James MacMillan has produced a spate of works in various genres -- symphonic, concerto, opera, theater, sacred, choral, and much else. He has achieved great success with a number of them, placing him easily among the leading Scottish composers from the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. 1990 was a watershed time for MacMillan: that year his theatrical piece Búsqueda (1988) was introduced at the Edinburgh International Festival, and his orchestral work The Confession of Isobel Gowdie was premiered at a Proms concert, both events catapulting him to national as well as international notice. The latter opus and his percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel are probably MacMillan's most popular large works. MacMillan's style incorporates some modernist characteristics (leftovers from his youth), but on the whole his music, with its use of Scottish folk music; his quite approachable melodic and rhythmic invention; and his gift for imaginative and colorful scoring place his style well within the accessible range. Indeed, but his sacred music, inspired by his Roman Catholicism and sympathies for the oppressed, is stylistically often more challenging, with a mixture of the dissonant and the medieval, of disruption and consolation. MacMillan's works are widely available on recordings and often played in the concert hall, especially throughout the U.K.
James MacMillan was born in Kilwinning, Scotland, on July 16, 1959. Raised in Cumnock, North Ayrshire, he studied composition with Rita McAllister at the University of Edinburgh and with John Casken at Durham University.
After the success of Búsqueda and The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, MacMillan was suddenly in demand, with many important commissions: Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, was premiered in 1992 by Evelyn Glennie, with spectacular success, and the 1993 cantata Seven Last Words from the Cross, achieved great acclaim during its Holy Week screening on the BBC in 1994. Further, MacMillan produced a cello concerto for Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered it in 1997.
In 2000 MacMillan began a nine-year stint as composer/conductor with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Since the turn of the century he has also conducted the London Symphony, the NHK, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony, and many other orchestras in performances of his works and those of other contemporary composers (Birtwistle, Casken, Lindberg). Among MacMillan's most important recent works are his second opera, The Sacrifice, premiered by the Welsh National Opera in 2007, and his St. John Passion, premiered by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in 2008.