Sunday, March 30, 2003


A live recording of the fascinating new orchestral portrait by Scottish composer James Macmillan, “A deep but dazzling darkness” (which received its world première at the opening of St Luke’s Centre, a hospice in London, on 27 March 2003) was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 yesterday morning. It features Gordan Nikolitch (violin) and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Macmillan himself.

After an unsettling, shimmering opening with no fixed tone centre, the piece is almost Bartokian in its questioning string textures. There is, as the title suggests, an interplay of light and shade, dramatised by the destabilising interventions of two pianos tuned a quarter tone apart. Macmillan has long been interested in mixing standard and microtonal elements in his compositions, which are neither noticeably traditionalist nor particularly avant garde in character. He is a composer who likes to weave his musical language around thematic ideas.

Further details about the work are given at the LSO website. There will be a further performance at the Sherbourne Festival on 2 May.

The title, incidentally, is a quotation from the C17th Welsh poet, Henry Vaughn: “there is in God, some say, a deep but dazzling darkness.” It has been taken as the title of the US edition for a collection of sermons (Cowley, 1995) by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. Macmillan and Williams have a mutual admiration for one another's work.

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