North American premiere of ‘Dream Song’


Edward Gregson’s large-scale symphonic work ‘Dream Song’ will receive its North American premieres in early June with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Bramwell Tovey. Commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for the ‘Mahler in Manchester’ Festival of 2010, the work reflects the composer’s relationship with Mahler’s music, in particular the 6th Symphony, the work which formed the main part of the original concert. The premiere was given in March 2010 by the BBC Philharmonic (conducted by Gianandrea Noseda), who have also recorded the work on the Chandos label with conductor Bramwell Tovey. The work received its German premiere in 2013.

The composer comments:

My approach in tackling this commission was to ‘invade’ Mahler’s world of musical ideas; indeed, the title of the work, Dream Song, is intended to portray a half-remembered landscape of some of the themes and motives from his Sixth Symphony, fragmented (or deconstructed) as if in a dream, with the all-pervading presence of the opening phrase (more often than not, only the first four notes) of the so-called ‘Alma’ theme from the first movement, used as a kind of leitmotif, and giving the work a thematic coherence of sorts. Of course, in a mere 20 minutes it is impossible to re-create the large-scale contrasting emotional turmoil of this particular symphony, but I have tried to create a parallel musical world, albeit in contracted form, encompassing it within an arch-shaped one movement structure – slow, fast, slow, beginning loudly and ending quietly.

Review of the premiere:

Of all the works commissioned for the Mahler in Manchester series, this is possibly the most ambitious. It is scored for the same forces as the Sixth, thought the urban cool of a steel band has replaced Mahler’s alpine cowbells. Gregson also draws much of his thematic material from the Symphony, twisting it into a three-section dreamscape, in which a thudding central scherzo is framed by two reflective slow movements. Gregson’s ability to suggest a world both familiar and strange is impressive …
Tim Ashley, The Guardian, March 2010

It’s a formidable piece of composing, with the orchestra handled with total assurance..
Hilary Finch, The Times, 31 March 2010

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