Since 1989, Robert Porco has led the May Festival Chorus in inspired collaboration and music-making which “shook the rafters” at the Chorus’ most recent Carnegie Hall appearance in 2014. “Carnegie has seldom felt so alive,” according to The New Yorker.
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles.
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Since 1989, Robert Porco has led the May Festival Chorus in inspired collaboration and music-making which “shook the rafters” at the Chorus’ most recent Carnegie Hall appearance in 2014. “Carnegie has seldom felt so alive,” according to The New Yorker.
Robert Porco has been recognized as one of the leading choral musicians in the United States and for more than 40 years has been an active preparer and conductor of choral and orchestral works, including most of the major choral repertoire, as well as of opera. In 2011 Mr. Porco received Chorus America’s “Michael Korn Founders Award for Development of the Professional Choral Art.”
Mr. Porco’s conducting career has spanned geographic venues across western Europe and the U.S., including performances in the Edinburgh Festival; Taipei, Taiwan; Lucerne, Switzerland; and Reykjavik, Iceland; and in the May Festival, Tanglewood Music Festival, Berkshire Music Festival, Blossom Festival and Grant Park Festival. He has been a regular guest conductor at the May Festival since 1991, with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since 1996 and with The Cleveland Orchestra since 2000.
In 1989, Mr. Porco became Director of Choruses of the May Festival, and in 2010 he led the May Festival Chorus in the highly regarded premiere of Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking, a piece commissioned by the Chorus in honor of Mr. Porco’s 20th season as director. Other notable events during Mr. Porco’s tenure are three highly acclaimed appearances by the Chorus in Carnegie Hall: a 1991 performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Jesús López-Cobos and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; a 1995 performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with Robert Shaw, The Cleveland Orchestra, the May Festival Chorus and other choruses; and an October 2001 performance of Britten’s War Requiem with James Conlon and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. In addition, the May Festival Chorus’s 2008 performance of the Pulitzer Prize-winning On the Transmigration of Souls, under the baton of the composer John Adams, led Mr. Adams to write, “The pure American quality of their enunciation and their perfectly balanced sonorities lifted the matter-of-fact plainness of the words to a transcendental level, and for once the piece did not seem as compromised and uneven as I had previously thought.”
In 1998, Mr. Porco became Director of Choruses for The Cleveland Orchestra, preparing the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus for appearances in Severance Hall and the Blossom Festival and with the Orchestra at the Edinburgh Festival in 1999, at Carnegie Hall in 2002 and at the Lucerne Festival and London Proms in 2005. Mr. Porco’s work during the 2013–14 season included preparing the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus for its debut with the Orchestra in Frankfurt, Paris and Luxembourg.
Mr. Porco has gained national recognition for his preparation of choruses for prominent conductors such as John Adams, Pierre Boulez, James Conlon, Andrew Davis, Christoph von Dohnányi, Paavo Järvi, Erich Kunzel, Raymond Leppard, James Levine, Jahja Ling, Jesús López-Cobos, Zubin Mehta, John Nelson, André Previn, Kurt Sanderling, Leonard Slatkin, Robert Shaw, Franz Welser-Möst, John Williams and David Zinman.
Mr. Porco taught doctoral-level choral conducting at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music from 1979 to 1998, and as a guest instructor in 2011 and 2012. A highlight of his tenure at IU included leading a wholly student choral and orchestral ensemble of 250 in a highly acclaimed performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass as part of the Tanglewood Music Festival’s celebration of the composer’s 70th birthday. As teacher and mentor, Mr. Porco has guided and influenced the development of hundreds of musicians, most of whom are now active as professional conductors, singers or teachers in schools of music, performance ensembles or solo careers. Mr. Porco remains a sought-after guest instructor and coach for conservatory students, young professional conductors and singers. His guest teaching venues have included Harvard University, the University of Miami Frost School of Music and Westminster Choir College (Princeton, NJ). From 1988 to 1998, Mr. Porco was Artistic Director and Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.
