29 August 2019, The Tablet

Scottish Renaissance man

Scottish Renaissance man

A Scots Song: A Life of Music
(BIRLINN, 96 PP, £7.99)
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The two indefinite articles in the title, the absence of first-person pronouns or qualifiers, and a preference for “of” instead of “in”, all give clues to the modesty, but not the profundity, of Sir James MacMillan’s (pictured) first essay in autobiography.

In fewer that 100 pages, MacMillan delivers what is essentially an extended programme note, something to be read alongside his ­sixtieth birthday retrospectives on BBC?Radio 3 and at the Edinburgh Festival, where I am sure it will have sold like hot cakes. And yet there is something expansive and infinitely generous in his account of teachers like John Casken, of contemporaries and collaborators, of the older composers he has championed as conductor, of poet Michael Symmons Roberts, percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who premiered his still-astonishing Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, and Mstislav Rostropovich, for whom he wrote a cello concerto.

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