Mozart, MacMillan pieces will challenge symphony

Courtney Lewis

I know I speak for all the musicians and staff at the Jacksonville Symphony when I say we are delighted to be back onstage performing. I’m especially looking forward to our program on Nov. 13-14, which features works by Mozart and the Scottish composer James MacMillan.

MacMillan is Scotland’s leading composer, having been in the public eye since the late 1980s. His music is immensely approachable, often featuring elements of his Scottish identity and Catholic faith. We’ll be performing the piece that launched his career when it premiered at the BBC Proms Concerts in 1990, “The Confession of Isobel Gowdie.” The music is based on the gruesome and historically accurate story of a 17th-century woman who was burned at the stake on charges of witchcraft. MacMillan writes that in the years between 1560 and 1707 as many as 4,500 Scots perished because their contemporaries thought they were witches. While it does outline the violence of the story, the overall tone of the piece is much more contrite. MacMillan notes, “On behalf of the Scottish people the work craves absolution and offers Isobel Gowdie the mercy and humanity that was denied her in the last days of her life. To do this I have tried to capture the soul of Scotland in music and outer sections contain a multitude of chants, songs and litanies (real and imagined) coming together in a reflective outpouring – a prayer for the murdered woman.”

And then for something completely different, to paraphrase Monty Python. In the summer of 1788 Mozart composed three full-length symphonies in just six weeks. These works – the famous G minor with its agitated opening, the grand E-flat major, and the “Jupiter” symphony in C major – represent the pinnacle of his symphonic achievement. Mozart was enjoying enormous success all over Europe. He was idolized for his operas, especially “Don Giovanni”, but he was once again penniless and in debt, and grieving for this daughter, who had recently died in infancy. Like his Requiem, we don’t know why he composed these works. There are very few examples of Mozart writing without a commission, yet there is none for any of these symphonies. Perhaps he simply wanted to compose something new and revolutionary, and with the “Jupiter” symphony, he did just that.

By Courtney Lewis, Music Director of the Jacksonville Symphony