James MacMillan

“The nature of the Holy Spirit … has rarely, and arguably never successfully, been fully explored in a symphony.” In the light of Mahler’s epic Symphony No 8, whose first movement is a rapturous hymn to the Holy Spirit, this is indeed a startling claim by John Studzinski. However, the founder of the Genesis Foundation that commissioned James MacMillan’s Symphony No 5, astutely foresaw that this would be a perfect subject for the composer.

MacMillan brings enormous creativity to this potentially daunting enterprise. Subtitled “Le grand Inconnu” (a French term for the Holy Spirit roughly translated as “The Great Unknown”), the symphony is scored for two choirs and large orchestra. Its three movements explore different aspects of the spirit: breath, water and fire, using elemental sounds as well as...

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