ames MacMillan is the owner of one stuffed diary. Where most people would be content to map their career in month-long wedges. he can predict with confidence what he‘ll be working on as far ahead as 1997. Life‘s like that when you‘re the most notable young Scottish composer of your generation. An opera here. a trumpet concerto there. a mini-series of concerts to arrange for the London Philharmonia. Not to mention short-term commissions. And a percussion concerto. A matter of days before Veni. Veni. Emmanuel is premiered at the BBC Proms. MacMillan is sitting. unruffled and
ofMusic and Drama, contemplating the prospect of returning to the Proms after a two-year absence. In 1990 he premiered The Confession oflsobel Gowdie. an evocative piece oforchestral image painting — a
_ 12 The List 21 — 27 August 1992
self-effacing, in the Royal Scottish Academy
It has suffered at the hands of Church and State, been neglected by academics, and under-rated by its own nation. yet Scottish music has continued to evolve and progress. Fiona Sheppard redresses the balance with leading composer JAMES MACMILLAN. whose Percussion Concerto is a closing highlight of the Festival.
composer. lauded at home but relatively unknown outside Scotland. having to follow Beethoven‘s Fourth — and the audience didn’t stop clapping and sit down for weeks. or at least ten minutes. Admittedly he has Evelyn Glennie to lead the assault for him
: this time. but how does his ostensibly cool
demeanour react to the prospect of
‘It’s terrifying actually.‘ he states calmly. ‘I had a lot of sleepless nights over the percussion concerto because it‘s such an odd concept anyway to have all that battery of percussion instruments down the front of what is essentially a chamber orchestra. It was full of problems. And I now know what a big thing the Proms are — there‘s live radio and critics are there and there‘s TV as well.‘
However. this meeting is primarily to discuss the occasion of the concerto‘s Scottish premiere as part of a series of five concerts which purport to trace ‘Scottish
Music Through The Centuries‘. The series.
I inspired by John Purcer‘s hugely successful
book and Radio Scotland show Scotland‘s Music. begins with Celtic chants. readings
; from the earliest Scots translation ofThe . Bible and two of Robert Carver‘s choral
compositions performed by the Cappella Nova. moving on to 18th century royalist cantatas played on contemporary instruments. and eventually landing in the 20th century by way of a bagpipes
-meet-orchestra coalition on traditional
reels. It’s a progression intended to educate as much as entertain.
‘This series is trying to redress that ignorance in our own collective psychology.‘
. MacMillan explains. ‘Scotland has this huge
tradition that has been ignored really.
mainly because there‘s this kind ofcultural
cringe to the English which makes us
imagine that nothing good culturally has
come from within our own borders. I studied music at university so I think I'm part ofa very small minority of people who are aware of some kind ofclassical heritage in Scotland. What was never pointed out
‘ through a university education was that this
music was worth evaluation on the same
! level as similar European classical culture.
You were always made to believe that being Scottish. this music was in some way peripheral to the central developments in
1 music throughout the centuries.
‘In a sense that is true.‘ he continues. ‘because Scotland is on the periphery
‘ geographically. and once the Reformation
came along the reformers had an anti-art attitude anyway. Music was one of the first
casualties of that — a lot ofthe best music
‘You were always made to believe that being Scottish, this music was in some way peripheral to the central developments in music throughout the centuries.’
. before the Reformation was to do with the
Roman Church in Scotland. so that was why a lot of our classical heritage was vandalised. The other blow to Scotland‘s music was the Union of the Crowns. Most ofthe high-art music in Scotland was associated with the Court so when the Scottish Court went to London there was nothing of that type of music left in Scotland. So we‘ve had these two body—blows over the last four or five hundred years that made it very difficult for classical music to be nurtured in Scotland and it‘s only really recently. in the last century. things have begun to happen again.‘
The revitalisation process has been particularly enhanced in recent years by a