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Stuart MacRae

Born: 1976

Nationality: British

Publisher: Novello & Co

Photo © Louden MacRae Photography


Stuart MacRae was born in Inverness, Scotland, in 1976. After reading Music at Durham University with Philip Cashian, Sohrab Uduman and Michael Zev Gordon, he studied composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Simon Bainbridge and Robert Saxton. Often inspired by aspects of the natural landscape, MacRae’ musical style draws on various strands of European modernism, including the music of Carter and Xenakis as well as Maxwell Davies.

MacRae came to public attention as a finalist in the 1996 Lloyd’s Bank Young Composer’s Workshop when the BBC Philharmonic gave the first professional performance of Boreraig, a piece inspired by a visit to a deserted village on the Isle of Skye. From 1999 to 2003, MacRae was Composer in Association with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. He was Edinburgh Festival Creative Fellow during 2005/6 and held a residency at Villa Concordia in Bamberg from 2006-7.

The premiere of his Violin Concerto in 2001 brought MacRae wider public recognition. Following its premiere by Tasmin Little at the BBC Proms, it was performed at the Edinburgh Festival and at the Festival Musica in Strasbourg, and it has subsequently been recorded by Christian Tetzlaff on NMC Records. The Violin Concerto proved a catalyst for further success, beginning with Ancrene Wisse (2002), a setting of Middle English texts for soprano, female chorus and orchestra. Hamartia (2003), for cello and strings, explores the ancient Greek concept of a ‘tragic flaw’. The piece was premiered by the Scottish Ensemble and Liwei Qin on its 2004 spring tour and performed again at the BBC Proms in 2005.

Three Pictures
, commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 2004, depicts a series of imaginary landscapes, whilst in Two Scenes from the Death of Count Ugolino (2004) a mezzo soprano soloist brings to life two grotesque passages from Dante’s Inferno. A second work for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Birches (2007), draws its inspiration from closer to home, recalling elements of the landscape of the Scottish Highlands. The premiere of Gaudete at the 2008 BBC Proms demonstrated a significant development in MacRae’s musical language. The piece, a 28 minute setting of poetry by Ted Hughes, was performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and soprano Susanna Andersson conducted by Edward Gardner. Following the premiere, The Times wrote that “MacRae has thrillingly given Hughes’s work a new incarnation. Blood, granite, oak and bone were imprinted anew on the imagination though the heightened experience of music.” Recent years have also seen the creation of a number of works for the stage.

The one-act opera The Assassin Tree (2006) was co-commissioned by the Edinburgh International Festival and Royal Opera House. Featuring a libretto by Simon Armitage, its premiere production was directed by Emio Greco and Pieter Scholten. Echo and Narcissus - MacRae’s first work for dance, a collaboration with choreographer Cathy Marston - was premiered at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House in May 2007. 2009 saw the premiere of Remembrance Day, a fifteen-minute chamber opera to a libretto by Louise Welsh, commissioned as part of Scottish Opera’s Five:15 series. Writing in Opera magazine, Andrew Clark commented: “Poignant, farcical and grotesque, Remembrance Day is a minor masterpiece, full of moods and murmurs and post-Bergian mosaics”. 

The music of Stuart MacRae is published by Novello & Co.
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