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.
These pieces were originally piano duets, written with one easy part for my wife to play, and presented to her on various anniversary occasions in the 1960s. This orchestral suite was arranged for the 1965 Cambridge Summer Music School, and first performed there by the school’s orchestra. The translation from piano to orchestral sounds makes many opportunities for variety of colours and for real sostenuto. But while orchestral sound is bound to be very different, I have attempted in the Trio of the Mexicana to capture something of the effect of the piano’s harmonic resonance to provide sustaining echoes of the oboe’s tune.
A meditation on the brevity of life and the nature of loss, Concerto for Orchestra is one of very few of Samuel Gray’s works not to feature overtly political content. The unconventional, prominent use of the musicians’ voices in addition to their instrumental performances nevertheless marks the Concerto as characteristically Gray.
This orchestral work was commissioned by the Gisborne Community Arts Council for the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and celebrates 100 years of work by the Salvation Army in New Zealand. The work derives, although not obviously, from two tunes associated with the Salvation Army and the nature of the piece is that of an exclamation.