'The texts of the Mass have to engage with the world in a conscious way : they're not just poetry, but an up-front, conscious vehicle for prayer, for both the choir and the congregation.' - James MacMillan, talking to Roderic Dunnett in 2000
Scottish composer and conductor James MacMillan was born in Kilwinning on 16 July 1959. He studied composition with Rita McAllister and Kenneth Leighton at Edinburgh University and with John Casken at Durham University. From 1986 until 1988 he lectured in music at Manchester's Victoria University.
Back in Scotland, he was Associate Composer with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and first came to prominence when his work The Confession of Isobel Gowdie was given its first performance in 1990 at the London Promenade Concerts by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and this led to further high-profile commissions, such as the percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, a cello concerto, operas and the St John Passion.
MacMillian is a Roman Catholic, and his work in influenced by spirituality, politics and Scottish traditional music. Some of his Mass settings are written with normal church congregations in mind, rather than church choirs.
MacMillan worked as composer and conductor for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra from 2000 until 2009.
CD Spotlight. Engrossingly Moving - Works for clarinet and orchestra by Nielsen, Copland and MacMillan, heard by Gerald Fenech. 'A challenging programme, superbly presented and recorded.'
Classical music news - Donatella Flick Conducting Competition - The deadline for the 2021 Donatella Flick Conducting Competition has been extended until 13 August 2020
CD Spotlight. Effervescent Beauty - Music by Pärt, Vasks and MacMillan, sung by the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, impressing Patrick Maxwell. 'This recording from the Choir of Clare College Cambridge under the direction of Graham Ross cements their position as one of the finest church ensembles in the country ...'
Ensemble. Packed With Good Things - Roderic Dunnett reports from the 2019 Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester
Ensemble. Bouncy Vitality - The Sitwell Singers' Christmas concert, heard by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. War and Peace - Giuseppe Pennisi reports from the Sagra Musicale Umbra Festival
CD Spotlight. Highly Interesting - British music for cello and piano, enthralls Gerald Fenech. 'An important addition to the genre's discography in excellent performances, sound and annotations ...'
CD Spotlight. Another Gem - New music for choir and ancient instruments, heard by Gerald Fenech. '... this musical melting pot has some unexpected tastes, and surprising delights abound from beginning to end.'
Ensemble. Idiomatically Handled - The Sitwell Singers' Christmas Concert impresses Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Consistently Engaging - James MacMillan sets the passion and burial of Christ, heard by Gerald Fenech. '... both singers and instrumentalists are on impeccable form, making for an insightful and focused experience.'
Ensemble. Light from on High - Giuseppe Pennisi's first of two reports from the Sagra Musicale Umbra
A Higher Standard - Malcolm Miller reports from the Wigmore Hall / Kohn Foundation International Song Competition
CD Spotlight. A Fine Programme - Vaughan Williams and MacMillan oboe concertos, recommended by Howard Smith. '... superb performances ideally recorded.'
CD Spotlight. Stunning Works - Music for string quartet by James MacMillan, recommended by Andrew Schartmann. '... expressive, virtuosic, and replete with subtle hues.'
Ensemble. Bringing Together - Roderic Dunnett visits James MacMillan's Cumnock Tryst
Ensemble. Orchestral Colours - Garry Walker conducts Sinfonia Viva, heard by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Sturm und Drang - The Gould Piano Trio, heard by Michael Tremberth
CD Spotlight. Highly Recommended - Music for Advent intrigues Gerald Fenech. '... one of the discs of the year as far as choral music is concerned ...'
Ensemble. Exciting Teamwork - Roderic Dunnett was in Worcester for the 2011 Three Choirs Festival
Ensemble. Focused Intensity - Purcell and MacMillan from The Sixteen, heard by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. A Fascinating Work - The first performance of Gabriel Jackson's Requiem, reviewed by Robert Hugill
Ensemble. Remarkably Paradoxical - Robert Hugill experiences James MacMillan's opera 'The Sacrifice' at Welsh National Opera
CD Spotlight - Spiritual mysteries. 'This is a great recording of what, I dare to suggest, will come to be recognised as great music.' James MacMillan's music for Westminster Cathedral, considered by David Thompson
More MacMillan - James MacMillan's new Evening Canticles for choir and organ have just been premièred at Winchester. Roderic Dunnett talked to the cathedral organist, David Hill.
Subtle Celebration - James MacMillan talks to Roderic Dunnett about composing sacred and liturgical music.