Principal Conductor of the Cincinnati May Festival and Chief Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester, United Kingdom, Juanjo Mena is one of Spain’s most distinguished international conductors.
Following his recent debut with the Berlin Philharmonic and appearances with the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, highlights of Maestro Mena’s 2016-17 season include his debuts with the Rotterdam Philharmonic, NHK Symphony Orchestra, New World Symphony and the Swedish Radio Orchestra, as well as return visits to Boston, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Copenhagen, Dresden and Oslo, and two European tours with the BBC Philharmonic.
In Europe he has worked with many prestigious orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala, Munich Radio Orchestra and the Dresden Philharmonic, as well as with all the major Spanish orchestras. He has been Artistic Director of the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, Chief Guest Conductor of the Orchestra del Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa and Principal Guest Conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.
He has conducted most of the leading orchestras in North America, including Chicago, Boston, Houston, Cincinnati, Montreal, Toronto, Baltimore and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras, the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras, the Cleveland Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
A guest of international festivals, he has appeared at the Stars of White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Hollywood Bowl, Grant Park (Chicago), Tanglewood and La Folle Journée (Nantes). He has led the BBC Philharmonic on tours of Europe and Asia, including performances in Cologne, Munich, Vienna, Madrid, Beijing and Seoul, and performs with them every year at the BBC Proms in London.
His operatic work includes The Flying Dutchman, Salome, Elektra, Ariadne auf Naxos, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung and productions including Eugene Onegin in Genoa, The Marriage of Figaro inLausanne and Billy Budd in Bilbao.
He has made several recordings with the BBC Philharmonic, including a disc of works by Manuel de Falla, which was a BBC Music Magazine Recording of the Month, Gabriel Pierné, which was a Gramophone Editor’s Choice, and releases of music by Ginastera, Albéniz, Montsalvatge, Weber and Turina which have gained excellent reviews from the specialist music press. He has also recorded a critically acclaimed rendering of Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony for Hyperion with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Juanjo Mena’s Messiaen interpretation is said to “utterly redefine the terms under which past/current/future Turangalîlas need to be judged”. (Gramophone, October 2012).
John Holiday, one of Broadway World’s “New York Opera 2015 Gifts that Keep on Giving” and recent nominee for “Newcomer of the Year” by the German magazine Opernwelt, has established himself as a singer to watch. Singing the role of Caesar in the U.S. Premiere of Catone in Utica by Antonio Vivaldi during the 2015 Glimmerglass Festival, Holiday was greeted with standing ovations and outstanding critical praise.
“… there is a major reason to see this production: the superb young countertenor John Holiday, in the role of Caesar, who displayed an arrestingly powerful, secure, and dramatically high instrument. I had that jolt of excitement once before: exactly 20 years ago, at Glimmerglass, when David Daniels sang the title role in “Tamerlano” and made operatic countertenors something to be reckoned with.” Heidi Waleson, The Wall Street Journal
Holiday recently completed appearances in the role of “first male voice” in Paradise Interrupted at the Singapore International Arts Festival 2016 and the Lincoln Center Festival 2016. Holiday’s performances received critical acclaim: “The Woman encounters four male singers portraying the Elements: … and the countertenor John Holiday, an exceptional vocalist with a strong voice, even in its highest range…” Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times.
In the summer of 2017, Holiday returns to the Glimmerglass Festival singing the title role in Xerxes by Handel. During the 2016-2017 season Holiday will debut with Boston Baroque in the role of Tolomeo in Giulio Cesare in Egitto by Handel, He will also appear with the Nashville Symphony in Handel’s Messiah and as a soloist in the Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein with The Phoenix Symphony. As a champion and big advocate of new works, Holiday will make his house debut with Opera Philadelphia singing the role of John Blue in a world-premiere of Daniel Roumain’s We Shall Not Be Moved, a production directed by the award-winning Bill T. Jones.
