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James MacMillan's new St Luke Passion is a compact work, focusing on the chorus and returning to baroque roots.

The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam plays host to the world premiere of James MacMillan's new St Luke Passion on 15 March, presented within the ZaterdagMatinee series. Following the near operatic scale of his St John Passion, the new hour-long work sees MacMillan adopting a pared-back approach, with all the vocal music sung by choral forces and a baroque-style chamber orchestra. The premiere features the Netherlands Radio Choir, Vocaal Talent Nederland and National Jeudkoor with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Markus Stenz.

The St Luke Passion is the result of an international five-way commission from the Stichting Omroep Muziek and NTR ZaterdagMatinee Amsterdam with assistance from Royal Concertgebouw, together with Duke University, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Soli Deo Gloria Inc, and Britten Sinfonia. Following the premiere in the Netherlands, further performances are planned at Duke University in the USA on 13 April and in Birmingham and London in the 2014/15 season.

In a recent interview MacMillan describes the genesis of the St Luke Passion: "I decided to frame the Passion narrative with a Prelude exploring the Annunciation to set the scene, and a Postlude taking us beyond the Crucifixion to the Resurrection and Ascension. These incorporate Gospel texts where Luke explains the Kingdom of God... Excluding interpolated texts, set as reflective arias, offered the possibility of a limited role for soloists and I decided to go the full way and do without the usual tenor Evangelist and bass Christ. Everything would be sung by choral forces."

One of the most intriguing aspects of the new Passion is MacMillan's decision to write the music associated with Christ for a children's choir: "Any Passion that casts Christ as a soloist immediately makes him take human form as an adult male, whereas I wanted to examine his otherness, sanctity and mystery. Employing a children’s choir grants a measure of innocence to Christ as the sacrificial lamb, while the vocal line is either in unison or in three parts reflecting the oneness or Trinitarian implications of God."

> Read the full MacMillan interview about St Luke Passion 

Other MacMillan choral premieres in coming months include a new work for the King's Singers, entitled The Rumoured Seed, receiving its first performance in Perth Concert Hall in Scotland on 2 April. The piece sets four poems by Michael Symmons Roberts, who has worked closely with MacMillan on many works including the cantata Quickening and the stageworks The Sacrifice, Parthenogenesis and Clemency. The texts are drawn from across Symmons Roberts's published collections, with all the poems demonstrating feelings for and allusions to Spring. The commission was generously supported by The King's Singers Foundation.

Linn Records has released a third disc of MacMillan choral music performed by Cappella Nova conducted by Alan Tavener (Linn CKD439). Repertoire includes Missa Dunelmi, St Patrick's Magnificat, ...fiat mihi..., and Alpha and Omega.

>  Further information on Work: St Luke Passion

Photo: Philip Gatward

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