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James MacMillan's first Portuguese commission, a cantata to celebrate the centenary of the Fátima shrine and the miraculous visitations there, was premiered in October with a further performance in Lisbon.

The past year has demonstrated the international reach of James MacMillan’s music, with the Chinese and Russian premieres of the Violin Concerto, the Mexican premiere of the Oboe Concerto and the composer touring in New Zealand with Percussion Concerto No.2. Prestigious commissions have included The Sun Danced, composed for the Portuguese celebrations of the centenary of the divine visitations in Fátima. Premiere performances at the shrine and in Lisbon in October featured the Gulbenkian Choir and Orchestra under Joana Carneiro, with soprano Elisabete Matos.

The 30-minute cantata for soprano, chorus and orchestra draws the listener back to events a hundred years ago in the small town of Fátima. Three shepherd children reported appearances by the Virgin Mary – "the lady more brilliant than the Sun" – predicting that a spiritual spectacle would take place on 13 October 1917. Over 50,000 people travelled to the small town of Fátima, many seeing the sun dancing across the heavens, as depicted in the central section of MacMillan’s score.

The composer describes how "the miraculous events made this unremarkable little Portuguese town famous throughout the world, and provided the focus of an amazing ongoing spiritual phenomenon. The texts are taken from the Apparitions of the Angel and of Our Lady, and also from documented verbal expressions from members of the crowd present at the Miracle of the Sun. The work is written in three languages – Latin, English and Portuguese and also includes texts from hymns associated with Fátima – Sanctissimae Trinitatis and Ave Theotokos."

MacMillan performances in the USA over the past year have included a special feature in Pittsburgh, including the US premiere of Gloria, Seraph, Symphony No.4, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel and the first performance of Larghetto for Orchestra. The new 10-minute score was commissioned in honour of the tenth anniversary of Manfred Honeck at the helm of the Pittsburgh Symphony and is an orchestral version of one of MacMillan’s most admired choral works, his Miserere.

"MacMillan added a range of volume and feeling that no choir in the world can replicate… The composer treated the orchestra as multiple choirs, with strings, winds and brass each contributing chorale-like sections as well as blending to create new shades of sound."
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

>  Further information on Work: The Sun Danced

Photo: Philip Gatward

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