Holiday debuted with the Spoleto Festival USA 2015 in the world premiere of Paradise Interrupted and also substituted in the role of Zaida in Veremonda, l’amazzone di Aragona by Francesco Cavalli during its U.S. Premiere run at the USA Spoleto Festival. Due to last minute cast needs, he learned the role in only one day. Holiday debuted in 2014 at the Los Angeles Opera in Barrie Kosky’s acclaimed production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas as the Sorceress and appeared with the Wolf Trap Opera in June 2014 as Caesar in Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto. During the 2013-2014 season, he was seen in the title roles of Radamisto at the Juilliard School with the Juilliard Orchestra in Giya Kancheli’s And Farewell Goes Out Sighing… under Anne Manson, and as Sposo in Scarlatti’s La Sposa dei Cantici with Ars Lyrica in Houston, which has been commerical released on Sono Luminus records.
Holiday made his Carnegie Hall debut as a soloist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in 2012 in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. Holiday joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera to cover Nireno in Giulio Cesare in Egitto under Harry Bicket in David McVicar’s new production and reprised his roles in Philip Glass’s Galileo Galilei at the Cincinnati Opera, having first performed the work at the Portland Opera for his operatic stage debut. He was an apprentice artist at Santa Fe Opera where he covered the role of Corrado in Peter Sellars’s production of Vivaldi’s Griselda and was seen as the Refugee in Jonathan Dove’s Flight for the Apprentice Scenes Program.
Holiday’s recital schedule includes engagements in Saint Paul, Minnesota with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, the Chorus of Westerly in Rhode Island, the Nashville Symphony, and programs with Ars Lyrica and Mercury Baroque in Houston, Texas.
Major competitions and award programs have recognized Holiday’s accomplishments. He is a 2014 recipient of the Catherine Filene Shouse Career Development Grant from the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and is also a recipient of the Richard F. Gold Career Grant from the Shoshana Foundation and first prize from the Richard Tucker Foundation Sara Tucker award. He was awarded first place at both the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition for 2013 and the Sullivan Foundation for 2012. Holiday also received a first place win at the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition. In 2007, he was the first place winner in his district of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
In addition to his classical repertoire, Holiday excels in jazz and gospel music having opened for Grammy award winner Jason Mraz in concert. Holiday recently released his debut jazz album entitled The Holiday Guide.
He received a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Master of Music in vocal performance from the University of Cincinnati College – Conservatory of Music and the Artist Diploma in Opera Studies from The Juilliard School in New York City. Holiday grew up in Rosenberg, Texas, located near Houston, and attended the town’s public schools.
The May Festival Chorus is endowed by the Betsy & Alex C. Young Chair
The May Festival Chorus has earned acclaim locally, nationally and internationally for its musicality, vast range of repertoire and sheer power of sound. The Chorus of 130 professionally trained singers is the core artistic element of the Cincinnati May Festival as well as the official chorus of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the Cincinnati Pops. Throughout each season the Chorus Members collectively devote more than 40,000 hours in rehearsals and performances.
Founded in 1873, the annual May Festival is the oldest, and one of the most prestigious, choral festivals in the Western Hemisphere and is under the leadership of Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena, Director of Choruses Robert Porco and rotating creative partner that changes from year to year. The annual Festival hosts an international array of guest artists and presents two spectacular weekends of dynamic programming. Highlights of the 2018 May Festival included a fully staged performance of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS led by Robert Porco, the Verdi Requiem with guest conductor Eun Sun Kim, as well as Juanjo Mena leading Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, the U.S. premiere of James MacMillan’s Credo and a celebrated performance of Handel’s Messiah.
In addition to the yet-to-be announced 2019 May Festival, the Chorus will perform the world premiere of Jonathan Bailey Holland’s Ode with Louis Langrée and the CSO, as well as Beethoven’s iconic Symphony No. 9 in November. In January, the Chorus performs Mozart’s Requiem with the CSO and guest conductor David Robertson.
