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James MacMillan: A European Requiem at the BBC Proms

(June 2017)

MacMillanLittleMassGatward.jpg A European Requiem by James MacMillan is featured at the BBC Proms on 30 July, its first European performance. The setting of the timeless Latin text is viewed by the composer as "the ideal rediscovering of our common heritage".

The BBC Proms introduces UK audiences to James MacMillan's recent A European Requiem on 30 July at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The 45-minute work, scored for counter-tenor and baritone soloists, choir and orchestra, was unveiled at the Oregon Bach Festival last year and the Proms performance will be its European premiere. Performers in London include vocal soloists Iestyn Davies and Jacques Imbrailo, the combined choral forces of the BBC National Chorus of Wales and the CBSO Chorus, and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with its Principal Guest Conductor Xian Zhang. The concert will be telecast on BBC4 TV and broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Placing itself firmly in the European tradition of musical Requiems, MacMillan views his work not as "a memorial for a loved one but rather a general response to this vivid text, coloured by a realism and wistfulness at the passing of deep cultural resonances". His choice of Latin rather than the vernacular has special significance: "It was the lingua franca used by the European founding fathers, whether in Roman times or in the Church, and provided a source of common identity for a millennium and a half, in international relations, education and the sharing of ideas".

A European Requiem was commissioned and composed well before the UK's EU Referendum campaign, though by a curious quirk of fate the composer arrived in Oregon for rehearsals for its world premiere the day after the Brexit vote was delivered. In a recent article in Standpoint magazine, MacMillan explains how initial ideas for the work were prompted by a particular vision for European renewal:

"Pope John Paul II, one of the greatest Europeans of recent times, called for a "Europe of the spirit" so that the continent could be a true "common home" filled with the joy of life... As a British composer I hope to continue contributing to how Europe shapes its future, even when the EU now seems part of our past. The spiritual, moral and artistic patrimony that makes Europe "Europe" will outlive any transient political twists and turns."

A European Requiem is composed in a continuous span, with orchestral interludes linking the traditional sections of the Requiem Mass, reinforcing the composer's view that it is a concert work rather than serving a liturgical role. The choral writing is wide ranging, from block chording, through Expressionist shouting and whispering, to melismatic writing growing out of plainchant. The menacing marching at the work's opening leads to a lamenting Kyrie, builds towards the celebratory central Hosanna in excelsis, and ends with an ethereal and mysterious In Paradisum.

James MacMillan conducts two concerts at this summer's Edinburgh International Festival. His programme with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on 19 August includes his trumpet concerto Epiclesis, exploring the transformation of material akin to transubtantiation in the Latin Mass, with Norwegian soloist Ole Edvard Antonsen. MacMillan also conducts the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert on 28 August in Princes Street Gardens with the Scottish Chamber Orchesta, the programme including the composer's overture Stomp (with Fate and Elvira) and Maxwell Davies's Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise with its Scottish dancing, boozy celebrations and bagpipe finale.


>  Further information on Work: A European Requiem

Photo: Philip Gatward

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