opera Cologne, Bavarian State Opera, Munich, and at Adelaide Festival.

A recognised and acclaimed authority on the music of Astor Piazzolla, James has performed with the original members of Piazzolla’s own quintet. He has directed Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, both at the Royal Danish Opera and for Victorian Opera. James’ Piazzolla recordings include Song of the Angel with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and The Quintets with Richard Tognetti and the Tango Jam quintet. He is also featured in the documentary Astor Piazzolla in Portrait published by Opus Arte. Further recordings include transcriptions of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, as well as The Singing (Beamish) with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Highlights of recent seasons include his debut with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (Creswell’s Dragspil concerto for classical accordion), a national tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Richard Tognetti, performances with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, a weekend of recitals at the Ukaria Cultural Centre, performances at festivals including the Australian and Tasmanian Chamber Music Festivals, Oxford May Music, UK, and Huntington Estate with the Goldner Quartet, and a residency at the Australian National Academy of Music. He has also appeared at the Adam Chamber Music Festival, New Zealand, performed and recorded the new Brett Dean Accordion concerto, The Players, with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, performed with Dance Company Co.3 in Perth in a new work, “In Line”, given a recital at Music in the Round, Abbotsford Convent, Victoria, appeared with violinist Anthony Marwood at Ukaria, played with/directed Sinfonia Cymru, Wales, and appeared in Hamlet in a new production of the opera at Opera Cologne. James has also performed Piazzolla’s Aconcagua with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Ulster Orchestra, conducted and performed in Victorian Opera’s production of Maria de Buenos Aires, played Stravinsky’s Petrouchka with the Tero Saarinen Dance Company in Europe and Asia, given the world premiere of a new work by Magnar Am in Oslo and in Japan, played Gubaidulina’s 7 Words with the BBC Symphony and at the BBC Proms, toured Victoria with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and performed with the Camerata Salzburg, Australia Ensemble, Sydney Omega Ensemble, Southern Cross Soloists, Black Arm Band, and at the Peasmarsh Festival, England. With the Swedish Chamber Orchestra James and Brett Dean performed a new Accordion/Viola duo work, and in collaboration with Opera Queensland and Dance North he was music director of “Abandon”, based on the music of Handel.

Maintaining a high international profile, James has appeared as guest soloist and director of a new Piazzolla festival in Buenos Aires and performed the Birtwistle work The Last Supper with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. He also curated the 2017 ‘UKARIA 24’ weekend of performances.

James also continues his two exciting collaborations, one with violinist Anthony Marwood and the other with recorder player Genevieve Lacey. Crabb-Lacey’s first recording together, Heard This and Thought of You, has been released on the ABC Classics label.


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“Crabb’s unrivalled virtuosity shone throughout, with some astonishing, lightning-fast finger dexterity . . . He had superb control of expression, going from the impossibly soft to muscular, barking chords so typical of the tango style.”

Clinton White

“In quiet passages, James Crabb presses and expands his beloved accordion like a second set of lungs – or even a first set – squeezing out a sigh or a cadence as though it were his dying breath. In more active music he flicks offbeat accents and sudden outbursts with cool precision, both deadpan and deadly, creating incendiary momentum as though this is the last tango civilisation will hear and you might as well enjoy it. Yet this is not ego-driven performance. A hallmark of his playing is the way he listens and adjusts, matching a quiet note against a cadenza from ACO leader Richard Tognetti, or balancing an inner chord with violist Stefanie Farrands to draw out a darkening thought.”

Peter McCallum

“Crabb was an enthusiastic director in this work, engaging with all the musicians around him from his seat on the central podium… Crabb manoeuvred brilliantly between the plucky, rhythmic dance-figures and the more lyrical, singing melodies of his line. Particularly well-realised was the cadenza in the first movement; sensitively voiced and tantalisingly phrased.”

“…Accordionist James Crabb might have an operatic career ahead of him. Dean’s decision to use this non-operatic instrument in the play-within-the-play scene is a masterstroke. It is such an unexpected sonority, and Crabb’s virtuosic playing underpins the broad comedy.”

Michael Halliwell,

“…Accordionist James Crabb is spectacular in the concerto, The Singing. From long mournful singing lines, bagpipe imitations and breathing bellows and winds, the accordion and orchestra create lush soundscapes”.

Tiina Kiik,

“…a brilliant performance from James Crabb”

Bruce Reader

“…The Singing – executed with effortless fluency and contagious flair by its dedicatee James Crabb"

Paul Riley

“The great strength of this Victorian Opera production, directed by Leigh Warren, is the impressive Tango Nuevo Ensemble, with James Crabb’s remarkable classical accordion that expresses the passionate heart of Piazzolla’s tango."

Kate Herbert

Managed by Graham Pushee: Email Graham February 2024

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