Greig, artistic director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre, responded angrily to an interview with MacMillan in which he expresses pride at a forthcoming 60th birthday celebration of his repertoire.
The Scottish Government has provided direct funding of £150,000 to the EIF for five concerts of his work, including a brand new symphony.
Greig insisted he had no objection to MacMillan receiving government funding, but was surprised that MacMillan had been willing to accepted it given his “very public objections” to such initiatives.
Greig took to Twittwer to suggest MacMillan was guilty of “hypocrisy” in agreeing to part of the Scottish Government’s Festivals Expo programme when he had regularly railed against artists being “government stooges.”
Greig later recalled the composer comparing the National Collective, a cultural movement for Scottish independence, to “Mussolini’s cheerleaders.”
In the run-up to the 2014 referendum, MacMillan suggested National Collective, which Greig was involved with, was producing “propaganda masquerading as art”.
Writing in The Scotsman in 2014, MacMillan said there was “some justification in the anxiety about artists huddling together and snuggling up to government politicians.”
He also slated the SNP administration for “turning cultural endeavour into state propaganda” by instigating its own strategy for the sector.
However in an interview for the EIF, which culture secretary Fiona Hyslop has shared on social media, the composer said: “I’m very proud that a focus like this is happening in my own country, especially at the Edinburgh International Festival, which I have loved since I was a teenager.”
Greig said he had decided to delete his initial “intemperate” tweet about the composer, telling The Scotsaman: “Brexit has perhaps frayed my nerves.”
However he added: “I’ve no objection to Sir James receiving money from the Scottish Government’s Expo fund. In fact, I totally support it. I merely expressed surprise that – given his very public objections to ’state art’ – that he should be willing to accept it.
“I hope he will continue to seek and receive funds from this and any future Scottish governments. I whole-heartedly believe in government support for the arts.
“That’s partly why I support there being a strategy for such support.
“But, in the past, Sir James has spoken about young Scottish artists who accept government support, or who engage with independence as an idea, as if they are somehow acting in bad faith.
“I don’t think they are. I wish he would recognise that. During the indyref he called the young artists of National Collective ‘Mussolini’s cheerleaders’. If he feels the SNP are akin to Mussolini, I’m mildly surprised he’s willing to be part of their ‘Expo’.”
Greig said he would be happy to organise a “public conversation” with the composer if he was willing to take part.
He added: “I would love to meet Sir James. I adore his work. I have followed him since seeing his incredible setting of Ines De Castro in the mid 1990’s. He is that rare and precious things, a Scottish artist of truly world class. If I met him, I would expect to have a lively and friendly discussion about arms length arts funding, about the Scottish arts scene since the 1980s and about faith in theatre and music.”
Sir James was unvailable to comment on Greig’s remarks.