Many important choral works have received their World and American premieres at the May Festival, including Johann Sebastian Bach’s Magnificat, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3, Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana, Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Death of the Bishop of Brindisi, and Robert Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses.
The May Festival Chorus has strengthened its national and international presence through numerous PBS broadcasts of live concerts and several award-winning recordings, many in collaboration with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops. Most recently, a live recording of Robert Nathaniel Dett’s The Ordering of Moses featuring Music Director Laureate James Conlon conducting the Chorus and the CSO at Carnegie Hall was released to critical acclaim in 2016 on Bridge Records. In 2001 the Chorus recorded Christmas with the May Festival Chorus, a popular a cappella holiday recording which was re-released on the Fanfare Cincinnati label in 2017, and a 2004 May Festival recording featuring the world premiere recording of Franz Liszt’s St. Stanislaus was awarded the 30th International F. Liszt Record Grand Prix by the Liszt Society of Budapest. The Chorus is also featured on the 2012 Cincinnati Pops release, Home for the Holidays, and several other Pops albums.
The May Festival Chorus has garnered two awards in recognition of its continuing artistic excellence and performances throughout the state. In 2011 the Chorus received the Spirit of Cincinnati USA Erich Kunzel Queen City Advocate Award from Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau. In 1998 the Chorus earned the Irma Lazarus Award from the Ohio Arts Council’s annual Governor’s Awards for the Arts.
CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which also performs as the Cincinnati Pops, is one of America’s finest and most versatile ensembles. With a determination for greatness and a rich tradition that dates back over 120 years, the internationally acclaimed CSO attracts the best musicians, artists and conductors from around the world to Cincinnati. With new commissions and groundbreaking initiatives like LUMENOCITY®, One City, One Symphony, and the MusicNOW Festival collaboration, the Orchestra is committed to being a place of experimentation.
Louis Langrée began his tenure as the CSO's 13th Music Director in the 2013-2014 season with a celebrated program The New York Times said “deftly combined nods to the orchestra's history, the city's musical life and new music.” Over the Orchestra's 120-year history, it has also been led by Leopold Stokowski, Eugène Ysaÿe, Fritz Reiner, Eugene Goossens, Max Rudolf, Thomas Schippers, Jesús López-Cobos, and Paavo Järvi, among others.
A champion of new music, the Orchestra has given American premieres of works by such composers as Debussy, Ravel, Mahler and Bartók and has commissioned works that have since become mainstays of the classical repertoire, including Copland's Fanfare for theCommon Man. The CSO was the first orchestra to be broadcast to a national radio audience (1921) and the third to record (1917). The Orchestra continues to commission new works and to program an impressive array of music. In recent years, the CSO has performed the world premieres of Nico Muhly's Pleasure Ground, David Lang's mountain, Caroline Shaw's Lo and Daniel Bjarnason's Collider as part of the groundbreaking collaboration with the MusicNOW Festival, Cincinnati's premier new music festival, as well as the world premiere of André Previn's Double Concerto. More recent commissions include Gunther Schuller’s Symphonic Triptych, three works set to the poetry of Dr. Maya Angelou by T. J. Cole, Jonathan Bailey Holland and Kristin Kuster, as well three new concertos for orchestra by composers Sebastian Currier, Thierry Escaich and Zhou Tian, which will be released on a commercial recording in November of 2016.
The CSO was the first American orchestra to make a world tour sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and continues to tour domestically and internationally, most recently to Europe in 2008 and to Japan in 2009, including two concerts at Tokyo's Suntory Hall and the CSO's first-ever nationally televised concert in Japan. The CSO has performed at New York's Carnegie Hall 48 times since its debut there in 191, most recently to rave reviews in May of 2014. In January of 2016, the Orchestra performed at New York’s Lincoln Center as part of the invitational Great Performers series.
