Call for volunteers at the Cumnock Tryst 2019!

We are looking for some wonderful volunteers to help out at this year's Tryst! 

Roles include front of house, driving artists, box office and venue help across the festival weekend.

Volunteers really do make the Tryst the special event it is! Volunteering with us can give you a chance to see the events you volunteer at; an opportunity to meet other like-minded people with a shared passion for the arts; first-hand experience of festival and event management; the opportunity to be involved in behind the scenes activities; an invitation to special events - and of course you will be helping to make the Cumnock Tryst festival a continuing success.

All the info on volunteering and how to sign up is here:

Credit. Robert Mitchell

Cumnock Tryst 2019 Artist Q & A - Jennifer Martin

Continuing our series of Q & A’s with artists and participants of The Cumnock Tryst 2019, we asked Jennifer Martin, Senior Producer of the Tryst, a few questions to get to know her a bit better and see what she has planned for this year’s festival.

Jennifer Martin. Photo Credit - Jen Owens

Jennifer Martin. Photo Credit - Jen Owens

Hi Jennifer! Would you mind explaining your involvement in the Tryst up until now and what your current position involves?

I’ve been very lucky to have been involved with the Tryst from the beginning.  Several years ago now, James MacMillan rang to say he’d had an idea and could I pop round for a chat. It transpired that his idea was the setting up of a festival in his home town of Cumnock. As the Cumnock Tryst evolved, I joined the Board, helped recruit staff and contributed to the education programme and fundraising. Last year I ran our first composition project for senior school pupils in Doon Academy and at the beginning of 2019, James asked if I’d run the company with him. Not surprisingly, I said yes! So now I manage a team of 4 part-time staff who will deliver the four-day festival in October. I fundraise for our work, broker new partnerships and also support James in the development of the organisation. 

Can you tell us a little more about your career in music thus far?

I started out as a composer, writing for professional and amateur musicians, which, time-permitting, I still do, but I have always worked in education, teaching composition in schools, universities, adult training centres and prisons. After 10 years working freelance, I took on a new role with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, where I devised and managed an education programme that took me from China to Venezuela, across Europe and the UK and on to the BBC’s airwaves. I then worked as a consultant for a wide range of arts organisations across the UK, devising education programmes, running creative projects and mentoring young musicians entering the profession. 7 years running Hebrides Ensemble then followed, before I took up this Senior Producer role at the Tryst.

Yourself and Sir James MacMillan will be mentoring a group of young people from Auchinleck Academy in composition as part of the Flow Gently? project. Can you tell us a little more about the project and why you think it is important?

 This project is a celebration of The Bard, Robert Burns. James and I will be running weekly sessions for senior composers at Auchinleck Academy, who will each take an element from the life of Robert Burns and write a new piece based on an event, a character or a simple moment, for the wonderful musicians of Mr McFall’s Chamber. We will be joined by a team from The Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow; actor Martin Docherty who will play Burns, writer Martin Travers who will write his script and director Guy Hollands. Four student composers from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland will also be mentored by James and I over the course of the project and the finale at the Tryst will also include young string players and dancers from the RCS Hubs at Dumfries House. With 14 world premieres, it doesn’t get much better! 

 It’s so important for young musicians to have access to the creative process and to experience the impact of hearing their self-expression come to life through professional performers. Often they have no idea of their creative potential until they are given the space to try out their ideas. Not only do we support the youngest composers still in school, we’re also supporting teaching staff and the composers of the future. The project has been designed to have real legacy for those involved.

As someone who has been involved in the Tryst for a while, what are some of your favourite moments from festivals past?

Goodness, there are so many! Gabriella dall’Olio performing James MacMillan's Interlude for solo harp from Since it was the day of preparation… ; the choir of Westminster Cathedral at St John’s (I can hardly believe I’m writing that!); The Sixteen; our Patron Nicola Benedetti’s solo recital; and of course, the premieres of 8 new works by our cohort of young composers from Doon Academy for The Chronicles of Cumnock project 2018. Not a day I will forget in a hurry!

