August may seem an unlikely time for Advent music, liturgically speaking, but it was on today’s date in 1992 that a remarkable work entitled “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” received its premiere at Royal Albert Hall in London. This was during the 1992 Proms at a concert by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra showcasing the talents of the virtuoso Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie.
The music with the Advent title was a concerto for percussion and orchestra by the Scottish composer James MacMillan, who explained that the work was started on the first Sunday of Advent in 1991, and completed on Easter Sunday the following year, and based on the ancient Advent Latin plainsong “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” or, in its more familiar English translation: “O come, o come Emmanuel.”
Many of the orchestral works of James Macmillan are based on religious or liturgical themes, a reflection of the Scottish composer’s own deep Catholic faith, and his percussion concerto “Veni, Veni Emmanuel” was no exception.
“There's very strong and powerful analogies between religion and music,” says MacMillan. “And between music and spirituality… it's because of those connections that I'm determined to explore what the connections might be and for that reason I'm entirely at ease with giving space in my music for these considerations.”
Apparently percussions, orchestras, and audiences are willing to spend some time with MacMillan’s musical considerations. “Veni, Veni Emmanuel” has been performed well over 300 times since its 1992 premiere.