JUANJO MENA conductor JOHN HOLIDAY countertenor MAY FESTIVAL YOUTH CHORUS James Bagwell, director MAY FESTIVAL CHORUS Robert Porco, director The May Festival Chorus is endowed by the Betsy & Alex C. Young Chair
Giovanni Gabrieli is most closely associated with the magnificent musical establishment at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, but in February 1585, just a month after he joined the staff there as organist and composer, he accepted a similar position at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, in the city’s San Polo district, across the Grand Canal from San Marco; he held both posts until his death almost three decades later, though his activities were impeded in his last years by deteriorating health. His vigor certainly must have been tested by his simultaneous duties at two of Venice’s most important religious institutions, with San Marco requiring his regular presence and San Rocco expecting him, according to his contract, to play the organ at its regular Mass on the first Sunday of each month and on 24 other feast days, as well as Sunday Vespers, Friday Compline and for the sumptuous music performed annually on August 16th, the Feast of San Rocco.
The 14th-century San Rocco (St. Roch) is held to be the patron saint of dogs, falsely accused people and bachelors, but principally of protection from plague. He is said to have ministered to victims during an epidemic in Italy and effected many miraculous cures until he fell ill himself. He withdrew to a forest in expectation of dying, but a nobleman’s dog brought him bread and licked his wounds until he recovered. He returned incognito to society but was arrested as a spy and died after five years in prison. His identity became known after his death and he was generally acclaimed as a saint, though he was not formally canonized until 1591. His body was brought to Venice in 1485 and the Church of San Rocco begun four years later to house his remains. A confraternity—an association of lay people created with Church approval to promote works of charity and piety—honoring San Rocco had been established in 1478, and in 1515 the organization began construction of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco adjacent to the Chiesa di San Rocco, which was decorated with magnificent frescoes by Tintoretto between 1564 and 1587; the Scuola remains today one of Venice’s finest art treasures.
The Scuola Grande made the Feast of San Rocco, August 16th, the occasion for one of Venice’s greatest musical spectacles. Extra singers and instrumentalists were hired from as far away as Padua, additional chamber organs were brought in to support the multiple choirs (Gabrieli received a bonus for tracking down seven of them in 1603), and the huge programs were presented with as much pomp as imagination and budget allowed. Thomas Coryat, a music lover visiting from London, left an account:
The third feast was upon Saint Roches Day, where I heard the best musicke that ever I did in all my life both in the morning and in the afternoone, so good that I would willingly goe an hundred miles a foote at any time to hear the like.... This feast consisted principally of musicke, which was both vocall and instrumentall, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so superexcellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like.... Sometimes there sung 16 or 20 men together, having their master and moderator to keepe them in order; and when they sung, the instrumentall musicians played also. Sometimes sixteene played together upon their instruments, ten Sagbuts [trombones], foure Cornets [a curved wooden tube with finger holes blown like a trumpet], and two Violdegambaes [violas da gamba] of an extraordinary greatnesse; and a treble viol.... Of the singers there were three or foure so excellent that I think few or none in Christendome do exell them, expecially one, who had such a peerelesse and (as I may in a manner say) such a supernaturall voice for sweetnesse, that I thinke there was never a better singer in the world.
The provenance of Gabrieli’s Magnificat à 33 (i.e., in 33 separate vocal and instrumental parts; it was published in an alternate scaled-down version in 1615) is uncertain, though its grand performing forces, festive mood and liturgical significance would have suited it perfectly to the Vespers portion of the sumptuous Feast of San Rocco.
Composed in 1965. Premiered July 15, 1965 in New York, the composer conducting.
These psalms are a simple and modest affair, Tonal and tuneful and somewhat square, Certain to sicken a stout John Cager With its tonics and triads in E-flat major. But there it stands—the result of my pondering, Two long months of avant-garde wandering— My youngest child, old-fashioned and sweet. And he stands on his own two tonal feet.