Cumnock Tryst 2019 Artist Q & A - Gillian Walker

Ahead of the Cumnock Tryst 2019, we are asking some of the artists involved a few questions to get to know them better ahead of this year’s festival. First up in this series is Gillian Walker, a young composer who worked with us in 2018 on The Chronicles of Cumnock project and whose work will hit an international platform for the first time as part of the Tryst.

Gillian Walker.jpg

Hi Gillian, could you tell us a little about your background in music? Why have you decided to be a composer?

I began my music education at the Junior Conservatoire of Scotland during my last years of secondary school, and was then offered a scholarship for the RCS summer composition course after having lessons for a time. Due to this experience, I became obsessed with writing music and creating my own pieces.

You worked on the Chronicles of Cumnock composition project at last year’s festival. What did you take away from the experience and why do you think such projects are important?

The Chronicles of Cumnock was an amazing collaborative project as I was able to work with an array of very talented people across different disciplines. The highlight of which was teaching composition to a class from Doon Academy, whose pieces were played by the Edinburgh Quartet.

I don't think that there is enough of these intensive music projects happening in Scotland, and projects such as the Chronicles of Cumnock are invaluable and critical to pupil's all round education. Having access to high quality music making should be available to all, as I have seen first hand the impact that it has on young people's well-being and confidence, in addition to providing them with valuable skills to carry into the future. 

You have a world premiere of a new commission at this year’s Tryst – what can audiences expect from the piece? What were the inspirations and themes behind it?

The piece that has been commissioned is called White Room and is for clarinet and string trio. It is, thematically, inspired by the loss of the Glasgow School of Art and the cultural and personal memories which have been destroyed by both fires. 

The Cumnock Tryst announces sixth and most diverse programme yet

From international soprano superstar Danielle de Niese to The Farmers Choir via Barbara Dickson, Sir James MacMillan heralds the sixth and most diverse Cumnock Tryst yet.

Images left to right: Danielle de Niese (c. Chris Dunlop), Sir James MacMillan (c. Robin Mitchell) and Barbara Dickson (c. Brian Aris)

Images left to right: Danielle de Niese (c. Chris Dunlop), Sir James MacMillan (c. Robin Mitchell) and Barbara Dickson (c. Brian Aris)

Today, Sir James MacMillan announced the programme for the sixth Cumnock Tryst. The festival will take place from 3-6 October 2019 in and around the village of Cumnock in Ayrshire, where he grew up. The most diverse festival programme so far, this year’s concerts range from the first solo recital in Scotland by magnetic soprano Danielle de Niese to new work from Jay Capperauld and Gillian Walker, and informal evenings at the Dumfries Arms Hotel this year including Barbara Dickson and the Farmers Choir. As ever, The Cumnock Tryst welcomes a group of musicians as its resident artists, this year Mr McFall’s Chamber and also forefronts music education as part of the main programme including the chance for audiences to see inside the compositional process in a public masterclass.



Mr McFall’s Chamber are the Tryst’s Artists in Residence this year, taking part in events on all four days of the Festival. Renowned for their innovative approach to programming and stylistic plurality they are a perfect fit for the Tryst having been formed with the aim of creating new audiences, new music and new directions in music.

Robert McFall (c. Ros Gasson)

Robert McFall (c. Ros Gasson)

Mr McFall’s Chamber will be joined by the great Scottish choir Cappella Nova in the opening concert in a programme ranging from Penderecki to Michael Murray, the local composer from Auchinleck whose guitar concerto has just received its US premiere following its first performance at the Tryst in 2017. Two new hard-hitting and visionary works by Murray mark a move to choral music continuing his exciting development.



Later in the Tryst, Majesty sees Cappella Nova bring an intriguing programme of early Scottish music exploring Scotland’s musical evolution from the time just before the Reformation to the sounds which emerged in the wake of the changes. Mixing the complex and florid Catholic sounds of Robert Carver with the more austere and simple beauties of the immediate post-Reformation composers like Robert Johnson, this concert allows a beautifully crafted glimpse into the shared musical treasury of Scottish history.

 Sir James MacMillan said, “Alan and Rebecca Tavener have been important musical figures in Scotland these last few decades, and the impact of Cappella Nova on musical life has been significant. I have written a lot of music for them over the years, but their dedication to early music, especially of these islands has been a great gift to music lovers in these parts. Their presence at The Cumnock Tryst will be very special.”

