Sir James MacMillan (°1959) is one of the world’s most acclaimed composers. In his vast catalogue you will find five symphonies, concertos for almost every possibleinstrument, and a lot of vocal music. Not only is his music performed frequently all over the world, he continues to receive commissions.

What is the secret behind his success?

James MacMillan is also a knight. A prominent, outspoken Catholic. A figure seen in Scotland as politically conservative in that he campaigned to preserve the union with England. But above all an established composer of international celebrity – performed by the world’s greatest orchestras and choirs, who are lined up to do so with a vengeance for this birthday year.

For a serious, high-art composer, he also reaches an unusually wide audience – helped, he thinks, by the way “we live in times when people are fascinated by religion, and the most baffling aspects of Christian belief seem to be the most appealing”.

But when it comes to the thorny subjects of inspiration and guidance, James MacMillan is cautious:

“I believe there’s an umbilical connection between music and the divine, but does God direct my hand when I put the notes on the page? I wouldn’t claim that. “Nor can I look back over my output and see a guided, seamless progression. It’s more like I’ve just stumbled on from day to day with false starts, dead ends and a few mistakes.”
- james macmillan

"Opera hasn’t been a big success, and I think it’s over for me – at least, so far as mainstage works are concerned. But at the same time, other things have come into focus, and the main one in recent years has been choral music. Especially unaccompanied."

“One of the most remarkable things I’ve witnessed over time has been the emergence of superb professional choirs that have transformed the musical landscape and the lives of composers. Forty years ago, few serious composers thought much about choral writing: it was instrumental music that generated modernism. But that’s changed. And choral singing packs out halls.”

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