James MacMillan hits the heights with heavenly music – Angus Robertson

James MacMillan was only five or six years old when he experienced his first “electrical” musical experience at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh.

Tuesday, 20th August 2019, 6:00 am
Sir James MacMillan's Fifth Symphony was premiered at the Festival on Saturday
Sir James MacMillan's Fifth Symphony was premiered at the Festival on Saturday

This weekend, 55 years on, Scotland’s greatest contemporary composer sat in pride of place at a packed Mass celebrating the Edinburgh Festival, as the world renowned choir The Sixteen performed his work.

There was standing room only in the cathedral as Edinburgh’s clerical, civic and diplomatic communities processed down the nave at the start of the Mass.

Senior Roman Catholic churchmen, including the visiting Cardinal of Westminster, were joined by representatives of the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. Consuls General from across the world joined Edinburgh’s High Constables, councillors and hundreds of worshippers.

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As you might expect, the music was divine – from MacMillan’s own compositions to classic plainsong and Palestrina.

The Edinburgh International Festival has programmed his music over five concerts with its high point on Saturday with four large-scale works, including a major world premiere in the Usher Hall.

The first performance of Le Grand Inconnu, MacMillan’s Fifth Symphony, an epic choral meditation on the Holy Spirit has had rave reviews. Long may his composing continue and a belated very happy birthday.