FEATURE JAMES MACMILLAN
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Maltlng muslc: James Machllan (trout) and Jonathan Moore combine to a powerful creative partnershlp
On the surface, composer James MacMillan and director Jonathan Moore are very different personalities. Talking to them during rehearsals of lnés de Castro — MacMillan’s first full-length opera — Alan Morrison finds
more harmony than counterpoint.
he quiet-spoken Scot. neatly turned out in grey T-shirt and shorts; the Englishman. denim jacket over loud lloral shirt. throwing out a succession of hilarious one-liners. The former exuding an air of calm that belies the fact that there’sjust over a week to go before his first full-length opera receives its world premiere. The latter. sitting opposite. leg bouncing up and down in bursts of nervous energy. To the casual observer. the duo taking a break between rehearsals in the cafe attached to Glasgow‘s Theatre Royal aren’t the most likely of working partners.
Dig below the surface and the connections lock into place. James MacMillan, arguably Scotland‘s greatest composer. has already built
14 The List 23 Aug-5 Sept I996 l
up a body of work that goes against the beliefs of certain musical cliques by drawing from his strong socialist and Catholic background. Director Jonathan Moore. with the same political and religious convictions. has thrived on an anti-establishment attitude that brims over in his wildly entertaining productions like LII/b With An Idiot for the l994/95 Scottish Opera season. Over an hour’s conversation. it becomes clear that a genuine bond has formed between the two men. born in their work environment and nurtured. it would appear. in the stands of Celtic Park. Chelsea fan Moore’s immersion into Scottish culture has been total.
The seeds for their collaboration were sown in l989 when MacMillan was enticed along to a performance of John Clifford’s play Inés (1e
C astm at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre. Immediately he knew that this tale of love flying in the face of political persecution was the perfect material for his first full-scale opera. Trimming down Clifford‘s text — already suitably concentrated and poetic — he began writing this Scottish Opera commission.
‘liach given situation exuded a musical character.‘ he explains. ‘which was then inserted into other parts of the opera. There‘s a little theme that goes “da-ra-rum" —just three little notes — and when it first appears. it’s almost coincidental. but sticks out soon as a big theme and is harmonised umpteen different ways. It’s not a fate motif. but it could be a “hate” motif. because it’s there when the aspects of hate arise.‘
‘lnstead ()l‘As'pecls ()fLm’r'. Aspects ()fHatt’.’ interrupts Moore. and you know that Andrew Lloyd Webber isn't trembling in his shoes. But for all his quick-fire humour. Moore’s respect for his colleague‘s talents is obvious. ‘Jimmy’s music is inately theatrical.‘ he continues. ‘Even when it‘s his orchestral work. it‘s got a dynamism and a discussion and a dialectic happening within it all the time. Some people can write theatrically and some people can’t.’
‘Even in my abstract and purely instrumental pieces.’ MacMillan agrees. ‘l’m very interested in a musical language which explores the outer extremes ofdeep serenity and extreme savagery. and allows those two extremes to battle for space in musical time. Sometimes a composer‘s