Leonard Bernstein, that Renaissance man among late- 20th-century musicians, penned these verses about his Chichester Psalms for The New York Times as part of a poetic evaluation of the 15 months of his sabbatical from conducting in 1964–1965. Bernstein considered several compositional projects during his year away from the rigorous duties as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, including a theater piece based on Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, but it was this set of Psalms for choir and orchestra that was the principal musical offspring of that hiatus in his public career.
The work was commissioned by the Very Rev. Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival, in which the musicians of Chichester have participated with those of the neighboring cathedrals of Salisbury and Winchester since 1959. The musical traditions of these great cathedrals extend far back into history, to at least the time when the eminent early-17th-century keyboard artist and composer Thomas Weelkes occupied the organ bench at Chichester.
The mood of the Chichester Psalms is humble and serene, unlike the powerful but despairing nature of Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony of 1963, composed shortly before this work. Both use traditional texts sung in Hebrew, but the message of the Chichester Psalms is one of man’s closeness to God, rather than the one of frustration and anger and shaken faith engendered by God’s inexplicable acts as portrayed in the Kaddish. It is indicative that the composer chose the 23rd Psalm (“The Lord is my Shepherd”) for the second movement, the heart of the Chichester Psalms.
The first movement opens with a broad chorale (“Awake, psaltery and harp!”) that serves as the structural buttress for the entire composition. It is transformed, in quick tempo, to open and close the dance-like main body of this movement (in 7/4 meter), and it reappears at the beginning and end of the finale in majestic settings. The bounding, sprung rhythms and exuberant energy of the fast music of the first movement are a perfect embodiment of the text, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands.”
The touching simplicity of the second movement recalls the pastoral song of David, the young shepherd. The sopranos take over the melody from the countertenor soloist, and carry it forward in gentle but strict imitation. Suddenly, threatening music is hurled forth by the men’s voices punctuated by slashing chords from the orchestra. They challenge the serene strains of peace with the harsh question, “Why do the nations rage?” The quiet song, temporarily banished, reappears in the high voices, like calming oil on troubled waters. The hard tones subside, and once again the shepherd sings and strums his harp. As a coda, the mechanistic sounds of conflict, soft but worrisome, enter once again, as if blown on an ill wind from some distant land.
The finale begins with an instrumental prelude based on the stern chorale that opened the work. The muted solo trumpet and the harp recall a phrase from the shepherd’s song to mark the central point of this introductory portion. The chorus intones a gently swaying theme on the text, “Lord, Lord, My heart is not haughty.” The Chichester Psalms concludes with yet another adaptation of the recurring chorale, here given new words and a deeper meaning. This closing sentiment is not only the central message of the work, and the linchpin of its composer’s philosophy of life, but also is a thought that all should hold dear in troubled times:
Behold how good, And how pleasant it is, For brethren to dwell Together in unity.
Credo NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE
Composed in 2011. Premiered on August 7, 2012 at Royal Albert Hall in London by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Manchester Chamber Choir, Northern Sinfonia Chorus and Rushley Singers, conducted by Juanjo Mena.
Scottish composer James MacMillan, born in Kilwinning, Ayshire on July 16, 1959, was educated at the University of Edinburgh (B.Mus., 1981) and Durham University (Ph.D., 1987), where his principal teacher was John Casken. After working as a lecturer at Manchester University from 1986 to 1988, MacMillan returned to Scotland, where he has since fulfilled numerous important commissions and taught at the University of Edinburgh and Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. He has also served as Artistic Director of the Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust, Affiliate Composer of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Composer/ Conductor with the BBC Philharmonic, Composer of the Year with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and Visiting Composer of the Philharmonia Orchestra and Artistic Director of its contemporary music series, Music Today; he became Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic in 2010. In 1993, MacMillan won both the Gramophone Contemporary Music Record of the Year Award and the Classic CD Award for Contemporary Music; he was made a CBE in 2004, given the 2008 British Composer Award for Liturgical Music, named an Honorary Patron of the London Chamber Orchestra in 2008, and awarded a Knighthood in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours. In October 2014, James MacMillan inaugurated the Cumnock Tryst, a festival of international scope that he organized in his boyhood home in southern Scotland.
