My motets O lux beata Trinitas (2013), Veni Sancte Spiritus (2012) and O sacrum convivium (2012) will be released on a CD entitled O Sacrum Convivium on Vox Regis Records on 27 May. The recording is made by The Chapel Choir of King’s College, Aberdeen University (with whom I have a strong working relationship), conducted by David Smith, and features works by Tallis, Stanford and Purcell as well as contemporary pieces. The motets were first performed by the choir. A CD launch will take place as part of the university’s May Festival on 27 May and will feature a performance of O sacrum convivium.
It’s reached that time of the year when I say to myself ‘the next piece I write is going to be polyphonic’ – it happens every year (funnily enough always around Easter time) and every year I labour at trying to do something and every year I duly fail. Why is it so difficult to write polyphonic music? Why do so many contemporary composers (mainly choral composers here, I guess…) just not bother to even try? Why is it important to even attempt to write polyphonic music? I guess there are lots of answers to those questions, some of which may take a little longer to answer then this medium allows. But the main answer, and I may be being a little flippant here, is that polyphonic music is just not in fashion at the moment. And it’s hard to do. But mainly the fashion bit. Read more…
March sees a busy month of premieres and performances. On the 5 March, the Harry Ensemble (conducted by Edward Rhys Harry) will give the premiere of my new motet Veni Sponsa Christi in Reading (they will give further performances in the UK and Norway this year). On the 24 March the Aberdeen University Chamber Choir will give a performance on my motet Ave verum corpus (2008) and the month finishes with the belated premiere of my anthem …He is Risen…(2012) by the Chapel Choir of King’s College, Aberdeen, conducted by David Smith. March will also see the publication by Schott Music of my 2008 motet O salutaris hostia.
It was great to hear my work Invocation (2010) on BBC Radio 3’s The Choir yesterday (in a repeat from last year). The show was dedicated to works for choir and brass and they played the recording from the CD release Phillip Cooke, Choral Music. The show can be heard here (UK only, available until the 9 February).
2015 was another busy year for me, with more performances, publications, commissions and broadcasts. The highlight of the year would have to be the premiere of Noah’s Fire in Chester Cathedral in November – the work had been three years in the planning and the composition and the performance, with 300 performers on stage and 600 in the audience, was quite overwhelming. Other highlights included Invocation and There is no rose both being broadcast on national radio (as well as an interview with me), There is no rose being published and The Eternal Ecstasy being released on CD (and making the top 10 of the classical charts). The year finished with a bang with multiple performances across the country in the festive period. 2016 will be mainly focused on The Music of James MacMillan during which I hope to have written the lion’s share, but there will also be some new works and three CDs being released featuring my works. All the best for 2016! PAC
The wonderful Glasgow Chamber Choir, conducted by Michael Bawtree, will give a live performance of my setting of There is no rose (2013) live on BBC Radio Scotland tonight (20/12/2015) in the Classics Unwrapped programme between 21.00 – 22.00. A link to the programme can be found here.
As we hurtle towards another festive period with the usual mix of anticipation, disbelief and terror I thought I would take a little time out from essays and external examiner’s reports to write a Christmas-themed blog, I’ve done it for the past four years and have covered some of my favourite British Christmas carols – Howells’s A Spotless Rose, Joubert’s Torches and Warlock’s Bethlehem Down. I thought I’d try something a little different this year (and it’s not Do They Know it’s Christmas…) and go for a piece by another British composer, but something a little more contemporary…Harrison Birtwistle’s The Gleam.
This work had an instant impact on me when I heard it for the first time on the 24 December 2003, when it was first performed in the annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge (it had been commissioned for the service) – primarily because it was just so creepy. For the entirety of its six minutes it provided a crepuscular, nocturnal, dingy and wan procession, the ultimate antidote to not only the Christmas drivel pushed down your ears in the high street shops, but also the rest of the fayre provided by the choir in the service (it made Lennox Berkeley’s In Wintertime seem relentlessly upbeat…). It was just so different, so noticeable, and so original. I’d even go as far as saying it was so ‘ballsy’ to do something like The Gleam in such a hallowed, traditional and high-profile event as the Nine Lessons. But I guess, that’s what you get when you commission Britain’s High Priest of Modernism, Harrison Birtwistle. Read more…
Following a busy November, December carries on in a similar fashion. The University of Aberdeen Chamber Choir will perform There is no rose (2013) at the university carol service in London at Marylebone Parish Church on the 1st. On the 5th the Merbecke Choir will perform the same work in their carol service at Southwark Cathedral, conducted by Huw Morgan. On the same day the Northern Spirit Singers will give the UK premiere of O salutaris Hostia (2008) in Durham, conducted by Clare Wills. There are further performances of There is no rose at St Paul’s, Covent Garden on the 13th and in Glasgow from the Glasgow Chamber Choir on the 10th and 18th.
There is a short section on By Reason of Darkness on a recent episode of ‘Classics Unwrapped’ on BBC Scotland. I’m interviewed about the work, and what it was like working with a community choir. There are also interviews with festival chairman Pete Stolley, and conductor Kathleen Cronie. The interview can be heard here, from 43.58 onwards (available until the 8 December 2015).
An exciting month of performances and premieres will take place this month across the country. The Chapel Choir of King’s College, Aberdeen will give the premiere of my new anthem The Souls of the Righteous in the University Remembrance Service on the 8th. This will be followed by the premiere of my oratorio Noah’s Fire in Chester Cathedral on the 21st. The month finishes with the premiere of a new piece The World on Fire by the Choir of The Queen’s College, Oxford on the 28th. And the Glasgow Chamber Choir will also give two advent performances of There is no rose – busy times!