Sir James MacMillan CBE
“My collaborations with John Studzinski through the Genesis Foundation and Harry Christophers’ great choir The Sixteen have become some of the most fruitful artistic experiences in my life.” – Sir James MacMillan CBE
Sing on, Sweet Thrush – a Genesis Foundation commission to mark the 70th birthday of HRH The Prince of Wales
The Genesis Foundation commissioned a new composition from its frequent partner James MacMillan to mark the 70th birthday of HRH The Prince of Wales. Sing on, Sweet Thrush was performed by musicians and singers from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland at Dumfries House on 24 January 2019 and presented as a gift to His Royal Highness by MacMillan on behalf of The Cumnock Tryst, which MacMillan founded.
Sing on, Sweet Thrush is a setting of On Hearing a Thrush Sing In His Morning Walk by Robert Burns, a poem written as a birthday ode by Burns for his friend Alexander Cunningham.
Dumfries House was saved for the nation by a consortium of charities and heritage bodies in 2007 following an intervention by His Royal Highness and is a venue closely associated with The Cumnock Tryst.
James MacMillan said:
“I feel it captures the essence of what Dumfries House does for the local community, and what The Cumnock Tryst aspires to do in the regeneration of beauty and spirit.”
The Genesis Foundation commissioned James MacMillan to compose a new Stabat mater, which received its world premiere with Harry Christophers and The Sixteen and Britten Sinfonia at the Barbican Centre, London on 15 October 2016. Surrounding the premiere of the piece was a series of concerts and talks dedicated to James MacMillan. The 55-minute Stabat mater, for choir and string orchestra, is undoubtedly one of MacMillan’s most important works to date; it reflects his personal response to what is unquestionably the most powerful poem of the liturgy.
On 22 April, MacMillan’s Stabat mater was premiered at the Vatican. Audiences around the world watched the performance by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen live from the Sistine Chapel. The concert was a rare honour, bestowed on the Genesis Foundation, as few performances are given in the Sistine Chapel and even fewer are given by ensembles not based in the Vatican. The Sixteen became the first professional British choir to sing there in over 20 years.
Stabat mater marked the culmination of the Genesis Foundation’s three-year series of commissions, performances and recordings dedicated to the Stabat mater. Stabat Mater: Spirit, Strength & Sorrow saw three leading young composers – Alissa Firsova, Tõnu Kõrvits and Matthew Martin – write short Stabat maters under the mentorship of James MacMillan and Harry Christophers.
Speaking about his Stabat mater and his role as mentor, James MacMillan said:
“It has been a great honour to work on this commission for The Sixteen, after many years working closely with them and Harry Christophers on other, smaller pieces. The whole project supported by the Genesis Foundation has been a delight, and I have been able to work with other, younger composers on their own work, incorporating the activities of Genesis Sixteen too. It has, for a while, been my ambition to set this text and to compose a substantial work for Harry and his exceptional choristers.”
The Eton Choirbook and its Legacy of Sacred Music
James MacMillan’s O Virgo Prudentissima, based on a tiny fragment from the Eton Choirbook by Robert Wylkynson, was commissioned by the Genesis Foundation for the Eton Choirbook and its Legacy of Sacred Music, a programme which featured four new commissions based on the iconic music manuscript, the Eton Choirbook, by MacMillan, Phillip Cooke, Marco Galvani and Joseph Phibbs. The world premiere of this programme was held in Eton College Chapel in May 2018, performed by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen.
On 2 November 2018, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen released Star of Heaven: The Eton Choirbook Legacy on their CORO label, which featured these Genesis Foundation commissions.
Listen to Star of Heaven, here.
The Genesis Foundation’s association with James MacMillan dates back to 2008 when he was commissioned by the Foundation, along with Roxanna Panufnik and Will Todd, to compose musical settings to Padre Pio’s Stay with Me Lord. All three works were given world premieres at London’s Westminster Cathedral on 3 June 2008 in concert with Harry Christophers and The Sixteen.
The Genesis Foundation then commissioned a recording of the works with The Sixteen and Harry Christophers that was released on their Coro label.
Harry Christophers wrote in the CD booklet:
“We are so fortunate to have in John Studzinski, the architect of the whole “Padre Pio” project, through his inspired Genesis Foundation, someone who believes not only in creating spiritual experiences but also ensuring that music in the Catholic Church is upheld and, above all, injected with life.”
“It was quite fascinating for me to see the way this beautiful prayer affected James MacMillan, Roxanna Panufnik and Will Todd. All are inspired but in different ways; James by the soul’s lonely anguish at impending death, Roxanna by the introvert, ardent and passionate text and Will by the fervent, beseeching intensity of the prayer.”
“I sincerely hope that with this recording we can live up to John Studzinski’s passion for new music and bring this heartfelt and quite beautiful sacred music to a much wider audience.”
To listen to an excerpt from Padre Pio – Stay with me Lord, click here.