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The Edinburgh International Festival celebrates the life and work of Scotland's foremost composer in August, including the world premiere of his Symphony No.5: ‘Le grand Inconnu’.

The Edinburgh International Festival celebrates the music of Ayrshire-born James MacMillan and his long-held relationship with the International Festival in a series of special performances across the Festival City in his 60th birthday year (10-17 August). Spanning his religious, orchestral, solo and major symphonic works and including the world premiere of his fifth symphony, the International Festival’s MacMillan focus will feature all three of Scotland’s national orchestras, the National Youth Choir of Scotland, and The Sixteen in its 40th anniversary season.

The Edinburgh International Festival has a long history of performing and commissioning MacMillan’s music – he was a featured composer at the 1993 International Festival, his first opera Inés de Castro was premiered in 1996, and his Since it was the day of preparation… was unveiled in 2012, among many other performances. In this special series to celebrate his 60th birthday, the International Festival brings together first performances – a major world premiere, as well as Scottish premieres – and performers, many of whom are long-time collaborators of MacMillan’s, in a celebration of the full range of his output, culminating in the world premiere of his major new choral symphony – Symphony No. 5: 'Le grand Inconnu' – a meditation on the mystery of the Holy Spirit.

Performances include:

  • Edward Gardner leads The King’s Singers, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, RSNO Junior Chorus and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in the premiere of a new version of MacMillan’s Quickening (10 August). The composer has adapted the work to include the six solo voices of The King’s Singers and has incorporated a movement from A Rumoured Seed written for the group. This 2018 version is available as an alternative to the original 1998 version composed to include the four solo voices of The Hilliard Ensemble. Quickening sets poetry by Michael Symmons Roberts exploring themes of birth and renewal.

  • At Greyfriars Kirk, the young performers of the National Youth Choir of Scotland are joined by tenor Gwilym Bowen, Whitburn Brass Band, Quatuor Mona Quartet and others to perform MacMillan’s oratorio, All the Hills and Vales Along (16 August). Setting texts by Scottish war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley, the piece was commissioned to mark the Armistice Centenary in 2018. The concert also includes The Culham Motets for unaccompanied choir composed by MacMillan in 2015.

  • The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro are joined by organist Stephen Farr to perform the Scottish premiere of MacMillan’s organ concerto, A Scotch Bestiary before exploring the intense drama of MacMillan’s concerto for orchestra Woman of the Apocalypse (17 August).

  • The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, The Sixteen and Genesis Sixteen pair MacMillan’s mid-period Symphony No.2 – a work he wrote for the SCO in 1999 – conducted by the composer himself, with the world premiere of MacMillan’s Symphony No.5: ‘Le grand Inconnu’ (a Genesis Foundation commission for Harry Christophers and The Sixteen) conducted by Harry Christophers (17 August). This concert will be recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

  • The Nash Ensemble performs MacMillan’s chamber work Fourteen Little Pictures, a set of 14 separate miniatures stitched together and interwoven to form a single through-composed work, at the Queen’s Hall (17 August).

James MacMillan comments on his professional and personal connection with the Edinburgh International Festival: “I feel very proud that a focus on my music is taking place in my home country and at a festival which I’ve loved since I was a teenager. As a composer I have had a long history with the Edinburgh International Festival stretching back to the early 1990s. The festival premiered my first opera Inés de Castro in 1996 and I’m delighted that my latest work, my fifth symphony, will be unveiled in Edinburgh this summer alongside other performances of my work. I also feel a particularly personal connection with the festival having been in the audience at many of its concerts since my student days and over the years it has always had that special air of excitement about it. I have an ideal listener in my mind when I write a new work – a listener who is as curious about music as I am. The Edinburgh International Festival audience embraces that same curiosity and I look forward to experiencing the festival’s performances of my music – both new and older works – with them in August.”

Sir James MacMillan at 60 is supported by the Scottish Government Festivals Expo Fund.
Symphony No.5: ‘Le grand Inconnu’ is commissioned by the Genesis Foundation for Harry Christophers and The Sixteen.

> Read an interview with James MacMillan about Symphony No.5: 'Le grand Inconnu'

> View a video introduction to MacMillan events in Edinburgh:

> For further information on James MacMillan and other 60th birthday events visit:

Photo: Marc Marnie

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