On the 11 July, one of the country’s finest young choirs, Siglo de Oro will give the world première of my new work for choir and saxophone, Woman, behold thy son! (2015). The piece is a part of a multi-composer setting of the ‘Seven Last Words from the Cross’ and features contributions from John Harle, Alexander Campkin, Thomas Hewitt Jones and others. The première will take place in St George’s Basilica, Gozo, Malta as part of the Victoria International Arts Festival 2015. The choir are conducted by Patrick Allies and the saxophone will be played by Sam Corkin. A UK performance is planned for later this year.
It was quite a momentous day on Saturday 13 June when the Queen’s Birthday Honours List was announced, not because of various celebrities and sports stars getting this or that honour before their 30th birthday, but because for the first time in quite a while the sphere of ‘classical’ music, and more importantly, contemporary music, was represented in a substantial and meaningful way (not that you would have known this from the BBC, or other leading news outlets…but that’s a different story). What made it momentous was that one of our leading and most feted composers, James MacMillan was awarded a Knighthood ‘for services to music’- whether you like his music or not, the recognition that a ‘contemporary’ composer (i.e. not a film, ‘crossover’ or pop composer) could achieve one of the country’s leading honours was an edifying thing (presuming such honours mean something to you) and perhaps gave some hope for a future where contemporary music, and its practitioners received more widespread recognition for their art. I had a warm feeling inside. Then I saw that a second ‘contemporary’ composer had also been awarded a Knighthood… Read more…
My motet The Eternal Ecstasy (2013) will be released on a CD of the same title on Regent Records on 17 July. The recording is made by The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge (with whom I have a strong working relationship), conducted by Sarah MacDonald, and features works by the likes of Lauridsen, Whitacre, Mealor and Bednall. The motet was commissioned by the choir for this recording.
This Sunday (07/06) will see a performance of my early organ work Elegy (2003) at the Chapel of Haddo House in Aberdeenshire. This stately home has a long and distinguished association with the arts (the Haddo Arts Festival welcomed Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten in the 1950s and 60s) and the work will be played by the University Junior Organ Scholar, Peter Relph.
Here are two photos from the recent recording session in Aberdeen of three of my motets. David Smith conducts the King’s College Chapel Choir.
On Saturday the Choir of King’s College, Aberdeen will give another performance of three of my motets (O lux beata Trinitas, O sacrum convivium and Veni Sancte Spiritus) as part of the University’s ‘May Festival’ alongside works by Aberdeen PhD students John Hudson and Tom LaVoy. The following week the choir, directed by David Smith, will record the motets for release in 2016.
Much of my composing over the past year has been taken up with the oratorio Noah’s Fire, which I finally finished in February of this year. This is a 55 minute long work for soloist, choirs and orchestra and is by far the most substantial work I have written to date. The work will be premièred in Chester Cathedral in November this year. I have also finished a short motet for the Harry Ensemble for their 2015/16 season, Veni Sponsa Christi for SATB choir with a solo echo choir. More works to follow soon! PAC
I will be presenting a paper entitled ‘Assimilating the Vernacular: James MacMillan’s Mass (2000)’ at the 10th Annual Musica Scotica Conference at the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life, Glasgow on Sunday 26 April. This is the first fruits of my early MacMillan research in preparation for writing The Music of James MacMillan for planned publication in 2019.
Whether you like it or not, John Rutter is the pre-eminent choral composer of our times. When future musicologists look back at the late twentieth-century (and beyond) they will single out Rutter as the most performed, most discussed and most imitated composer of choral music in the English-speaking world. Tavener may get a look in, maybe Britten or Leighton may get a mention, but for sheer weight of activity, it has to be John Rutter. Is this a problem? Does this give a fair representation of choral music in our times?
In some ways the answer is irrelevant, because whether you like or loathe it, John Rutter’s music is a staple part of choral music-making in the Anglican world – from school choirs to cathedral choirs, from parish churches in Nottinghamshire to university chapels in New Hampshire it is sung on a regular basis by and to many people (whether worshipers or not) who instantly feel an attraction to the cantabile melodies and simple harmonies. It is easily dismissible music (not least by the composer himself who has an uncanny knack of downplaying his abilities), partly due to its obvious simplicity, partly due to its origins in ‘light’ or popular music (again, something that Rutter is happy to flag) and partly due to its success and prevalence. It is easy to paint Rutter as the bête noire of contemporary choral composers – giving an unfair impression of what choral music should sound like, seeming to reject or refuse to acknowledge any of the musical developments of the mid-twentieth-century. At best he is referred to as a ‘craftsman’, or a ‘tunesmith’ with the references to trades here being in a pejorative sense rather than a master of an art. Perhaps these labels are fair – I may have used them myself. Read more…
It was great to hear my work Invocation (2010) on BBC Radio 3’s The Choir yesterday. The show was dedicated to works for choir and brass and they played the recording from the recent CD release Phillip Cooke, Choral Music. The show can be heard here (UK only, available until the 14 April).