S&H Concert Review

MacMillan in Manchester: James MacMillan Composer/Conductor, The BBC Philharmonic and The RNCM New Music Ensemble. The Royal Northern College of Music 4 October 2000

The Scottish composer James MacMillan has succeeded Sir Peter Maxwell Davies in the prestigious role of Composer/Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic. He started a three-year relationship with the Manchester-based orchestra with a two week celebration of his work,  including   concerts at The Bridgewater Hall and The Royal Northern College of Music.

At the RNCM, MacMillan conducted a programme of his own compositions performed by members of the RNCM's New Music Ensemble and the BBC Philharmonic to a large, mainly youthful audience. A short fanfare for  brass and   percussion composed to celebrate Easter, They saw the stone had been rolled  away (1993), performed by the RNCM New Music Ensemble, set the tone for  what was to be an evening of powerful and emotional music-making.

The substantial song-cycle Raising Sparks (1997) - another spiritual work, based on the poetry of Michael Symmons Roberts - was performed with the impressive young soprano Merryn Gamba. This profound composition covered a wide range of emotions, often tentative and fragile and leading us from the everyday to the transient.

The BBC Philharmonic performed the buoyant Cumnock Fair (1999), a fantasy based on the dance melodies of the 18th century composer John French from Cumnock - also the birth place of MacMillan. Here the composer quotes from a number of traditional melodies and interweaves them successfully in a contemporary setting. This is an attractive, yet ambiguous, piece of writing and again, one of many moods.

The evening ended with an incisive performance of MacMillan's Symphony No. 2 (1999), a three movement work with an extended second movement which is dedicated to the writer and fellow Ayreshireman Andrew O' Hagan. Here it became clear why MacMillan is one of the most successful composers of today. His music is unequivocally direct and possesses a great fecundity.

Manchester awaits his next visit with eagerness.

Ailís Ní Ríain

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