“Music and some wider implications: a Catholic composer’s perspective”

With Composer Sir James Macmillan & Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

The Topic: “Music and some wider implications: a Catholic composer’s perspective”

Who or what is a religious composer today? Does a religious composer only write music for the liturgy? Or can a sense of the numinous be found in all music, as some argue, including secular forms and purely instrumental concert music? The questions prompt much speculation and I spend a lot of time talking about it. I will attempt to go beyond these questions to others too. 

I also spend a lot of time listening to what many different kinds of people have to say about what I do. I find a lot of it fascinating and of immense help, stimulation and encouragement. Who are these people? Well, some are musicologists and critics of course, but some of them are theologians – attempting to interrogate the world of the arts, imagination and specifically music to see if light can be shone on deeper religious considerations. Some of them are social scientists, political minds who see important points of interface between the world of culture and the way that society can grow, develop and gain from the insights of artists and musicians. Music has always had a social role, and sometimes that role can intersect with religious concerns. Sometimes music and the other arts can even intersect with questions of ethics and morality as well as aesthetics.

I also have a keen interest in the living world and how the sacred and the secular commingle and interact in it, and how this impacts on composers and artists especially in our own time. This fascination allows me to reflect on, and search for the role that people like me might have in societies like ours, and leads me to other questions which might be appropriate for our discussion today;

Is there a moral dimension to the act of musical composition? Does the work of a composer ever impact on the desire to sustain civic values?

About Sir James MacMillan

James MacMillan is the pre-eminent Scottish composer of his generation. He first attracted attention with the acclaimed BBC Proms premiere of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie (1990). His percussion concerto Veni, Veni Emmanuel (1992) has received over 500 performances worldwide by orchestras including London Symphony Orchestra, New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics and Cleveland Orchestra. Other major works include the cantata Seven Last Words from the Cross (1993), Quickening (1998) for soloists, children’s choir, mixed choir and orchestra, the operas Inès de Castro (2001) and The Sacrifice (2005-06), St John Passion (2007) and St Luke Passion (2013).

The Bishops’ Conferences of England & Wales and of Scotland commissioned Sir James to write a new mass setting for choir and congregation to be sung at two of the three masses celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI during his Apostolic and state visit to Great Britain in 2010. First sung at mass at Bellahouston ParkGlasgow, on 16 September it was sung again at the mass and beatification of John Henry Newman at Cofton ParkBirmingham, on 19 September). He was also commissioned to write a setting of the text Tu es Petrus (Matthew 16:18) for the Pope’s entry at mass at Westminster Cathedral on 18 September.He was featured composer at Edinburgh Festival (1993), Southbank Centre (1997), BBC’s Barbican Composer Weekend (2005) and Grafenegg Festival (2012). His interpreters include soloists Evelyn Glennie, Colin Currie, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Vadim Repin, conductors Leonard Slatkin, Sir Andrew Davis, Marin Alsop and Donald Runnicles, and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. His recordings can be found on BMG/RCA Red Seal, BIS, Chandos, Naxos, Hyperion, Coro, Linn and Challenge Classics.

Recent highlights include premieres of MacMillan’s A European Requiem, Stabat Mater for The Sixteen, a Trombone Concerto for Jörgen van Rijen with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the armistice oratorio All the Hills and Vales Along, first heard at the Cumnock Tryst festival founded by the composer in his childhood town in Scotland.

Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.  Included in this short biography is an excerpt from Wikipedia.