BBC Philharmonic celebrates James MacMillan's 50th birthday

Concert in Manchester marks the composer's half century & the conclusion of successful collaboration

24 March 2009

James MacmillanOn Wednesday 29 April the BBC Philharmonic celebrates James MacMillan's 50th birthday with an important concert held at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, where the Orchestra is based.

This concert is also the occasion to celebrate nine years of association between the Scottish composer and the Orchestra. In fact, MacMillan's collaboration with the BBC musical division started in 2000, when he was first appointed composer and conductor of the Philharmonic.

The concert's programme includes fundamental works from the contemporary music repertoire. These are MacMillan's The World's Ransoming and his Symphony No. 3 Silence. In addition, the performance will feature Symphony No. 5 by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

MacMillan himself will conduct all three pieces. The first to be performed will be his Third Symphony Silence, premiered in 2002. This work is based on the novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, one of the most important Japanese authors of the twentieth century. As with many of MacMillan's pieces, Silence deals with religious themes – specifically, with the presence of God in the life of human beings in moments of adversity and pain.

His other work that the Manchester audience will be able to enjoy is The World's Ransoming. This was premiered in 1996 and draws inspiration from two plainchant hymns relating to Maundy Thursday. The solo cor anglais included in this piece will be performed by BBC Philharmonic Principal Gillian Callow.

A further occasion to celebrate is the 75th birthday of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, whose collaboration with the Orchestra has been decennial and lasted until he became Master of the Queen's Music in 2004. Davies was himself Composer/Conductor with the BBC Philharmonic, and during this concert his Fifth Symphony will be performed.

This celebrative concert represents the apex of nine successful years of passionate commitment and successful collaboration between MacMillan and the Philharmonic. Only to mention a few achievements, the Philharmonic has given five world premieres of his music, namely Magnificat (orchestral version), Exsultet (version for symphonic brass), The Birds of Rhiannon, Nunc Dimittis (orchestral version), and The Sacrifice (three orchestral interludes). In addition, recordings with the Chandos label have been numerous; the last CD to be released was the acclaimed recording of Quickening together with interludes from his opera The Sacrifice, based on the ancient Welsh mythic tales of the Mabinogion.

Richard Wigley, General Manager of the BBC Philharmonic, comments on the productive relationship between MacMillan and the Philharmonic: 'It has been a special privilege to work with an internationally recognised figure of Jimmy's standing, and immensely rewarding to perform and record so much of his work'.

MacMillan's post will be taken over by Austrian composer HK Gruber. As the Orchestra's next Composer in residence, Gruber will debut in February 2010 at the Bridgewater Hall. He will also take up a new position as Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic in 2010.

by Marina Romani

The 50th Birthday Anniversary Concert is part of the Royal Northern College of Music's Raising Sparks three day Festival, celebrating MacMillan's music.

Tickets for the 50th Birthday Concert are available on 0161 907 9000, or online at They are all priced £10.

by Marina Romani

lineGruberRelated articles:

News: BBC appoints Gruber and Knussen to new orchestral posts
CD Review: LSO/Sir Colin Davis perform James MacMillan's The World's Ransoming
CD Review: LSO/Sir Colin Davis perform James MacMillan's St John Passion
News: Guildhall, LSO and Barbican launch the Centre for Orchestra project


Have your say: discuss this article in our Forum.