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Work of the Week – Gavin Bryars: Requiem

On the 9 February 2019, Dutch National Ballet will give world premiere of Gavin Bryars’ Requiem, ten-movement setting of liturgical texts, for orchestra, chorus, and vocal soloists with choreography by David Dawson. The performance will be the first of a seven to be given throughout February in Amsterdam with the final performance taking place on 1 March.

Gavin Bryars and David Dawson’s collaboration in this new work is the latest in an ongoing and fruitful creative partnership. Dawson used Bryars’ Third String Quartet for his ballet Reverence, and the pair worked together on a production for Ballet Vlaanderen in Antwerp, production resulting in Bryars’ string orchestra work, The Third Light.

Gavin Bryars: “My most personal Requiem”

The form of the Requiem is not unfamiliar to Gavin Bryars, who has previously written a number of works exploring its subject matter from various perspectives. Cadman Requiem (1989), his first requiem, was written in memory of Bryars’ friend Bill Cadman and premiered by the Hilliard ensemble. He composed After the Requiem (1990) elaborating on material he had used in his first requiem. Together these works explore a period of mourning, loss and acceptance, with the latter written, in Bryars’ words, in ‘that state which remains after mourning is (technically) over.’ Nevertheless, Bryars has described his recent Requiem as his most personal exploration of the form.

‘This is by far my most personal Requiem. David’s idea to portray dancers as angels, as beings between heaven and earth strongly appeals to me. It is a beautiful image that offers a certain comfort: musicians and singers that make the dancers float through the space.’
Gavin Bryars

In Requiem, Bryars and Dawson seek to explore the passing of time and the essence of faith. Dawson has described the piece as a method of acknowledging the past and remembering it so that we don’t continue to make the same mistakes.


Photo: Het Nationale Ballet / Alain Honorez