MacMillan in St Petersburg

This weekend (27 Nov), St Petersburg’s famous Philharmonia, which is celebrating its centenary, will stage the first of three major concerts this season by the music society’s Academic Symphony Orchestra featuring the music of Sir James MacMillan. The Scots composer has been appointed the Philharmonia’s composer-in-residence for the 2021-/22 season. All five works included in the series will be receiving their Russian premieres.

Saturday’s opening concert is conducted by Alexander Titov, formerly a regular guest conductor with the BBC SSO. It features MacMillan’s orchestral fantasy Britannia – what will Russian audiences make of its explosion of quotes from Celtic reels and Elgar to Knees up Mother Brown? – and Larghetto, his 2017 orchestration of an earlier Miserere for a cappella double choir.

Vassily Sinaisky conducts the second concert on 18 Dec which includes the 2019 orchestration of Ein Lämplein verlosch, written originally for string quartet, which takes its title from the first song in Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. MacMillan conducted this highly personal response to the early death of his own granddaughter in an online concert earlier this year by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (see VoxCarnyx reviews).

For the final St Petersburg programme on 5 Feb, the composer is travelling to Russia himself to conduct The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, the orchestral work that catapulted him to international fame at the 1990 BBC Proms, as well as the short Saxophone Concerto, written in 2017 for Australian virtuoso Amy Dickson and the SCO. It will be played this time by a Russian soloist. 

MacMillan, who was in St Petersburg last year giving lectures courtesy of the British Council, said he was delighted to be associated with “a historical musical organisation with links to so many great Russian composers of the past, such as Shostakovich, and to be brought under the umbrella of what is such an important year for the venue and its famous orchestras.” 

It is unclear at this point if the performances will be available online. “I understand that is the intention,” said MacMillan.

Further information at