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MacMillan Scottish premieres and Passion chorale

(March 2016)

MacMillanMassNewsGatward.jpg The coming month brings the Scottish premiere of James MacMillan's Little Mass, the UK premiere of The Death of Oscar and the world premiere of a new closing chorale for staged performances of Bach's St Matthew Passion.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra presents two major James MacMillan premieres over the coming month. The Scottish premiere of his Little Mass for children's chorus and orchestra is in Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall on 17 March featuring the RSNO Junior Chorus. The programme conducted by the orchestra's Music Director Peter Oundjian travels on to the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on 18 March and the Music Hall in Aberdeen on 19 March. The work was co-commissioned by the RSNO together with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

The 30-minute Little Mass is the latest in MacMillan's output to feature a prominent role for children's voices, following the cantata Quickening, his Gloria for the 50th celebrations of Coventry Cathedral and the St Luke Passion. It sets three of the smaller sections of the Ordinary of the Mass (Kyrie, Sanctus and Agnus Dei),while allowing space for orchestral reflection on the sung texts. As well as traditional word setting, the young voices are often treated in an impressionistic manner, adding colour to the orchestration. Though the general outline and structure of the liturgical texts are respected, the composer views the work as imagined primarily for concert performance.

The UK premiere of MacMillan's orchestral work The Death of Oscar follows in Edinburgh on 8 April conducted by Stéphane Denève, following performances the RSNO's former Music Director has given in Stuttgart and Seattle. After the Edinburgh concert, the RSNO takes the work to the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on 9 April. As well as Denève’s musical collaborations with MacMillan while at the helm of the RSNO, they both shared the experience of sitting for portrait busts created by the Scottish sculptor Alexander Stoddardt. MacMillan became aware of Stoddardt’s project to create a monumental sculpture of The Death of Oscar, to be carved from a Scottish granite hillside in the Western Highlands, and this inspired the current score for Denève to conduct.

MacMillan's miniature orchestral tone-poem retells an episode from the legends of Ossian. His son Oscar challenged the High King Cairbre to single combat and, though victorious, died of his wounds and was mourned by his father and lover. These tales collected by James Macpherson in the 18th century have long been subject of hot debate about their authenticity, but what is not in doubt is the massive influence they had on perceptions of Scottish and Celtic culture, particularly overseas – admired by political figures such as Napoleon and Thomas Jefferson and inspiring Romantic artists from Mendelssohn in Fingal’s Cave to Goethe in Werther.

>  Visit the RSNO website   

James MacMillan has composed a new closing chorale for an imaginative staged presentation of music from Bach's St Matthew Passion, with first performances in Manchester on 25 and 26 March. The site-specific promenade production of The Passion in Campfield Market sees Streetwise Opera collaborating with The Sixteen and director Penny Woolcock. The cast which retells the last two days of Jesus's life combines performers who have experienced homelessness with members of The Sixteen. The new 'resurrection' finale, I Awoke Today, with texts by Streetwise Opera's cast and music by James MacMillan offers glimmers of hope after the bleakness of the cross in a joyous choral finale.

> Visit the Streetwise Opera website 

Passiontide also sees international performances of the MacMillan classic, Seven Last Words from the Cross. The Britten Sinfonia and Chorus conducted by Eamonn Dougan gives performances in Birmingham Town Hall on 20 March and the Barbican in London on Good Friday (25 March). The work is also performed in the run-up to Easter in Cardiff, Salisbury, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, the USA and Canada. The first New York performances of Seven Last Words from the Cross are heard in concerts by St Thomas Church Choir on 18 March and Trinity Wall Street's Downtown Voices on 20 March.

MacMillan has recently crossed the Atlantic to attend the US premiere of Percussion Concerto No.2 with Colin Currie and the Baltimore Symphony conducted by Marin Alsop, and a feature on his music in the Soundstreams Canada series in Toronto. The Canadian premiere of St Luke Passion takes place on Good Friday in Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa.

>  Further information on Work: Little Mass

Photo: Philip Gatward

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