Listen: St. Luke Passion

St. Luke Passion

Excerpt from Chapter 23

From the archival recording of the U.S. premiere by the Duke Chapel Choir and Orchestra Pro Cantores, Rodney Wynkoop, conductor.

EXCERPT TEXT: "Then the whole company of them arose, and brought him before Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, 'We found this man perverting our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king.' And Pilate asked him, 'Are you the King of the Jews?' And he answered him, 'You have said so.' And Pilate said to the chief priests and the multitudes, 'I find no crime in this man.' But they were urgent, saying, 'He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.' ”


The St. Luke Passion score is available for viewing on the Boosey & Hawkes website.

For information on performing this work, please contact SDG.

Additional Performances

December 4, 2014
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Chorus and Youth Chorus
James MacMillan, conductor
Symphony Hall
Birmingham, UK

April 3, 2015
Britten Sinfonia Voices
James MacMillan, conductor
King’s College Chapel
Cambridge, UK

April 5, 2015
Britten Sinfonia Voices
James MacMillan, conductor
Barbican Hall

Other SDG collaborations with James MacMillan

Alpha and Omega: World premiere at Rockefeller Chapel, University of Chicago, June 2011.

Since it was the day of Preparation... : World premiere at the Edinburgh Festival, August 2012;  U.S. premiere at St. Bartholomew's Church (New York), May 2014.

St. Luke Passion: world premiere at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, March 2014; U.S. premiere at the Duke University Chapel (Durham, North Carolina), April 2014.

James MacMillan also serves on the Advisory Board of Soli Deo Gloria.

About the composer

"...the most powerful voice in British music today - by a mile."
The Times [London]

James MacMillan is one of today’s most successful living composers. His prolific output has been performed and broadcast around the world, placing him in the front rank of today’s composers. He also enjoys a flourishing career as conductor of his own music alongside a range of contemporary and standard repertoire. Mr. MacMillan is published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes. . (Click to read MacMillan's complete biography.)

Through worldwide performances and an extensive discography, MacMillan’s music, which is celebrated for its spiritual and emotional power, has achieved a broad following rare among modern composers. James MacMillan continually demonstrates, across the breadth of his compositions, his commitment to sacred music.

St. Luke Passion

James MacMillan
St. Luke Passion

SATB chorus, children's choir, organ and chamber orchestra
DURATION: 75 minutes
TEXT: The Gospel of Luke, chapters 22 and 23
A reframing of the traditional Passion setting, with the narrative sung by the chorus and the words of Christ by a children’s choir.




World Premiere
March 2014
Netherlands Radio Choir
Nationaal Jeugdkoor
Netherland Radio Philharmonic
Markus Stenz, conductor
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

U.S. Premiere
April 2014
Duke Chapel Choir
Durham Children’s Choir
Rodney Wynkoop, conductor
Duke University Chapel
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina

New York Premiere
April 2017
New York Choral Society
David Hayes, conductor
Jason Roberts, organist
Brooklyn Youth Chorus
St. Bartholomew's Church
New York, New York


Renowned Scottish composer James MacMillan has long been drawn to the Passion narrative because of its compelling drama, its powerful images, and his personal faith. It is MacMillan's lifetime goal to set all four Gospel Passion accounts to music. In an interview withThe Scotsman, MacMillan stated, “The plan is to get them smaller and smaller.” In contrast to the almost operatic impact of his St John Passion (2007), the St. Luke Passion is pared back, with a Baroque-style chamber orchestra.

In a move away from traditional Passion settings, where soloists and the Evangelist provide the narrative, MacMillan wrote his St. Luke Passion with no soloists, no recitatives, no arias; all the narrative portions are sung by the chorus. MacMillan explains his strategy in an interview:

“I envisage … a flexible approach with the choir director deciding which tutti passages could be sung by a semi-chorus and which single lines might be better sung by a soloist drawn from the choir. I tried to make the choral writing as varied as possible, sometimes homophonic, sometimes with upper or lower voices, at other times just a unison line. The crowd sections move into polyphony to show the chaotic, angry or fearful world of the street.”

I’m hoping the St Luke Passion can be performed by a wide range of abilities … I’ve tried to be as helpful as possible, providing pitch cues and harmonic support, using simple modalities, avoiding angular leaps, keeping sections in repeating metrical schemes, etc.”

Another unique feature of the St. Luke Passion is MacMillan’s scoring of the words of Jesus to be sung by a children’s choir. As MacMillan explains, “Any Passion that casts Christ as a soloist immediately makes him take human form as an adult male, whereas I wanted to examine his otherness, sanctity and mystery. Employing a children’s choir grants a measure of innocence to Christ as the sacrificial lamb.”


MacMillan St. Luke Passion premiere - Concertgebouw
World premiere at the Concertgebouw

World Premiere

Joining an international partnership, Soli Deo Gloria co-sponsored the commission of St. Luke Passion along with the Zaterdag Matinee with assistance from the Concertgebouw, Duke University, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and the Britten Sinfonia. The world premiere took place on Saturday, March 15, 2014, at the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, as part of the Concertgebouw’s ZaterdagMatinee series, with the Netherlands Radio Choir, Vocaal Talent Nederland, Nationaal Jeugdkoor, and Netherland Radio Philharmonic led by Markus Stenz.



St. Luke Passion - chilldren's choir - US premiere
Durham Children’s Choir at the U. S. premiere

 U.S. Premiere

St. Luke Passion - Duke Chapel - US premiere
U.S. premiere at Duke Chapel

The U. S. premiere took place one month later, on April 13, 2014, at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. In a collaborative venture between the University of Cambridge and Duke Divinity School, British and American scholars met with James MacMillan starting in 2010 to discussion the new work. The concert was the culmination of "Sounding the Passion: Encounters in Poetry, Theology, and Music," a series of April 9-13 events stemming from The Duke-Cambridge Consultation, a four-year interdisciplinary theology and arts collaboration between Duke and Cambridge Universities.

 "MacMillan feels this drama within himself; he portrays it in his musical language in a way that penetrates veils of time, pietism, and/or distance to make Luke's account come alive."—CNVC: An Online Arts Journal in North Carolina




Reviews (from the world premiere)

“Imposing, bold and sincere . . .  James MacMillan’s new poignant St Luke Passion belongs in the same category as the Scotsman’s masterpiece Seven Last Words From the Cross. MacMillan has remained true to himself. He knows all the tricks of the trade but there isn’t a moment of trickery in the new passion.”—deVerdieping Trouw

“MacMillan’s musical language is crystal clear. Musically wrenching sounds combine seamlessly with a sonorous and eminently singable discourse. The modest orchestral forces provide some wonderful effects with diffuse chords, subtle veils of sound and ominous timpani pounding, but other elements of the text’s portrayal are purposely restrained ... The long tutti flurries and choral murmurs are a fitting conclusion to this major, yet understated work.”—De Volksrant

“It all works wonderfully well. The mixed choir is supported by a modest … ensemble which enhances the work’s strength. The organ also plays a prominent role and contributes some magical effects. The performance, in the capable hands of Markus Stenz, the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Radio Chorus and National Children’s Choir was absolutely first class.”—De Telegraaf

“MacMillan’s exceptional talent for vocal writing has been described before in these columns and the St Luke Passion is no exception. His broad tonal idiom with Gregorian chant at the core has strong listener appeal. The performance was superb and MacMillan was visibly moved by the audience reception. Please can we agree here and now to hear this work every year around Easter time?”—Het Parool