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Sir James MacMillan

Artistic Director, The Cumnock Tryst

  • Sir James MacMillan is one of today’s most successful composers and performs internationally as a conductor. His musical language is flooded with influences from his Scottish heritage, Catholic faith, social conscience and close connection with Celtic folk music, blended with influences from Far Eastern, Scandinavian and Eastern European music.

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  • MacMillan first became internationally recognised after the extraordinary success of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie at the BBC Proms in 1990. His prolific output has since been performed and broadcast around the world. His major works include percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, which has received close to 500 performances, a cello concerto for Mstislav Rostropovich and five symphonies. Recent major works include his Percussion Concerto No.2 for Colin Currie, Violin Concerto No. 2 for Nicola Benedetti and his Symphony No.5, written for The Sixteen, which was premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2019, as part of a major feature to celebrate his 60th birthday year.

    MacMillan enjoys a successful career as conductor of his own music alongside a range of contemporary and standard repertoire, praised for the composer’s insight he brings to each score. He has conducted orchestras such as the Rotterdam Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Danish Radio Symphony, Gothenburg Symphony, Bergen Philharmonic, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, St Louis Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and NHK Symphony Orchestra among others. He was Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Kamer Filharmonie until 2013 and Composer/Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic until 2009.  

    Highlights of the 2023/24 season include conducting the UK premiere of MacMillan’s Fiat Lux with BBC Symphony and Chorus and the Scottish premiere of his Christmas Oratorio with Royal Scottish National Orchestra; elsewhere he conducts the Estonian National Symphony, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Tampere Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony. A number of new works receive premieres, including Ordo Virtutum with MDR Radio Choir in Leipzig, a new work for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and commissioned specially to celebrate Sir Mark Elder’s final concerts as Music Director, the Hallé Orchestra give the UK premiere of a major choral-orchestral work Timotheus, Bacchus and Cecilia.

    MacMillan founded music festival The Cumnock Tryst in October 2014, which takes place annually in his native Ayrshire. MacMillan was awarded a CBE in 2004 and a Knighthood in 2015.

    MacMillan has directed many of his own works on disc for Chandos, BIS and BMG, most recently a series on Challenge Records including MacMillan’s violin concerto A Deep but Dazzling Darkness and percussion concerto Veni, Veni, Emmanuel with Colin Currie and the Netherlands Radio Kamer Filharmonie. His recent release on Harmonia Mundi conducting Britten Sinfonia included his Oboe Concerto and won the 2016 BBC Music Magazine Award; in 2017 The Sixteen’s recording of MacMillan’s Stabat Mater was nominated for a Gramophone Award and won the Diapason d'Or Choral Award.

    The works of Sir James MacMillan are published by Boosey & Hawkes.

    2023/24 season / 468 words. Not to be altered without permission.


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Livestreams & Broadcasts

Netherlands Philharmonic Radio Orchestra and Choir | January 2021
James MacMillan: Christmas Oratorio (world premiere)
Sir James MacMillan (conductor)
Click to listen on NPO Radio 4

Conducting highlights & programmes

James MacMillan was Composer-Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic from 2000-2009 and of the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonie from 2009-2013. In Spring 2014 MacMillan conducted three projects with the BBC Scottish Symphony including a the orchestra’s first tour to India. Highlights of the current season include a new production of his 1990 opera Ines de Castro with Scottish opera, Composer in Residence with the Sao Paulo Symphony where he conducts a choral programme, return conducting engagements with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia and debuts with Bergen Philharmonic among others. In recent seasons he has conducted orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Symphony, Baltimore Symphony and New Zealand Symphony.

