Review of 2019

January 2nd, 2020 No comments

2019 was a busy, exhilarating, but often stressful year with lots of highs and lows. In my day job I continued as Head of Music at the University of Aberdeen and made some useful contributions (I think!) and tried to do my best for academic music-making in the ancient institution. My research was overwhelming focused on the publication of The Music of James MacMillan that was released in June to good reviews (so far!). There were three successful book launches and some good times with the great man himself. I also gave a paper on his music in Stirling in May and wrote a chapter for the forthcoming MacMillan Studies. Read more…

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On Morten Lauridsen’s ‘O Magnum Mysterium’…

December 21st, 2019 No comments

Another year flies by and Christmas is upon us again with its gaudy mix of over-indulgence and introspection (with a cheery dose of political uncertainty added for extra measure). Each year I try to fashion a festive blog entry on a piece of Christmastide music that I find appealing, or interesting, or irritating, or something that solicits some sort of emotion in the run up to this most busy of holiday periods. Each year it becomes just a little more difficult as the pool of pieces becomes ever shallower, and this time is no different especially as it is the tenth year of writing one of these blogs. Where does the time go? Anyhow, I cast my mind to thinking of Christmas music and it didn’t take long to settle on a piece, mainly because I’ve been to several performances of it in the past month – Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium.

Now, I’m going to nail my colours to the mast early on – I’m not a huge fan of Lauridsen’s music – but that is a different story for a different day. What I will say is that I am a fan of this piece and if anything, the over-familiarity of this well-worn carol has somewhat dimmed its impact and the very fine piece of composition that it represents. For if any piece embodies the beginnings of a whole generation of composers, or a whole style or school of composition, then it may well be O Magnum Mysterium – arguably without this piece a whole American ‘sound’ of modern music may never have come into being. Perhaps I’m over-egging the Christmas pudding a little, but there is probably some truth in it. Read more…

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The Month Ahead

November 29th, 2019 No comments

There are a few performances (that I know about…) coming up in the Christmas period, some of which I will able to make. The first of which is the London premiere of my recent Salve Regina (2019) given by the City University Chamber Choir, conducted by Rory McCleery. This will take place at St Clement’s Church, Finsbury, London, on the 04 December. Later in the month, I will be at Keble College, Oxford to see Jubilate, conducted by James Potter, give the English premiere of I sing of a maiden (2016) on Friday 13 December. This will be a special night as we present the winner of the choir’s twenty-fifth anniversary composition competition in the same concert, for which I was a judge. On the 18 December, I’ll be in London with The University of Aberdeen Chamber Choir for a performance of There is no rose (2013) in the university’s annual ‘Celebration of Carols’ at St Marylebone Parish Church. Then I’m off to the Lake District and Oxfordshire for Christmas!

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On Forgetting How to Write Music…

October 1st, 2019 No comments

About a year ago I wrote a blog entry entitled ‘On Not Writing Music’ where I discussed how little music I had written that year and how strange it was for a ‘professional’ composer not to be composing. And I was left wondering how and when I would get back on the compositional horse. It was a classic. Well, it wasn’t, but it generated some discussion and got me thinking about the process of writing music and when I might look forward to creating something new again. Well, fast-forward to the tail-end of 2019 and I have recently tried to mount that horse and I can tell you neither me nor the horse is currently enjoying this ride (I am however, enjoying this horse-riding analogy), so I thought it a good opportunity to write down my thoughts again before they race off to the next hurdle (I’m quite good at this…). Read more…

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The Month Ahead

September 15th, 2019 No comments

Autumn is a busy time for performances and premieres across the world (and it isn’t that often I can say that!). The 22 September sees the American premiere of my song cycle Lakesongs (2011) by Ellen Scholl, Matthew McBride-Daline and Kevin Bylsma in Toledo, Ohio with further performances in October. The 05 October sees a further Dutch performance of the Fourth Service (2018) by the Schola Liturgica Leeuwarden and Geke Bruining. The 06 October is an amazing day with three world premieres: Cappella Nova will give the first performance of Ave regina caelorum (2019) in Aberdeen, the Novantae Singers will give the premiere of Salve Regina (2019) as part of The Cumnock Tryst and Douglasville First United Methodist Church Choir will give the premiere of When in Our Music (2019) in Georgia, USA. The month finishes with the world premiere of a new song cycle Thistles and Roses (2019) by baritone Jeremy Huw Williams in Quebec, Canada on the 25 October.

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‘Fourth Service’ in The Netherlands

September 7th, 2019 No comments

It was really nice to hear that the Schola Liturgica Leeuwarden will be giving the Dutch premiere of my Fourth Service [St Pancras] this Sunday (08/09) at the Grote Of Jacobijner Kerk, Leeuwarden, conducted by Geke Bruining. It’s been great to see so many performances of this work in the 18 months since its premiere, and fantastic to see it cross the North Sea to Holland. This is the fifth choir from the Netherlands to perform my music in the past three years.

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Book launches in Edinburgh, Cumnock and Aberdeen

August 12th, 2019 No comments

This week I will be taking part in the first of three book launches for The Music of James MacMillan at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Edinburgh – further book launches will take place at The Cumnock Tryst in October and at the SOUND festival in November. The book launch this week will feature an interview between MacMillan and I as well as a general Q&A.

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‘There is no rose’ published by Music Sales

July 27th, 2019 No comments

It was really nice to see my carol There is no rose (2013) available as a separate publication from Music Sales. This is one of my most performed works and is now available to purchase here.

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The Music of James MacMillan

June 9th, 2019 No comments

I recently received my copies of The Music of James MacMillan and they look amazing! It was a strangely overwhelming experience leafing through the book, something that I had first imagined back in 2006 and had spent the past two years intensely working on. It will take a while to sink in, but I’m going to put it in my top five things I’m proudest of producing. Obviously my children are the top two. Obviously…! The book is published on the 21 June and is available from all good bookshops. There will be launch events in Edinburgh, Cumnock and Aberdeen later this year.

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On The London Festival of Contemporary Church Music…

May 6th, 2019 No comments

I’m going to begin this with an admission: I’m not a very collaborative composer – some composers are, and I admire them for that – but I am not. As I approach my fortieth year I think I’ve collaborated with poets, librettists, directors or producers at maximum 10 times, and have never struck up a lasting collaboration that has resulted in multiple pieces or projects. That’s not to say that it wasn’t fun whilst it lasted, but most of the time I work in a solitary fashion, except from my twin companions: university admin and noise from children. Maybe it will happen one day, and I’ll find my Hofmannsthal or Da Ponte, but for the moment I’m happy in my lonely travails. Read more…

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