Glasgow School of Art to reopen to new music by Sir James MacMillan

SCOTLAND'S leading composer is to create a brand new piece of music to herald the reopening of the fire-ravaged Glasgow School of Art building, it was announced today.

Composer Sir James MacMillan. Picture: Tim Morozzo
Composer Sir James MacMillan. Picture: Tim Morozzo

Sir James MacMillan’s choral work will be performed at the reopening of the Mackintosh Building by the art school choir, which was formed four years ago.

Work on a restoration of the iconic Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed landmark in the summer following the devastating blaze in May 2014, which destroyed its world-famous library. The project is expected to cost up to £35 million and is hoped to be ready for the start of the new term in 2018.

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The commission for Sir James – which will be jointly funded by the art school and national arts agency Creative Scotland – will see him set music to a poem by former art school director Fra Newbery, who was instrumental in commissioning of the Mackintosh Building and the hiring of the architect.

A section of the interior of the Mackintosh building being rebuilt in March last year. Picture: John Devlin

Sir James said: “People are thrilled and perhaps a bit surprised when they hear that Glasgow Art School has a choir of seriousness and commitment, but it only shows that culture is fluid, and that lovers of art can embrace interdisciplinary inspiration.

“Jamie Sansbury is a gifted and motivational young choral director and he inspires admiration and resolve from his choristers.

“I have been impressed with the sounds his choir make and am delighted that they have asked me to write for them. I’m proud that the new piece will mark the reopening of this important building. This is a project of hope and determination to overcome the disaster which befell the school in 2014.”

Jamie Sansbury, musical director of the choir, said: “Sir James MacMillan is internationally recognised as one of the foremost composers of today.

A section of the interior of the Mackintosh building being rebuilt in March last year. Picture: John Devlin

“We wanted to mark the re-opening of the Mackintosh Building in a very special way and what better way to celebrate the re-opening of a creative masterpiece than with the world premiere of a work by such an eminent composer?

“We are thrilled that Creative Scotland has recognised the cultural significance of this project.”

Ian Smith, head of music at Creative Scotland, said: “The project takes the text from the words of Fra Newbery, whose vision brought the genius of Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design the Mackintosh Building, and brings them to this contemporary setting to music commissioned from Sir James MacMillan, one of Scotland’s most iconic composers. We are proud to support this new work and this performance by the GSA choir.” One of Scotland’s leading architectural practices has been charged the task of bringing the Mackintosh Building back to life. Page/Park was selected from a five-strong shortlist after more than 75 firms around the world expressed an interest in the project.

Firefighters received huge praise after managing to salvage 90 per cent of the Mackintosh Building and rescuing around 70 per cent of its contents, including the “vast majority” of the art school’s archives. Forensic archaeologists began a painstaking sift through the iconic building, including the remains of its historic library, in November 2014. The 12-week operation to document and remove the remains uncovered parts of a studio clock and its mechanism, a silver salver, most of the metal from the lamps in the library’s iconic central light fitting and a number of rare books. But it also emerged that 90 oil paintings, including two by Mackintosh himself, and around 8000 books and journals had been lost in the fire. Some 80 per cent of the GSA’s rare book collection was said to have survived.

Students were putting the finishing touches to end-of-year projects when the fire caught hold at lunchtime on 23 May last year. The official investigation found that the blaze was triggered by flammable gases from a canister of expanding foam. They were set alight when they came into contact with the hot surface of a film projector in a studio being used by a student, who has not been identified. The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service report also revealed that the rapid spread of the fire through the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed building, which dates back to 1909, was aided by the presence of original ventilation ducts and a large number of timber-lined walls. A new fire-prevention system was in the latter stages of completion and was not operational on the day of the blaze.