The Mackintosh Building at The Glasgow School of Art, which was damaged by fire in May 2014. Photo by Alan McAteer.

The Mackintosh Building at The Glasgow School of Art, which was damaged by fire in May 2014. Photo by Alan McAteer.

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About the project

The Glasgow School of Art Choir has commissioned Sir James MacMillan, CBE, one of the world’s leading composers, to compose a new choral work to celebrate the re-opening of The Mackintosh Building at The Glasgow School of Art.

In May 2014 the Mackintosh Building was partially destroyed by fire just days before the end of year Degree Show presentation of graduating students’ work. The building is currently undergoing restoration work and should be completely restored and fit for use by 2019 when there are plans to hold a major celebration for the re-opening. The Glasgow School of Art Choir will be performing the world premiere of Sir James MacMillan’s new piece at this celebration.

This work has been commissioned in order to celebrate the restoration of this architectural masterpiece to its former glory, allowing one of the leading artistic practitioners of his generation to compose a new work marking the occasion.

The lyrics

The lyrics for the commission have been taken from a poem written in 1894 by Francis (Fra) Henry Newbery. The poem is held in the archives of The Glasgow School of Art and permission for its use has very kindly been granted by his family and estate. Fra Newbery was Director of The Glasgow School of Art from 1885 – 1917, and was instrumental in both the commissioning of the Mackintosh Building and the appointment of Charles Rennie Mackintosh as its designer – so it is particularly fitting that his words should be used for this new piece.

The world premiere

The work will receive its world premiere in 2019 (date to be confirmed) at the official re-opening celebrations for the building. As part of this event there will be numerous dignitaries, staff, students, alumni and invited guests, as well as local and national news outlets, and international architectural press. The performance will also be recorded and uploaded to the Glasgow School of Art Choir’s website and social media platforms.

The commission will be professionally published and printed by Boosey & Hawkes and will be available for public purchase and performance from the publisher after the world premiere.

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Sir James MacMillan, CBE

Sir James MacMillan is the pre-eminent Scottish composer of his generation. He first attracted attention with the acclaimed BBC Proms premiere of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie (1990). His percussion concerto Veni, Veni Emmanuel (1992) has received close to 500 performances worldwide by orchestras including London Symphony Orchestra, New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics and Cleveland Orchestra. Other major works include the cantata Seven Last Words from the Cross (1993), Quickening (1998) for soloists, children’s choir, mixed choir and orchestra, the operas Inès de Castro (2001) and The Sacrifice (2005-06), and St John Passion (2007).

He was featured composer at Edinburgh Festival (1993), Southbank Centre (1997), BBC’s Barbican Composer Weekend (2005) and Grafenegg Festival (2012). His interpreters include soloists Evelyn Glennie, Colin Currie, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Vadim Repin, conductors Leonard Slatkin, Sir Andrew Davis, Marin Alsop and Donald Runnicles, and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. His recordings can be found on BMG/RCA Red Seal, BIS, Chandos, Naxos, Hyperion, Coro, Linn and Challenge Classics.

Recent highlights include premieres of MacMillan’s Woman of the Apocalypse, St Luke Passion, Little Mass and Percussion Concerto No.2. Future plans include a Requiem and a Stabat Mater, alongside works for leading international orchestras.

Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.

Francis Henry Newbery

Francis (Fra) Henry Newbery was an art educationist and painter, best known as the highly successful headmaster of The Glasgow School of Art from 1885 to 1917.

Newbery was born in Membury, Devon and was educated in Bridport, Dorset; he qualified as a teacher, and trained as an art master at Bridport School of Art. From 1875 to 1881 he taught in London, at the same time taking classes at the National Art Training School at South Kensington. In 1885, at the age of 30, he was appointed headmaster of The Glasgow School of Art.

Newbery’s leadership was enlightened and soon established the School as one of the leading institutions in Britain, with an international reputation. His innovations included the establishment of technical art studios in 1893; the appointment of artists as teachers, rather than the certified art masters approved by the Department of Science and Art; the appointment of talented women to the staff; the tireless promotion of the School, its students and work through exhibitions, lectures and publications; the nurturing of individual talent within the student body; and the campaign for a new building for the School, initiated in 1894.

