James MacMillan

Sir James MacMillan CBE is a Scottish composer and conductor. He was Composer-Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic from 2000-2009 and of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonie from 2009-2013.

I’ll never take culture for granted again

‘Has this been the happiest year of my life?’ I found myself asking recently. It has certainly been topped with the arrival of a third granddaughter last month. (My first, little Sara Maria, died a few years ago.) The birth of Rosie Elisabeth has taken our joy to cosmic levels, but 2023 has been a

Music’s debt to Pope Benedict

One group delighted with the papacy of Benedict XVI was musicians. He was one of us. He had a grand piano in his apartment in the Vatican and played (mostly his beloved Mozart) regularly. His love of music was not restricted to music for the liturgy. He saw the numinous dimension to music in its

In praise of the St George’s Chapel choristers

The stark simplicity of the music performed at Prince Philip’s funeral service will have made a gentle but huge impact on the mourners, inside St George’s Chapel Windsor and on the millions watching on television around the world. Those of us who have some involvement in the world of choral music were mightily impressed at

Community music-making is the jewel in the British crown

Music is a universal language. The style that has enraptured me since childhood, classical music, has always had an international dimension, and has taken me around the world in the decades since. But even in those early boyhood encounters I became aware of music and musicians from many different lands and eras. Apart from the

Beethoven’s spirituality: a conversation with Sir James MacMillan

34 min listen

It’s the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven – in my opinion, the greatest creative genius in history and a man of extraordinary moral courage. In this episode of Holy Smoke, I’m joined by his fellow composer Sir James MacMillan to discuss a side of Beethoven that the postmodern artistic establishment prefers

There’s something about Mary

Music likes to tell the same story over and over again. This is part of its tradition but even individual composers can be drawn back to the same models in attempts to reclothe and reinterpret musical forms and structures and settings of classic texts. This is especially the case with the Crucifixion narrative. Bach is

The SNP has played Scotland’s Catholic Church for a fool

In England and other places there can still be surprise when discussion of football in Scotland segues too smoothly into the discussion of religion. And vice versa. It can also get entangled with toxic politics too. The sectarian divide between Celtic and Rangers doesn’t need to be rehearsed, but the tribal hinterlands behind this ancient

Tartan-ing up the arts

Many years ago an arts spokesperson for the SNP launched an extraordinary attack on Scottish Opera, saying, ‘If push comes to shove, if I were arts minister and had to choose between the survival of Gaelic music and Scottish Opera, I would say rich people could always go to Salzburg for lieder and Sydney for

Unthinking dogmatism

James MacMillan explains why he hates the assumption that he is a liberal left-winger In my travels I see myself frequently described in foreign media as a ‘left-wing and Scottish nationalist’ composer. The latter label is ludicrous, and I just put it down to a foreigner’s ignorance and justifiable disinterest in the parish-pump tedium of