James MacMillan
Alpha and Omega

Double mixed chorus (SSSAATTBB), a cappella
DURATION: 6 minutes
TEXT: Revelation 21:1-6a
Choral work with rich sonorities and echoing harmonics.





World Premiere
June 2011
Rockefeller Chapel Choir
University of Chicago Motet
James Kallembach, conductor
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel
University of Chicago
Chicago, IL

Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, Photo: Megan Dulkinsy

James MacMillan is, without question, the pre-eminent Scottish composer of his generation, and it was Soli Deo Gloria's privilege to commission a new work from him based on the text of Revelation 21:1-6a: ""Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth."







James MacMillan with Dr. Lane Dennis after the premiere of Alpha and Omega, Photo: Megan Dulkinsy  

This commission was made possible through generous sponsorship from the University of Chicago and Crossway, publisher of the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV). The vision for the project was inspired by Dr. Lane Dennis, President and Publisher at Crossway, whose idea it was to foster a great musical work in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the creation of the King James Bible in 2011. Dr. Dennis has noted a fitting connection between the historical grounding of the ESV Bible and the musical language of James MacMillan: "One reason that James MacMillan’s work is so powerful is due to his high respect for the historic stream of Christian (and non-Christian) music, which he integrates into his work to create a brilliant, completely original, new contemporary work. The English Standard Version stands in the historic Christian stream of Bible translations going back to the King James Version (1611); and before the KJV, to the Bishops’ Bible (1568), the Great Bible (1539), and the Tyndale New Testament (1526). It is a tremendous thing to see this historic stream carried forward in a new work by James MacMillan setting this ESV text.”


University of Chicago Choirs performing the world premiere of Alpha and Omega, Photo: Megan Dulkinsy  

Conductor James Kallembach, Director of Choral Activities at the University of Chicago, led the Rockefeller Chapel Choir and the Motet Choir in the premiere of Alpha and Omega for a "Best of Rockefeller" program that included several of MacMillan's works, including Changed, based on a poem by Wallace Stevens, and Heycoka Te Deum, which uses a Lakota text. 

Post-concert, the audience had an opportunity to ask questions of James MacMillan, who was in attendance for the premiere. MacMillan spoke spontaneously on such topics as the importance of dreams to an artist, the inclusion of theological concepts in his compositions, the impact of the "numinous" on listeners, and his interest in reviving ancient forms.



  Post-concert Q&A with James MacMillan, Photo: Megan Dulkinsy

When asked what he was thinking about when he composed Alpha and Omega, MacMillan replied, "The idea of the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, is at once a time-related concept and also a numinous state. There is a contradiction at work in this piece: a heavenly, cosmic perspective that is timeless within a time-constraining piece. To deal with these baffling concepts within a piece of music is a challenge." For James MacMillan, music points to something beyond human constraints.


Alpha and Omega is a concise setting for a cappella choir on a text from Revelations (21:1-6). It begins fortissimo with a high statement by the full choir (“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth”), followed by a decrescendo as the notes likewise cascade downward. In the middle section, the choir sections are divided with just the women’s voices in “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with Man.” The male voices return, and as the work reaches its climax with “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,” the choir ascends to a full volume, coming full circle to where it began.Though brief at just six minutes, Alpha and Omega is a lovely miniature surely crafted and distinctive in the vein of MacMillan’s music. Under the direction of James Kallembach, the University of Chicago Motet Choir and Rockefeller Chapel Choir gave a rich and polished performance and the Scottish composer was on hand to share in the warm applause." —Lawrence A. Johnson Chicago Classical Review

(Reprinted by permission)