Newbery was involved in the development of the brief for the new Glasgow School of Art building and would have worked closely with Mackintosh during the two phases of building. In 1902 he was appointed selector for the Scottish Section of the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art, Turin, for which he selected Mackintosh as architect. He was subsequently awarded the title ‘Cavaliere Ufficiale dell’ Ordine della Corona d’Italia’.

Newbery painted throughout his life, producing portraits of family and friends, including his two daughters, Elsie and Mary. From 1909 to 1914 he painted a group portrait of the Governors of the School of Art, Mackintosh and himself. Newbery left the School in 1917.

Reproduced and edited from Mackintosh Architecture.

The Glasgow School of Art Choir

The Glasgow School of Art Choir was formed in January 2012 by Jamie Sansbury, at that time a third year architecture student, to provide somewhere for people at The Glasgow School of Art to come together and perform. The principle aim of the choir was to provide an audition-free ensemble that performs to a standard far above that of an average amateur group: this remains the primary objective of the ensemble to the present day.

At the choir’s first public performance there were 16 members but membership has risen steadily since its formation and we now have 115 singers who come from a variety of GSA backgrounds, from all three schools, as well as teaching and support staff, and alumni; in addition to people not affiliated with the institution.

In addition to performances twice a year as part of The Glasgow School of Art Concerts Series, the choir has performed at numerous other GSA events – including Sauchieholiday, Degree Show 2012 and numerous Burns Suppers – as well as the opening and closing events of the ELIA 2014 Conference as part of a joint choir alongside students from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

In April 2014 the choir performed the world premiere of “Making It New” at the official opening of the Reid Building at the GSA. The piece was commissioned by the choir especially for the event, with funding from Creative Scotland and The Glasgow School of Art. The piece was composed by Ken Johnston with lyrics by the then Scots Makar, Liz Lochhead.

The choir features on singer-songwriter, Raymond Meade’s album, ‘Whydolise?’, performing the final track, ‘Shine a Light on Me’; and the ensemble has also recorded the soundtrack to artist, Serena Korda’s exhibition, “Hold fast, stand sure, I scream a revolution” which was shown as part of the Glasgow International Festival in 2016.

In May 2016 the choir performed alongside Glasgow-based band, “A New International” at St. Luke’s, providing backing vocals for the group as well as performing a set individually. In June that year the ensemble recorded “Light Through Tall Windows”, a new choral work written about the Mackintosh Building, in the Mackintosh Library. The piece, written as a response to the fire which partially damaged the Mackintosh Building in 2014, was written as a collaboration between two GSA alumni and was released as a CD single in early 2017 to raise money for the Mackintosh Campus Appeal. It is available to order now from the choir shop.

In September 2016 the choir was selected as one of seven ensembles to take part in the 2016/17 Adopt a Composer scheme, which pairs amateur ensembles with a composer for one year, facilitating a series of workshops resulting in a brand new commission composed especially for the ensemble. The world première performance is recorded by BBC Radio 3 for broadcast during the following year. The GSA Choir worked in conjunction with Glasgow-based composer, Shona Mackay, whose new choral work, “Continuum”, was premièred at the choir’s fifth anniversary concert in May 2017. Adopt a Composer is run by Making Music in partnership with Sound and Music, in association with BBC Radio 3, and funded by PRS for Music Foundation and the Philip and Dorothy Green Music Trust.

The Glasgow School of Art Choir in May 2017. Photo by Kirsty Anderson.

The Glasgow School of Art Choir performing with the Rogue Orchestra in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in May 2017. Photo by Kirsty Anderson.

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Clicking on the links below will take you to official GSA Choir press releases, and news articles about the MacMillan/Mackintosh project.

