In a review of an “imposing” Walt Disney Concert Hall recital several years ago, The Los Angeles Times said that James McVinnie “has all the qualifications for being a properly British young organist.” Composed, exacting, and Cambridge-trained, McVinnie was once an assistant organist at Westminster Abbey, and his expertise in his country’s long tradition of sacred music has enriched many fine recordings. All that disturbs this placid picture is his avid embrace of the musical tumult of our times, which has manifested in collaborations with David Lang, Bryce Dessner, Angelique Kidjo, Darkstar, and others.
After mastering the most numinous Renaissance and Baroque organ pieces, McVinnie became closely associated with the composer Nico Muhly, who wrote his first solo album of original music, Cycles, and brought him into the Bedroom Community fold. This association naturally extended to Philip Glass; McVinnie released an album of Glass’s music on Orange Mountain Music in 2018 and was in the first performances of the composer’s twelfth symphony before the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, McVinnie hopped over to the electronic bastion Warp for All Night Chroma, a spectral electroacoustic collaboration with Squarepusher.
Over the upcoming season, McVinnie will debut a new ensemble of keyboard virtuosos from London who specialize in new music; he also performs with the 1-bit electronic composer Tristan Perich elsewhere at Big Ears. This solo concert, featuring work by J.S. Bach and Philip Glass, will throw the finely etched tone and infinite hues of McVinnie’s organ playing into sharp relief.