Sir James MacMillan

1959 -

James MacMillan
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

James MacMillan

Composer and conductor. Born Kilwinning (North Ayrshire), MacMillan was raised in Cumnock (East Ayrshire), where he was educated at Cumnock Academy. He then studied music at the Universities of Edinburgh and Durham, gaining his doctorate in 1987. MacMillan began his career lecturing at the University of Manchester but gained acclaim following the successful premiere of two works; namely Tryst at the Orkney Festival (1989) and The Confession of Isobel Gowdie at the BBC Proms (1990). The latter work explores the effects of witch-hunting following the Reformation.

His compositions, which are typified by a combination of excitement, emotional power and spirituality, include the percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel (1992), which has been regularly performed by Evelyn Glennie (b.1965), Seven Last Words from the Cross (1993) and Cantata for Choir and Strings (1998). MacMillan was a featured composer at Edinburgh Festival (1993) and has worked with orchestras internationally, including the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra and New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics. He maintained close links with fellow composer Peter Maxwell Davies (1934 - 2016), who has influenced his work. Other influences include his political and religious convictions (a socialist and Roman Catholic), his sense of national identity and Celtic Football Club. He wrote a choral piece which was sung during a mass in Bellahouston Park (Glasgow) as part of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Scotland in 2010. MacMillan presented a series Faith in Music for BBC Radio Four in 2020.

MacMillan now lives in Glasgow, where he is an occasional tutor at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He was awarded honorary degrees by the University of Glasgow (2001), University of Edinburgh (2005) and University of Aberdeen (2010), and was knighted in 2015.

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