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After John, now Luke: James MacMillan to unveil new Passion piece

James MacMillan presenting a manuscript to Prince Charles (PA)

Composer James MacMillan will conduct his new St Luke Passion at its UK premiere in Birmingham next week.

The hour-long piece was co-commissioned for the 40th anniversary of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) Chorus. The concert programme also includes Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, with tenor Toby Spence and Richard Watkins on Horn.

Mr MacMillan says his composition reflects the “special appeal” the Gospel of Luke holds for him and the idea of “a more spiritual, inward, and pared-back approach to create a focused work”. The new piece follows on from his successful St John Passion of 2007.

The St Luke Passion, featuring the CBSO Chorus and CBSO Youth Chorus, focuses on the chorus as narrator, dispensing with soloists. Children’s voices represent the voice of Christ; Mr MacMillan, a contributing editor of The Catholic Herald, said he “wanted to examine [Christ’s] otherness, sanctity and mystery. Employing a children’s choir grants a measure of innocence to Christ as the sacrificial lamb.”

The composition is the result of an international co-commission by Stichting Omroep Muziek/NTR ZaterdagMatinee Amsterdam with assistance from Royal Concertgebouw, together with Duke University, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Soli Deo Gloria Inc, and Britten Sinfonia.

Simon Halsey, who has directed the CBSO Chorus for over 30 years, said: “It is a huge privilege to be part of this major international collaboration – so typical of the CBSO chorus who have toured, collaborated and initiated new projects, new ideas, new music and new ways of doing things since their foundation 40 years ago. The relationship with James MacMillan goes back many years and will continue for years to come.” 

The UK premiere of the St Luke Passion will take place in the Symphony Hall, Birmingham, on Thursday December 4.