James MacMillan: Little Mass and St Luke Passion
The coming weeks see the world premiere of James MacMillan's Little Mass in Liverpool, and the first London performance of his recent St Luke Passion.
Liverpool plays host to the world premiere of James MacMillan's Little Mass for children's chorus and orchestra on 28 March at Philharmonic Hall. The performance features the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir and Training Choir and Melody Makers, conducted by the composer. The Easter-themed concert is followed by a Discussion in the Grand Foyer Bar with James MacMillan, Simon Emery (Artistic Director of RLPO Youth Ensembles) and a member of the Youth Choir.
Little Mass is co-commissioned by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society for its 175th Anniversary, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and is supported by Sally, Mary and Jonathan Groves to mark the centenary of Sir Charles Groves, in the month he would have celebrated his 100th birthday. Following the Liverpool premiere, performances by the RSNO and Bournemouth Symphony are planned for early 2016.
The 30-minute work 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 recent 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.
James MacMillan's St Luke Passion receives performances in Cambridge and London this Easter, with the Britten Sinfonia and Voices joined by trebles of Trinity School and Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, conducted by the composer. The Cambridge performance on Good Friday 3 April is a highlight of the Easter at King's Series in King's College Chapel, and the Barbican matinée performance on Easter Sunday 5 April is the work's London premiere. This follows the St Luke Passion's world premiere last year at the Royal Concertgebouw Hall in Amsterdam, and performances at Duke University in the USA and with CBSO forces at Symphony Hall in Birmingham.
MacMillan describes the genesis of the St Luke Passion: "I decided to frame the Passion narrative with a Prelude exploring the Annunciation to set the scene, and a Postlude taking us beyond the Crucifixion to the Resurrection and Ascension. These incorporate Gospel texts where Luke explains the Kingdom of God... Excluding interpolated texts, set as reflective arias, offered the possibility of a limited role for soloists and I decided to go the full way and do without the usual tenor Evangelist and bass Christ. Everything would be sung by choral forces."
One of the most intriguing aspects of the new Passion is MacMillan's decision to write the music associated with Christ for a children's choir: "Any Passion that casts Christ as a soloist immediately makes him take human form as an adult male, whereas I wanted to examine his otherness, sanctity and mystery. Employing a children’s choir grants a measure of innocence to Christ as the sacrificial lamb, while the vocal line is either in unison or in three parts reflecting the oneness or Trinitarian implications of God."
> Read the full MacMillan interview about St Luke Passion
The vocal score of St Luke Passion is now available for order from The Shop at Boosey.com.
A CD of the premiere of St Luke Passion in Amsterdam has been released in March by Challenge Classics.
> Further information on Work: Little Mass
Photo: Philip Gatward