MacMillan’s compositions, many of which incorporate traditional Scottish elements and bear some stamp of either his religion (Catholicism) or his politics (socialism), include two operas, a St. John Passion, concerted works for piano (The Berserking), percussion (Veni, Veni, Emmanuel), cello, clarinet, organ and trumpet, orchestral scores, chamber works and pieces for solo voices and chorus. Of his creative personality, MacMillan wrote:
There are strong Scottish traits in my works, but also an aggressive and forthright tendency with a strong rhythmic physicality, showing the influence of Stravinsky, Messiaen and some minimalist composers.... My philosophy of composition looks beyond the introversion of the New Music “ghetto” and seeks a wider communication while in no way promoting a compromising populism.... The “modernist” zeal of the post-World War II generation of composers who attempted to eschew any continuation of tradition is anathema to me. I respect tradition in many forms, whether cultural, political or historical, and in keeping up a continuous, delicate scrutiny of old forms, ancient traditions, enduring beliefs and lasting values one is strengthened in one’s constant, restless search for new avenues of expression. The existence of the influence of the old alongside the experiments of the new should not appear incongruous. Therefore, in ideological terms, my works express the timeless truths of Roman Catholicism alongside a fierce social commitment. And musically one can hopefully sense the depths of times past integrating with attempts at innovation.
MacMillan’s Credo, a setting of the ancient Mass text confirming the church’s foundational belief in the Holy Trinity, was composed in 2011 on a commission from the BBC Philharmonic, Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, Grafenegg Music Festival (Austria) and De Doelen Concert Hall (Rotterdam), and premiered at the London Proms concert of the BBC Philharmonic on August 7, 2012, conducted by Juanjo Mena. The composer provided the following overview of the Credo:
This is a large-scale work but using a fairly economical orchestra. As musical settings of the Creed for liturgical use are no longer viable, this work is conceived as a concert piece. The Credo is cast in three movements reflecting the Trinitarian nature—Father, Son, Holy Ghost—of the text.
Pater. The short first movement begins with a high intonation, evoking liturgical practice. Most of the choral writing here is syllabic and homophonic with orchestral interjections that are busier or fanfare-like.
Filius. The more substantial middle movement begins with a festal theme in layers of different tonalities and pulses. Some of the choral writing is now more ornamented and florid, a style taken up by the instruments as well. At the holiest words in the central section—et incarnatus est—and thereafter, the choir is accompanied by three high solo violas. The opening fanfare motif returns towards the end in different colors.
Spiritus Sanctus. The final movement, the longest, begins with mysterious buzzing chords, first in the winds and then in the strings. The historical hinterlands of plainsong, motet and cantus firmus [“fixed song,” i.e., a borrowed melody or motif around which the other voices are composed] are the inspirations behind much of this music. After the final Amen, there is a brief, joyous coda for the orchestra.
Daphnis et Chloé
Composed in 1909–1912. Premiered on June 8, 1912 in Paris, conducted by Pierre Monteux.
The Ballet Russe descended on Paris in 1909 with an impact still reverberating through the worlds of art, music and dance. Its brilliant impresario, Sergei Diaghilev, went shopping among the artistic riches of the French capital, and soon had gathered together the most glittering array of creative talent ever assembled under a single banner: Falla, Picasso, Nijinsky, Fokine, Bakst, Monteux, Stravinsky, Massine, Debussy, Matisse, Prokofiev, Pavlova, Poulenc, Milhaud. Early in 1910 Diaghilev approached Maurice Ravel with a scenario by Fokine for a ballet based on a pastoral romance derived from the writings of the 5th-century Greek sophist Longus. In his 1928 autobiographical sketch, Ravel wrote:
I was commissioned by the director of the Russian Ballet to write Daphnis et Chloé, a choreographic symphony in three movements. My aim in writing it was to compose a vast musical fresco, and to be not so much careful about archaic details as loyal to my visionary Greece, which is fairly closely related to the Greece imagined and depicted by French painters at the end of the 18th century. The work is constructed like a symphony, with a very strict system of tonality, formed out of a small number of themes whose development assures homogeneity to the work.