Press releases

Creative Scotland supports GSA Choir commission from Sir James MacMillan, CBE, 25/01/2016

Sir James MacMillan, CBE to compose new choral work for The Glasgow School of Art Choir, 17/06/2015

News articles

Glasgow School of Art archive moves into new home – Evening Times, 27/01/2016

Glasgow School of Art archive moves into new home – The Herald, 27/01/2016

Arts News: Macmillan writes for Glasgow School of Art – The Herald, 26/01/2016

James MacMillan to compose new work for reopening of Glasgow School of Art – The National, 26/01/2016

Sir James MacMillan commission to reopen Mackintosh Building – Choir & Organ Magazine, 25/01/2016

Glasgow School of Art to reopen to new music by Sir James MacMillan – The Scotsman, 25/01/2016

Creative Scotland supports GSA Choir commission from Sir James MacMillan, CBE for reopening of the Mackintosh Building – GSA Media Centre, 25/01/2016

New work for GSA Choir – FLOW Magazine (p. 11), 21/09/2015

For further information on the MacMillan/Mackintosh project, contact Kate Hollands on 0141 566 1446 or;

For further information on the Mackintosh Building contact Lesley Booth on 07799 414 474 or;

The piece will be published and distributed by Boosey & Hawkes. For further information on Sir James MacMillan contact Ines Correia at;

For further information about Creative Scotland visit their website.

For further information about the Hope Scott Trust visit their website.

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1. Music, the most sociable of the arts – 09/02/2016

Those who know me well will be fully aware of my loquaciousness: when I joined the social media giant, Twitter, one friend remarked that I would perhaps be better suited to a medium that did not limit me to 140 characters at a time. My natural verboseness may well account for the underlying attraction I have always felt towards the self-published, internet blog, and I have – for nearly 12 months now – been trying to launch such a blog for, on behalf of, and about, the GSA Choir.

It seemed like the perfect opportunity then, when we announced the wonderful news that funding-body, Creative Scotland, had awarded part-funding towards the MacMillan/Mackintosh project, to kick-start the blog, in order to fully engage with the process we have undertaken since the project’s conception in 2014, and the journey we will continue to take until the world premiere in 2019.

Over the next 2 and a half years (!) I (along with members of the choir, and others involved in the project) will be writing posts to chronicle the development of the commission, the rehearsals and the premiere. I do not expect the posts to be of regular lengths, nor do I foresee them appearing at regular (or even frequent) intervals, at least not until we get closer to the big day: as with any commission, a large amount of frenzied activity – including sweet-talking and courting of the composer/lyricist/funding bodies – occurs at the outset, after which a period of gestation occurs. Sir James MacMillan speaks of the profound importance of silence to composers, not only musically, but during the act of composing, when ideas can germinate, take root and flower. During this period there is little for the commissioning ensemble to interact with; no notes to sing, no rehearsals to hold, no homework etc., and so this period will offer very little scope for writing blog posts. There is, of course, a large amount of extremely interesting activity taking place in the mind of the composer and, if necessary, the lyricist, but this activity is often intensely private and I do not intend to write about the creative process of others within these digital pages. To do so would be an intrusion of artistic privacy.

Once the draft copy of the finished score is delivered into my eager hands however, the clock is ticking, the game is on, and the participation of the choir starts with a vengeance. From then until the world premiere I imagine we will have lots to sing, lots to share, and lots to discuss. At that point in time, I expect my digital chattering will grow more intense and more posts will appear as we near the end of our journey from blank manuscript to glorious, audible music.

By writing, I hope we can share the creation of this new choral work with you. Music is, after all, the most sociable of the arts.

Jamie Sansbury

Musical Director

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Photo by Robin Mitchell

Sir James MacMillan, CBE. Photo by Robin Mitchell.


Click on the videos below to watch Sir James MacMillan, CBE, discussing several aspects of music and composition in a series of videos by independent record label, Soli Deo Gloria. Once we begin rehearsals for the world premiere, we will be uploading progress videos and interviews about the work.


The MacMillan/Mackintosh project is joint funded by Creative Scotland, the Hope Scott Trust and The Glasgow School of Art. We are hugely grateful to all of the organisations for their foresight and support towards this new work, in addition to their commitment to our ensemble and our desire to commission leading composers to create works of the highest quality to add to the contemporary choral repertoire.

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