This work was commissioned by the Hertfordshire Chorus with funds provided by the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, Eastern Arts Board and the Holst Foundation. It was given its first performance in St Albans Cathedral in 1999 by the Hertfordshire Chorus, Gillian Moore (mezzo-soprano), and the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Kibblewhite. The London premiere took place in 2004 at the Royal Festival Hall with the Bach Choir, Anna Burford (mezzo-soprano), and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Hill.
The Dance, forever the Dance is a large-scale work for mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra, lasting some thirty minutes. It is in four movements, mirroring the structure of traditional symphonic form – in fact it could be described as a symphony for voices and orchestra. The majesty and vigour of the first movement (Dance of Joy) is complimented by the lyrical restraint of the second (Dance of Love), whilst the third (Dance of Death) is both sinister and sensual and parodies a Viennese waltz rather in the manner of Ravel’s La Valse. The final movement (Dance of Life) banishes the darkness of the previous movement with extrovert exuberance, winding its way via highly rhythmically-charged rhetoric and Tippett-like contrapuntal passages, to ‘bluesy’ seductiveness; but the work ends in a blaze of life-affirming colour. The mezzo-soprano soloist has a prominent role in the second and fourth movements.
The text has been compiled from a variety of sources – including Byron, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, and WH Auden – which use ‘dance’ as a metaphor for life in its various guises. In particular, the first movement uses words by Byron: On with the dance, let joy be unconfined, and Lewis Carroll: Will you, won’t you, join in the dance, whilst the second uses the well-known text of a medieval mystery play: Tomorrow shall be my dancing day. The third movement uses almost the entire text from a poem written in 1883 in Paris by Oscar Wilde – The Harlot’s House, whilst the final movement includes a four-line quotation from a WH Auden poem.
The work is scored for large symphony orchestra, including harp, piano and celeste, and antiphonal off-stage trumpets.
Of all the choral premieres I’ve heard this year, I cannot remember one that impressed me so much for its sheer impact and drive. It’s also commendable for being high on communication and intelligibility, and I feel is truly a landmark major work, here to stay.
Jill Barlow, St Albans Observer (December 1999)
It is a thrilling work which takes its inspiration from musical sources as diverse as Stravinsky and Purcell. The text is drawn from the works of W H Auden, Lord Byron, Lewis Carroll and Oscar Wilde. All the elements which make this new work so exciting – the range required of the singers, the sudden variations in rhythm and the tonal transitions – also make it a challenging work to perform. The Hertfordshire Chorus and the Guildhall Orchestra performed with skill and verve …
Dorothy Holt, Herts Advertiser (December 1999)
What a pleasure to attend the premiere of a new work which engaged in so vital and direct a way. For me particularly memorable was the arresting setting of ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’, words familiar from celebrated works by Holst and John Gardiner. However, The Dance is chiefly characterised by Gregson’s flamboyant theatricality – the work opens with trumpets arrestingly sounding from on high – and by his characteristic sense of development and growth, a forward building and onward rhythmic drive, which informed all four movements.
Lewis Foreman, British Music Society Journal (March 2000)
mezzo-soprano , mixed chorus, symphony orchestra
Genre: Vocal & Choral
First Performance: December, 1999
St Albans Cathedral
Guildhall School of Music Symphony Orchestra, Hertfordshire Chorus, Gillian Moore (mezzo-soprano), Michael Kibblewhite (conductor)