Ravel’s refined view of Daphnis through the eyes of Watteau was at variance with the primitive one held by others on the production staff, especially Léon Bakst, who was doing the stage designs. There were many squabbles and delays in mounting the production, and, as a ballet, Daphnis had a lukewarm reception at its premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on June 8, 1912. Ravel’s score, however, was greeted with enthusiasm, perhaps because the orchestra was the only facet of the production that was completely prepared. The music immediately entered the repertory of the world’s orchestras and has remained one of the most popular of 20th-century scores, though the ballet is rarely seen.
One of the marks of a great musical work is the way in which it creates and envelops the listener in its own characteristic world. Ravel, through his masterful orchestration, sensitivity to color and atmosphere, and careful construction, created such a sound world in his Daphnis et Chloé. Ravel’s world is one of elegant sensuality and dream-like refinement, one that grew from the composer’s idealized vision not so much of Greece as of the court of Louis XIV at Versailles and its precise etiquette governing life and love. The young lovers of the ballet are not ancient primitives, but pink-cheeked shepherds who have stepped from a delicate canvas of Fragonard to amuse Le Roi Soleil. In considering the wondrous effect of Daphnis et Chloé, Jean Cocteau wrote, “It is one of those works that land in the heart like a meteorite, from a planet whose laws will remain forever mysterious and beyond our understanding.” Igor Stravinsky called it “one of the most beautiful products of French music.”
Daphnis et Chloé opens in a meadow bordering a sacred wood on the island of Lesbos. Greek youths and maidens enter with wreaths and flowers to place at the altar of the Nymphs as the shepherd Daphnis descends from the hills. His lover, Chloé, crosses the meadow to meet him. The girls are attracted to the handsome Daphnis and dance seductively around him, inciting Chloé’s jealousy. Chloé, in her turn, becomes the object of the men’s advances, particularly a crude one from the clownish goatherd Dorcon. Daphnis’ jealousy is now aroused and he challenges Dorcon to a dancing contest, the prize to be a kiss from Chloé. Dorcon performs a grotesque dance and he is jeered by the onlookers. Daphnis easily wins Chloé’s kiss with his graceful performance. The crowd leads Chloé away, leaving Daphnis alone to lapse into languid ecstasy. Daphnis’ attention is suddenly drawn to the clanging of arms and shouts of alarm from the woods. Pirates have invaded and set upon the Greeks. Daphnis rushes off to protect Chloé, but she returns and is captured.
In Scene Two, set on a jagged seacoast, the brigands enter their hideaway laden with booty. Chloé, hands bound, is led in. She pleads for her release. When the chief refuses, the sky grows dark and the god Pan, arm extended threateningly, appears upon the nearby mountains. The frightened pirates flee, leaving Chloé alone.
Scene Three is again set amid the hills and meadows of the ballet’s first scene. It is sunrise. Herdsmen arrive and tell Daphnis that Chloé has been rescued. She appears and throws herself into Daphnis’ arms. The old shepherd Lammon explains to them that Pan has saved Chloé in remembrance of his love for the nymph Syrinx. In gratitude, Daphnis and Chloé re-enact the ancient tale, in which Syrinx is transformed into a reed by her sisters to save her from the lustful pursuit of Pan, who then made a flute from that selfsame reed—the pipes of Pan—upon which to play away his longing. Daphnis and Chloé embrace tenderly and join in the general joyous dance that ends the ballet.