Orchestral conducting programmes:

Britten Four Sea Interludes
MacMillan Credo
MacMillan The Sacrifice: Three Interludes
Vaughan Williams Symphony No.4

Adès Polaris
MacMillan Viola Concerto
Anderson Prayer
Turnage Frieze 

MacMillan The Sacrifice: Three Interludes
Elgar Cello Concerto
Vaughan Williams Symphony No.4

Rimsky-Korsakov Russian Easter Festival Overture
Beethoven Piano Concerto No.4
Wagner Good Friday Music
MacMillan The World’s Ransoming 

Britten Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings
MacMillan St Luke Passion 

Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture, Op.26
Mozart Violin Concerto No.5
MacMillan Symphony No.3, ‘Silence’

Britten Prelude & Fugue op.29
Shostakovich Cello Concerto No.1
MacMillan Seven Last Words from the Cross 

Ulvo Shadows and Shields (premiere)
MacMillan Viola Concerto
Mendelssohn Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 'Scottish' 

Choral conducting programmes:

MacMillan After Virtue 
Gorecki Church Songs (selection) 
MacMillan Sun Dogs 
MacMillan Cum vidisset Jesus  
MacMillan They Saw the Stone had been Rolled Away 
MacMillan Alleluia 
MacMillan Catherine's Lullabies 

Victoria Tenebrae Responsaries (excerpts)
MacMillan Sun Dogs  
Poulenc Salve Regina / Ave verum corpus / Exultate Deo
MacMillan Mairi O bone Jesu


Composer of the Year, Pittsburgh Symphony 2016/17
Composer in Residence, Grafenegg Festival 2012
Making Music Carnegie Hall, 2011
Principal Guest Conductor, Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonie 2009-2013
London Symphony Orchestra Artist Portrait, 2009/10
Composer-Conductor, BBC Philharmonic 2000-2009


James MacMillan is one of today’s most performed composers, with a rich catalogue of orchestral and choral music performed by leadings orchestras around the world. Recent years have brought a successful sequence of concertos by MacMillan: for violinist Vadim Repin, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (his third piano concerto), oboist Nicholas Daniel, violist Lawrence Power and percussionist Colin Currie (his second percussion concerto). 2014 saw MacMillan launching Cumnock Tryst, a new music festival in his home town of Cumnock, Ayrshire.

The music of James MacMillan is published by Boosey & Hawkes

Selected work highlights:

Percussion Concerto No. 2 (2014)
Solo percussion and orchestra (soloist Colin Currie)

St Luke Passion (2013) 60'
SATB chorus, children's choir, organ and chamber orchestra

Viola Concerto (2013) 31'
Viola and orchestra (soloist Lawrence Power)

Oboe Concerto (2010) 23'
Oboe and chamber orchestra

Violin Concerto (2009) 25'
Violin and orchestra (soloist Vadim Repin)

Piano Concerto no. 3 (2008) 25'
Piano and orchestra (soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet)

St John Passion (2007) 87'
Baritone, small chorus, large chorus and orchestra

The Sacrifice: Three Interludes (2006) 15'
Orchestral overture

Symphony No. 3: ‘Silence’ (2002) 36'

Seven Last Words from the Cross (1993) 45'
Cantata for chamber choir and strings 

Veni, Veni, Emmanuel (1992) 26'
Solo percussion and orchestra (soloists include Colin Currie)

The Confession of Isobel Gowdie (1990) 26'
Symphony orchestra

"A towering performance by the BBC Philharmonic under the composer James MacMillan. He is proving a conductor of daunting ability."

Sunday Times

"MacMillan conducted his own music that was ceaselessly inventive, evocative and penetrating... His estimable mastery of orchestral timbre and effect was evident throughout."

New York Times

"How do we characterise the phenomenal concert given on Saturday night by the BBC SSO, with a string of premieres, all conducted by the man himself? The night featured music that was beguiling, intriguing, poignant, hilarious, electrifyingly exciting, challenging and, for those who know a little about MacMillan's music, comprehensively revelatory."



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Intermusica represents Sir James MacMillan worldwide

Catherine Gibbs
Associate Director
+44 20 7608 9946

Lucy Evans
Assistant Artist Manager
+44 20 7608 9940

All artists


HK Gruber


Tim Mead


Richard Egarr

Piano accompanist

Roger Vignoles


Jess Gillam


Avery Amereau