Author Topic: James MacMillan  (Read 10401 times)

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Offline Maciek

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James MacMillan
« on: February 06, 2009, 09:48:47 AM »
Following Colin's hint on WAYLT...

I love the few MacMillan pieces I've heard (Cello Sonata, for example). And none of those are choral. :o ;D

Offline Brewski

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2009, 02:25:51 PM »
I've heard a number of works by MacMillan over the last say, 4-5 years, and have become a pretty big fan of his work.  Some of my favorite recordings (below) are A Scotch Bestiary, a wild concerto for organ and orchestra written to inaugurate the new pipe organ at Disney Concert Hall, and Epiclesis, his trumpet concerto. 

His choral pieces are very intense: parts of his Te Deum might actually frighten some listeners, with its huge organ outbursts.  And I also like his Magnificat and Nunc dimittis (on the CD with The Birds of Rhiannon, below), and his lovely setting of Robert Burns's The Gallant Weaver.

But if I were to point to a piece to start with, it might be his percussion concerto, Veni Veni Emmanuel, written for Evelyn Glennie.  Marvelous.

--Bruce
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2009, 02:28:08 PM »
 Oh...so soon ;D

I had intended to start a thread on MacMillan for some time but have been busy on another mammoth thread(to be unveiled very shortly!).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_MacMillan_(musician)

This article gives some idea of MacMillan's work for those who don't know, although I get the impression that it has spread at least as far as the USA now. MacMillan is a very important and vocal figure in Scottish musical life and a controversial figure too. He is a devout Roman Catholic and his faith underpins much of his writing. He is also not afraid to raise and confront what he perceives as the religious sectarianism which is still rife in parts of Scotland, particularly the West where he comes from. MacMillan- in common with a number of other Scottish artistic figures-is not afraid to condemn aspects of Scottish political and social 'culture' through both articles in the press and his compositions('A Scotch Bestiary' for organ and orchestra). He shares a compassion for the underdog and the oppressed with other Catholic Socialists.

MacMillan has been fortunate in attracting the attention of commissioning bodies and record companies; most of his major works are now available on CD(BIS and Chandos). Not all of MacMillan's compositions totally convince me but there is undoubtedly a passion behind MacMillan and an inventiveness which is increasingly impressing audiences. He can communicate in a way that few other contemporary composers can. Nor is he afraid to write on a massive scale with an obvious command of the resources of a full orchestra or a big choir(MacMillan is a fine conductor of his own music).There is often a fair measure of anger in the music and it is not always comfortable listening. There are passages in MacMillan which remind me of the great American Charles Ives.

The breakthrough works by MacMillan were 'The Confession of Isobel Gowdie'(a Catholic martyr during the Scottish Reformation) and the virtuoso percussion concerto 'Veni, veni, Emmanuel' but his big choral works-the recently recorded Oratorio "The Quickening"(Chandos) and "The St.John Passion"(LSO Live) are, in my opinion, his best works.

Those who are in any way repelled by the overt religiosity of MacMillan's compositions may still appreciate the quality of his music but will not-I venture to suggest-understand fully the force of his inspiration. I have collected most of his orchestral and choral compositions-partly (I suppose) because he is a Scottish composer of great substance but also because, although I am sometimes 'battered and bemused' by MacMillan, I admire and respect the blazing integrity of a relatively young modern composer who can write with such orchestral and choral colour and dramatic purpose and power.


Offline Dundonnell

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2009, 02:31:56 PM »
Bruce...you posted while I was writing ;D

I do agree with you though :)

MacMillan's music is very 'intense' and-at times-'frightening' but never less than interesting :)

Offline Brewski

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2009, 02:39:32 PM »
I have collected most of his orchestral and choral compositions-partly (I suppose) because he is a Scottish composer of great substance but also because, although I am sometimes 'battered and bemused' by MacMillan, I admire and respect the blazing integrity of a relatively young modern composer who can write with such orchestral and choral colour and dramatic purpose and power.

Bruce...you posted while I was writing ;D

 ;D

Well, "great minds"...

Anyway, totally agree with your longer post, especially with the paragraph quoted above. 

--Bruce
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Offline Guido

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2009, 04:22:44 PM »
I recently have purchased a Polyphony recording of Seven Last Words from the Cross which is just amazing - both the singers, who must be one of the finest choral groups in the world at the moment, and the piece which is by turns beautiful, exhilarating and almost overbearingly powerful. I should listen to the cello works again... they have not made a deep impression on me. The cello concerto was written for Rostropovich and I remember it being a very tough work.
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Offline Guido

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2009, 05:12:21 PM »
I have uploaded just a short clip of the opening of Seven Last Words from the Cross:

http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=494a941558b164724012e8015643d9c84f2b75114c054b7a

Really wonderful stuff.
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Offline Dundonnell

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2009, 05:57:44 PM »
I have uploaded just a short clip of the opening of Seven Last Words from the Cross:

http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=494a941558b164724012e8015643d9c84f2b75114c054b7a

Really wonderful stuff.

Cheers for that :) One of the few pieces I don't have.......yet ;D

Offline Brewski

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2009, 11:03:15 AM »
I recently have purchased a Polyphony recording of Seven Last Words from the Cross which is just amazing - both the singers, who must be one of the finest choral groups in the world at the moment, and the piece which is by turns beautiful, exhilarating and almost overbearingly powerful. I should listen to the cello works again... they have not made a deep impression on me. The cello concerto was written for Rostropovich and I remember it being a very tough work.

That is a superb recording, and I totally agree with you about the prowess of the singers, who are fantastic.  (Not to digress, but I have a number of their recordings, and they're all great.) 

