Wells Cathedral, Wells
Jonathan Vaughn, organ / Wells Cathedral Choir / Matthew Owens
Choral level of difficulty: 2-3 (5 greatest)
This dramatic setting was written for Wells Cathedral and premiered in 2009. You need to change any preconceptions you may have about this being a joyful psalm. We are used to light-hearted or upbeat settings like Britten’s C major or Stanford’s B flat and many others. MacMillan’s is extremely dark-hued and only reflects a sense of rugged joy through its highly virtuosic organ part which swirls from the bottom of the pedal board to the top of the manuals in a hurricane-like swirling dervish. It requires no mean organist to play this score effectively (and correctly) and the choir needs to be just as responsive to the challenges MacMillan sets.
The reason for the dark nature of the music is a man called Willie Pondexter (the dedicatee of the piece) with whom MacMillan forged a highly unusual friendship. Pondexter was convicted of killing an elderly woman during a robbery in Clerksville, Texas in 1993. MacMillan visited him on death row and even now says he has never quite got over Pondexter’s execution in 2009.
This Jubilate Deo reflects MacMillan’s ‘hands-on’ approach to so many of the things he truly believes in. To know this story is to understand much of how to perform this extraordinary short work. The tiny moment of pure musical line in the Gloria at ‘is now and ever shall be’ feels like a benediction on Pondexter’s hereafter and ours by reflection. You don’t have to condone a heinous crime but you can still believe in redemption.
Repertoire note by Paul Spicer