James MacMillan: new violin concerto for Nicola Benedetti
Nicola Benedetti gives the world premiere of James MacMillan’s Violin Concerto No.2 with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Perth on 28 September. The soloist tours the new concerto internationally with performances over coming seasons scheduled by the Dallas Symphony, St Louis Symphony and Swedish Chamber Orchestra.
James MacMillan’s Violin Concerto No.2 receives its first performances in September with soloist Nicola Benedetti and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with Principal Conductor Maxim Emelyanychev on the rostrum. The world premiere at the Perth Concert Hall on 28 September is followed by performances at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh on 29 September and the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on 30 September.
Adopting a more compact format than MacMillan’s first violin concerto from 2009, the second employs a medium-sized orchestra and plays continuously in a single through-composed movement. The new work was completed in 2021 and commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, financed by the Ministry of Culture, National Heritage and Sport of the Republic of Poland as part of the Multi-annual Programme NIEPODLEGLA 2017-2022. International performances this season with Nicola Benedetti as soloist are announced by the Dallas Symphony (17-19 November) and St Louis Symphony (10-11 February) and dates with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra in Orebro will follow in a future season.
James MacMillan describes creating a new work for Nicola Benedetti: “I’ve worked with Nicola on her recording of the Mendelssohn concerto and on tour with her on the Mozart G Major concerto, and have absorbed a lot from these experiences. I composed From Ayrshire for her some years ago which is a short piece that can be performed with either piano or small orchestral accompaniment. I also wrote a short work for her and some singers of The Sixteen for the very first Cumnock Tryst festival in 2014. All this has been important in the way I have built my relationship with Nicola, and in my approach for the new concerto.”
Nicola Benedetti comments: "The love and admiration I have for Jimmy MacMillan is impossible to express in words. All he has done for music and communities and the direct impact he has made on so many people’s lives, makes the honour of premiering this stunning new concerto all the greater. As anyone knowing his music would expect, it is moving, rich, tangibly Scottish, and transportive. I cannot wait to join my friends at the SCO and the ever inspiring Maxim Emelyanchev to share this wonderful new work in our home country."
As well as being dedicated to Nicola Benedetti, the new concerto is written as memorial tribute to the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, who died in 2020 and was a major musical influence on MacMillan, particularly during his formative creative years. The composer writes: “One of the co-commissioners for Violin Concerto No.2 was Polish and I was keen that there be some acknowledgment of the late Penderecki in some way in the new work. I was happy to oblige with a dedication to a composer I have greatly admired from an early age.”
James MacMillan introduces the new work: “My second violin concerto is written in one through-composed movement and is scored for a medium-sized orchestra. It opens with three chords, and the notes which the soloist plays in these (pizzicato) outline a simple theme which is the core ingredient for much of the music. This three-note theme incorporates a couple of wide intervals which provide much of the expressive shape to a lot of the subsequent melodic development throughout the concerto…
“The central section of the work is reflective, restrained and melancholic, where the soloist’s part is marked dolce, desolata and eventually misterioso, hovering over an unsettled, low shimmering in the cellos and basses… An energetic section is based on a series of duets which the violin soloist has with a procession of different instruments in the orchestra – double bass, cello, bassoon, horn, viola, clarinet, trumpet, oboe, flute, and violin… The final recapitulation of the original material provides a soft cushion and backdrop to the soloist’s closing melodic material, marked cantabile, before the work ends quietly and serenely.”
> Read the composer’s full programme note
Other major new MacMillan works premiered over the coming season include Her tears fell with the dews at even written for the Pittsburgh Symphony under Manfred Honeck on 17 March and Fiat Lux for soprano, baritone, mixed chorus, organ and orchestra with five performances in California by the Pacific Symphony and Chorale in California conducted by Carl St. Clair between 15 and 20 June.
Following the recent performance of MacMillan’s Viola Concerto, the BBC Proms presents his 40-part motet Vidi aquam and Miserere sung by The Sixteen under Harry Christophers on 24 August at the Royal Albert Hall in London. MacMillan’s Cumnock Tryst festival in Ayrshire runs between 29 September and 2 October.
> Further information on Work: Violin Concerto No.2
Photo: Marc Marnie