Has Europe lost its culture of grace and mercy? Yes it has, according to James MacMillan, who conducts his own work, A European Requiem, as part of the opening concert of this year’s Olav’s Festival.
Under the ominous cloud of the Brexit referendum, A European Requiem, the composer’s funeral mass for Europe, had its British premiere during the ever-popular BBC Proms in 2017. Although it could have been tempting to connect these two events, MacMillan, a Scot and one of the most significant contemporary composers, was concerned with greater matters when he wrote the work.
Far from being shortsightedly British, the work is nothing less than a funeral mass for European culture and civilization. As a Catholic and fallen socialist, MacMillan is still politically committed with more conservative values and world view. He sees Christian ideas of forgiving as a source of freedom in Europe, and as a cultural inheritance which has been lost as a result of perfunctory optimism. One after another, mass faith in communism, fascism and Nazism has destroyed humane society, in the opinion of the composer.
In fact, it may be the case, says MacMillan, that what European civilization needs right now is a requiem, a mass for the dead. Perhaps this is how to revive what made Europe ‘Europe’, in its full spiritual meaning?
The composer himself conducts
James MacMillan is one of the great contemporary composers whose music is played all over the world. The music of the 59-year-old Scot, who has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth, is both strongly spiritual and political. One of the goals of his music is to generate greater solidarity with the politically oppressed of the world.
The work will be conducted by the composer himself, providing him with a unique opportunity to realise his own ideals. This summer MacMillan will be 60, and the opening concert of Olav’s Festival marks the European culmination of the celebration of this anniversary.
An international celebrity sings Strauss
The German soprano Annette Dasch is acclaimed throughout the world. She performs with orchestras such as the Berlin and the Vienna Philharmonic, with conductors like Sir Simon Rattle, Daniel Barenboim and Kent Nagano and has her own concert series at several of the world’s most prestigious venues.
On 28 July in Nidaros Cathedral, she will perform Richard Strauss’ last completed composition Vier letzte Lieder (The Four Last Songs), which are among the most beautiful songs in the orchestral repertoire. Strauss wanted Kirsten Falgstad to perform the work for the first time, a wish that was not fulfilled until after his death. Three of the songs are about death and how life is perfected only by death. In Frühling (Spring), the poet, (Hermann Hesse) talks about how everything comes to life once more after the stillness of winter, and how life is given another chance.
The opening concert of Olav’s Festival 2019 in Nidaros Cathedral will be a big occasion, with international names leading Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and a magnificent choir comprising Trondheim Vokalensemble, the TSO choir, with Utopia & Reality Chamber Choir and the cathedral’s own choir.