This music was originally commissioned by Richard Campion for the New Zealand Players’ production of Ring Round the Moon by Jean Ahhouil, translated by Christopher Fry. In the second act there is a ball taking place offstage and demanding a large number of dances which are specified in the text.
The music was first recorded on acetate discs by a ad hoc orchestra led by Alex Lindsay; these small recordings were then played through speakers for the production, sounding very loud to the cast but filtering out more gently to the audience. At the end of the long national tour, the cast knew the music very well and suggested to me that I should do something with it.
The result, some years later, 1957, was a suite of nine dances first performed by the Alex Lindsay Orchestra. This rapidly became my most performed piece and was commercially recorded by the Alex Lindsay Orchestra in the 1960s, a recording still available today from Kiwi Pacific Reords.
Ashley Heenen, through the NZ APRA Committee, commissioned an arrangement for full orchestra for the NZ Youth Orchestra to take on a tour of Europe and China in 1975. This version was shortened to six dances by leaving out the first three numbers. The music has also been used for a ballet, The Wintergarden, choreographed by Arthur Turnbull for the Royal New Zealand Ballet Company – this version included a tenth dance not in the 1957 Suite. Since 1975 two further version have been commissioned: Waltz Suite (1989), for string orchestra (five dances) for the Nova Strings, and an arrangement of the original Dance Suite (1992) for violin and piano (nine dances) for Isador Saslav.
‘Hoata’ was written in 1979, while I was composer-in-residence for Northern Arts and a Fellow of Newcastle University, for the Northern Sinfonia, who, conducted by David Haslam, gave the first performance during the Newcastle Festival later that year. I wrote the piece, named for the Maori phase of the moon when the new moon is barely apparent, while I was living on the Northumbrian moors north of Hexham. It was a cold winter, and the snow around the small remote cottage, which was not well insulated, lay around for four months as blizzard followed blizzard, and something of the isolation and the environment seems to have got into the piece. ‘Hoata’ consists of sections built up in a mosaic-like manner, separated by freer sections, which may be cadenzas, or have a degree of improvisation; there is at times perhaps a suggestion of birdsong.