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A football-themed overture ends a major community project at James MacMillan’s The Cumnock Tryst festival in Ayrshire, also featuring new songs for soprano Danielle de Niese. This autumn also brings the Australian premiere of MacMillan’s Stabat Mater in Sydney.

The 2023 Cumnock Tryst festival in Ayrshire, Scotland (5-8 October), founded by composer James MacMillan, features the culmination of an ambitious community project, together with the usual range of concerts and talks. Performances include a recent football-themed concert overture by the composer, titled Eleven, two new MacMillan songs premiered by soprano Danielle de Niese setting texts by poet Michael Symmons Roberts, and the first Scottish performance of the composer’s motet I Saw Eternity programmed by Tenebrae alongside Bach and MacMillan’s Miserere.

> Visit The Cumnock Tryst website

To kick off the Musical Celebration of the Coalfields community project, James MacMillan led a series of online workshops that explored four themes, Coal, Environment, People and Place, all of which have particular significance within the Coalfield Community Landscape Partnership area in East Ayrshire. Participants were joined by photographer Colin Prior, author Alexander McCall Smith, poet Michael Symmons Roberts, composer Pete Stollery, visual artist Kim Beveridge and naturalist Chris Packham, learning how to capture their own moment in time. With over 100 photographs, films, texts and sound recordings contributed from across the area, film-maker Kim Beveridge and composer Alistair MacDonald worked together to incorporate those submissions into a film, The Moss and the Cosmos, a beautiful exploration of East Ayrshire, the people and the place.

Between April 2022 and June 2023, The Cumnock Tryst ran sessions with community groups in and around Cumnock and the Doon Valley to create texts and music which were drawn together to form A Musical Celebration of the Coalfields. The groups worked with specialist composers, librettists and musicians to create their story that represents their community. The resulting work is revealed in two performances at The Cumnock Tryst festival on Saturday 7 October, featuring 350 local people in school ensembles, brass, choral and theatre groups, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by James MacMillan.

As well as including the premieres of 20 community compositions, the pair of concerts will end with James MacMillan’s recent score Eleven. These performances in Cumnock, delayed due to the pandemic, follow a series of international performances by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Maxim Emelyanychev in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Montpellier, and by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer. Emelyanychev conducts first German performances of the five-minute work in Dortmund and Cologne in November with the WDR Symphony Orchestra.

James MacMillan describes how “there have been various pieces of music inspired by sport over the decades, and by football (soccer) in particular. This short concert overture is another one, and is particularly inspired by the local teams in East Ayrshire in Scotland where I grew up. In fact, the work is dedicated to the supporters of five teams in the area. Eleven is the number of players in a team and is the number which shapes a lot of the musical choices here: themes made up of eleven notes, chords consisting of eleven pitches, durations of eleven units and so on. The piece begins with the sound of a referee’s whistle before two eleven-note themes are thrown around between wind and strings, as if they are two opposing teams. Gradually melodies which have been appropriated as archetypal football chants start to appear, always underpinned by a restless physical energy.”

Celebrated soprano Danielle de Niese gives the world premieres of two new songs by James MacMillan at The Cumnock Tryst on 5 October, The Vows and Soul Song, coupled in a programme with Poulenc’s one-act opera La Voix Humaine. The composer describes composing the songs:

“These are settings of poems by Michael Symmons Roberts from his Drysalter collection. Michael is appearing at The Cumnock Tryst this year and will be interviewed in conversation about his work and his ongoing collaboration with me. This is the first of his poems I have set for a few years now, after many earlier direct collaborations which have included Clemency, Quickening, Raising Sparks and The Sacrifice. These two settings are love songs but quite quirky in style, and might be the beginning of a more substantial cycle from the same collection in future years.”

MacMillan highlights this autumn include the Australian premiere of Stabat Mater with the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs’ Chamber Singers and Orchestra at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, conducted by Brett Weymark. Scored for chorus and string orchestra, Stabat Mater has received over 20 performances since its premiere in 2016, including on programmes by The Sixteen at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City and at the White Light Festival at Lincoln Center in New York.

> Visit the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs website

Residencies this season with the Tampere Philharmonic and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir include the Finnish premiere of MacMillan’s Symphony No.4 and the Estonian premiere of Symphony No.5: Le grand Inconnu in Tallinn, both on 3 November. Forthcoming MacMillan world premieres include a new setting of Ordo Virtutum commissioned by the MDR Radio Choir in celebration of its 75th anniversary, with the first performance in Leipzig’s Peterskirche on 26 January conducted by Philipp Ahmann. The hour-long work sets the celebrated Latin text by Hildegard of Bingen for soprano Yeree Suh, double choir and percussionist Michael Weilacher.

>  Further information on Work: Eleven

Photo: James Bellorini

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