For more details about James MacMillan, his background, and his purposes in writing his St. John Passion, I’ll refer the reader to the review of the superb LSO Live recording of the work, which I published as an introduction to this concert, its U.S. premiere. MacMillan wrote the Passion as an 80th birthday tribute to Sir Colin Davis, and it was jointly commissioned by the London and Boston Symphony Orchestras. An Ayrshire Catholic of Irish extraction, James MacMillan became connected to music early, and his experience with the Passion according to St. John goes back to the traditional chanted readings of the text as part of the Good Friday liturgy. While most of the work consists straightforwardly of the Gospel narrative and the Improperia from the Roman Catholic Good Friday Mass, its selection and musical treatment are highly personal, giving it a dramatic and humanistic quality, which must please Sir Colin no end.
The Scottish composer James MacMillan is not nearly as well-known in the United States as he is in Britain. Hence it is a good thing that an outstanding recording of his St. John Passion is available from LSO Live for purchase as discs or as an iTunes download, as the BSO prepares to perform it under Sir Colin Davis, who commissioned the work as part of his 80th birthday celebrations. There is no better introduction to a composer or to a work than simply to listen to it, and a recording fills the requirement nicely, especially of a performance by Sir Colin, who has a special gift in presenting unfamiliar music with the passionate convication that it is the very best of its kind.