While MacMillan is obviously fluent in many different genres, he does seem to have a special affinity for choral music (or maybe I just like what he's done here more). 

--Bruce 
Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.
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Offline Brewski

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2009, 07:21:32 AM »
http://ionarts.blogspot.com/2006/04/seven-difficult-impressive-words-from.html

Will check out the rest of these links later, but I thoroughly enjoyed your piece on Seven Last Words.  I'm envious you got to hear it live.

--Bruce
Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.
     ~ Gustav Mahler

Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #11 on: February 25, 2009, 08:00:48 AM »
Just listening for the first time as I write to my newly acquired cd of 'The Birds of Rhiannon'(as recommended by you, Bruce).

I really liked the settings of the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis :) 'The Birds of Rhiannon' is a slightly more difficult work to assimilate but I too am increasingly convinced that Macmillan may well be at his best in choral compositions in which his passionate commitment has the additional medium of a text.
« Last Edit: February 25, 2009, 08:09:32 AM by Dundonnell »

Offline Brewski

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #12 on: February 25, 2009, 08:03:25 AM »
Just listening for the first time as I write to my newly acquired cd of 'The Birds of Rhiannon'(as recommended by you, Bruce).

I really liked the settings of the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis :) 'The Birds of Rhiannon' is a slightly more difficult work to assimilate but I too am increasingly convinced that Macmillan may well be at his best in choral compositions in which is passionate commitment has the additional medium of a text.

Great!  I got that CD with The Birds of Rhiannon fairly recently as well, after hearing the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis live, then wanting a recording.  Very powerful choral writing, for sure. 

--Bruce
Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.
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Twitter: @BruceHodgesNY

Offline Benji

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #13 on: March 05, 2009, 03:02:24 PM »
Cheers for that :) One of the few pieces I don't have.......yet ;D

http://www.mdt.co.uk/MDTSite/product/NR_April09/8570719.htm



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Offline monafam

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #14 on: July 30, 2009, 06:08:09 PM »
I thought I'd revisit this as I brought up MacMillan in another thready.  I actually came across him when I was in a CD club probably 10+ years ago, and I got a recording of the "Veni, Veni..." concerto for percusion et al, and another with the "Seven Last Words..."  I wasn't ready back then.

Recently I've rediscovered MacMillan and find him much more to my liking.  I have purchased several more albums and wanted to know what others (I'll label you all the "Experts") thought of his SQs or other instrumental pieces?  I happen to really like them and wanted to hear other opinions.

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #15 on: March 28, 2011, 05:57:59 PM »
It seems that forum members of all stripes tend to overlook MacMillan's music for whatever reasons. I've bought many of his recordings and intend of making his music my own personal project. I'm going to listen every recording and try and absorb all of the music. I listened to several of his works via YouTube and Naxos Music Library and, indeed, as was mentioned earlier, the music is intense, but very passionate. Stay tuned for more updates.
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Offline snyprrr

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #16 on: March 28, 2011, 08:48:38 PM »
Does he sound like Christopher Rouse?
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #17 on: March 28, 2011, 09:32:14 PM »
Does he sound like Christopher Rouse?

I haven't listened to Rouse in quite some time, so I'm afraid I can't oblige you and answer your question. This said, MacMillan's music, from what I have read, is deeply influenced by his faith. He is a devout member of the Roman Catholic Church. Of the two works that I've heard (the very same works that sparked my interest in his music), Sinfonietta and The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, I will tell you that the music can be passionately rambunctious with dissonant brass fanfares and grinding strings, but his music can also be lyrically moving, which these two extremes often exist together. I, of course, being a new listener to his music will have to bow out of this thread for awhile until I have absorbed more of his music. I'm looking forward to hearing more of his music.
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Offline lescamil

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #18 on: March 28, 2011, 09:37:30 PM »
Does he sound like Christopher Rouse?

On the surface, yes, but deeper down, no. Rouse's music lacks that deeply spiritual element, whether it be obvious or not. Also, MacMillan's use of extremes (dynamics, timbre, etc) is a bit more refined to my ear, and he is more of a master of contrasts. I love Rouse, but sometimes Rouse doesn't exactly balance himself out.

For those looking at a starting point for MacMillan, I would suggest his work Seven Last Words from the Cross. It is THE work that combines all the elements of his style: from the sacred to the profane, from the very loud to the barely aubible, from the intensely beautiful to the most grating, and from the most lyrical to the most angular. Get this recording if you can find it (because of the coupling with Cantos Sagrados, a great, moving work guaranteed to make you cry). However, there is no shortage of great recordings of this piece.

« Last Edit: March 28, 2011, 09:40:09 PM by lescamil »
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: James MacMillan
« Reply #19 on: March 28, 2011, 09:50:41 PM »
On the surface, yes, but deeper down, no. Rouse's music lacks that deeply spiritual element, whether it be obvious or not. Also, MacMillan's use of extremes (dynamics, timbre, etc) is a bit more refined to my ear, and he is more of a master of contrasts. I love Rouse, but sometimes Rouse doesn't exactly balance himself out.

For those looking at a starting point for MacMillan, I would suggest his work Seven Last Words from the Cross. It is THE work that combines all the elements of his style: from the sacred to the profane, from the very loud to the barely aubible, from the intensely beautiful to the most grating, and from the most lyrical to the most angular. Get this recording if you can find it (because of the coupling with Cantos Sagrados, a great, moving work guaranteed to make you cry). However, there is no shortage of great recordings of this piece.



This is one of the works I ordered. I bought the Hyperion recording:



Also, I liked your description of his music. He is, from what I have heard so far, a first-rate orchestrator.
I did my work slowly, drop by drop. I tore it out of me by pieces. - Maurice Ravel

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