Michael White’s classical news: Sir James MacMillan; HGO; Salon Music; Samson et Dalila; Dame Jane Glover

Friday, 20th May — By Michael White

Jane Glover_photo_www.jane-glover.com

Dame Jane Glover gives a talk at Keats Library on May 24. PHOTO: www.janeglover.com

IT used to be the case that credible contemporary composers didn’t “do” religion: they were robust non-believers, and the few that weren’t – John Tavener a prime example – stood out as eccentric. Weird.

But things have changed. Sir James MacMillan is as credible as you can get and no one thinks it weird that he’s devout, with a Catholicism that pervades his work. And his engagement with the Church brings him this Saturday down from Scotland, where he lives, to St Dominic’s Priory, Southampton Road NW5 – where he’ll present a concert of his own choral music.

MacMillan has a special relationship with St Dominic’s – and more particularly with its Prior Lawrence Lew: a priest whose spiritual path has shunted him around the world but included time as a novice in Cambridge, where he and the composer first met.

As he recalls: ‘I’d just come back from being a lay missionary in the Philippines and didn’t know much about his music at the time. But we became friends, and I rather boldly asked if he’d write something for my ordination – which he did.

“Three years ago he came to St Dominic’s for a concert that included my piece; and we thought it would be wonderful to have another concert to mark the 800th anniversary of the Dominicans arriving in England in 1221 – except the pandemic intervened, so we had to postpone.”

The delayed celebration now runs 7.30pm on May 21, with the professional choir Cappella Nova and MacMillan on hand to talk – prompted by Fr Lew who will doubtless have things to say about his own response to MacMillan’s music.

“It causes me to listen,” Lew says, “and it moves me physically. I hear it and have to stop whatever I’m doing and take it in.”

Be comparably moved on May 21. Tickets from Eventbrite: bit.ly/MacMillanConcert

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas is a short opera but a great work: the first of its kind in English, and famous for its haunting lament as the jilted Dido contemplates suicide. The company now called HGO (formerly Hampstead Garden Opera) have a new production running with another baroque miniature, Blow’s Venus and Adonis, at the Cockpit Theatre, Marylebone, May 20-29. Details: thecockpit.org.uk

• After a hesitant start, the new Salon Music series in Highgate is finally coming together, and on May 22 it recreates the mood and music of a Viennese Café circa 1900 at 10a South Grove N6. Works for violin and piano by Kreisler, Dvorak, Mendelssohn. salonmusic.co.uk

Camille Saint-Saëns died a century ago in 1921; and marking the anniversary, Covent Garden has a new production of his exotic, sensuous, parental-guidance opera Samson et Dalila running May 26 to June 19. That the quirky, comic-strip director Richard Jones has been engaged to do the show is risky (he’s not noted for exoticism) but interesting. There’s a big star in the Dalila, Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca. And Antonio Pappano conducts. With tickets from as little as £11, be curious. roh.org.uk

• Female conductors hardly count as exotic these days; but when Dame Jane Glover was starting out in the 1970s, they most certainly did. She was arguably the first to make a serious career on the podium. And she’ll be talking about it in a public conversation with me at Keats Library, Hampstead, on May 24, 7.30pm. Tickets, in aid of library funds: keatscommunitylibrary.org.uk

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