Classical & Opera: Passion symphony

Composer James MacMillan has fought shy of symphonies in the past. Now the world premiere of Vigil, sees him embracing the form to explore the Easter Vigil
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Although already a prolific composer, James MacMillan has up until now attempted a symphony. Finally, though, the 38-year-old Scot has, and with it he completes his Easter trilogy, developing ideas on from The World's Ransoming and the Cello Concerto which alluded to events on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday respectively. The Symphony, subtitled Vigil, sets out to explore the culminating passage of the Easter celebration, the

Easter Vigil itself.

A devout Catholic, MacMillan admits that virtually all his work has "a religious or, at least, a deeply spiritual aspect to it". Yet his highly charged music has certainly not followed in the soporific footsteps of some of his older contemporaries, such as Part, Gorecki and Tavener - the "mystic minimalists", as that trio has been called. While taking contemplation and the act of vigil as its starting point, MacMillan's Vigil, scored for a large orchestra, promises to be a powerful and, at times, very loud new addition to the symphonic repertoire. "I have deliberately avoided composing something called a Symphony thus far," he says. "Partly, I suppose, because of a reticence about whether it's still possible to use the form in the 1990s in the first place. But my ideas also seem to be getting bigger and increasingly more complex. The turbulence of the Passion story seemed to suggest itself in terms of a battle for musical space, and this needed a broad canvas."

Alongside equally rugged Nordic models by the likes of Sibelius and Nielsen, MacMillan's Symphony, in three movements, takes the shape of a journey from darkness into light. To this end, he doesn't employ violins until the last section, while a brass quintet is ingeniously used to sound out from the auditorium. "Hopefully the various strands, not only of the Symphony itself, but of the orchestral triduum in general, are all brought together as the piece rises to its triumphant conclusion," he says. One can certainly be sure that MacMillan's 1st will generate a dynamic sense of energy within an immaculately sewn sonic tapestry.

The LSO, under the baton of Mstislav Rostropovich, gives the world premiere of MacMillan's Symphony. Barbican Hall (0171-638 8891) tomorrow 7.30pm

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