 The Tryst finishes with a choral flourish. The Festival Chorus and Novantae Singers are set to raise the roof with a mix of Handel’s timeless and stunning choral music Zadok the Priest, Let thy hand be strengthened and The King shall rejoice.

 James MacMillan commented, “The Festival Chorus is the jewel in the crown of The Cumnock Tryst. It brings together keen choristers from all over Ayrshire and beyond to provide a crucial kernel to the musical and social life of the Festival. Also joined by a brilliant young vocal ensemble, specially created for Cumnock by Andy McTaggart, the closing concert will inspire and delight our audience.”

 This year the Festival Service on Sunday morning takes place in the Congregational Church in Cumnock. The liturgy will be led by a group of singers from Strathclyde University Chamber Choir, conducted by James MacMillan. The congregation will have been prepared during a free special workshop led by Alan and Rebecca Tavener of Cappella Nova which anyone can sign up to. Further details are at



Afterlife is a cutting-edge new music and film project based around the fictional work Sum by bestselling author David Eagleman.

 Sum - 40 Tales from the Afterlives is a collection of vignettes exploring possible post-death scenarios which reveal unexpected and inventive possibilities for the afterlife. This performance consists of new compositions by the rising star Scottish composer Jay Capperauld, whose thrilling conceptual works have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on numerous occasions. The music will be performed by two prizewinning graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Lewis Banks (Saxophone) and Marianna Abrahamyan (Piano), whose combined abilities as a musical duo have earned them debut recitals at top London venues such as The Purcell Room and St Martin in the Fields in 2019. The performance will also seamlessly integrate a number of short films from Manchester-based director Paul Wright, whose recent film Fissure has been subject to strong critical acclaim.

 Held in the splendour of Dumfries House, this year’s Promenade Concert features  Simon Smith (piano), Maximiliano Martín (clarinet) and the strings of Mr McFall’s Chamber. The chamber music-making takes place in the beautiful and intimate settings of the Tapestry Room, the Great Steward’s Entrance Hall and the Great Steward of Scotland’s famous Dining Room.

 This year’s Promenade Concert includes the World Premiere of a Cumnock Tryst Festival Commission from Gillian Walker, a young composer who worked with the festival in 2018 on The Chronicles of Cumnock and whose work will hit an international platform for the first time as part of this Tryst. Other music includes Messiaen’s Abyss of the Birds from Quartet for the End of Time and Franco Donatoni’s Clair.



 Of course, with the world celebrating Sir James MacMillan’s 60th birthday year, The Tryst had to find its own way of marking it. In The Cumnock Hour, James Knox (Chair of Boswell Book Festival) interviews Phillip Cooke about his new book, The Music of James MacMillan, which is the first in-depth look at his life, work and aesthetic. From his beginnings in rural Ayrshire, the book explores MacMillan's compositional influences over time. It looks closely at his most significant works and sets them in a wider context defined by contemporary composition, culture and the arts in general.

 Across a number of performances at the Cumnock Tryst this year musical birthday treats commissioned and composed to celebrate James MacMillan’s 60th birthday will surprise and delighted.

(Sir James MacMillan c. Robin Mitchell)

(Sir James MacMillan c. Robin Mitchell)


 This Tryst offers everyone a chance to witness the process of composition and improvisation in the festival’s first public masterclass with Sir James MacMillan and Jennifer Martin. With the musicians of Mr McFall’s Chamber, they will lead a group of young wind players from Auchinleck and Cumnock Concert Band through the process of making music on the spot, allowing the audience to observe the compositional process in action, under the direction of some of the most imaginative and creative musicians in Scotland today. Find out more about how composers think, what goes into the creation and performance of a new piece of music and how musicians work and prepare.

 Flow Gently? on Friday afternoon is the culmination of a fascinating creative project involving Mr McFall’s Chamber, young composers from Auchinleck Academy, dancers and string players, four composers from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the wonderful production team at The Citizen’s Theatre. From June, composers James MacMillan and Jennifer Martin will be teaching a group from Auchinleck Academy to write their own music for the Tryst’s artists-in-residence, Mr McFall’s Chamber. Each work is inspired by a moment in the life of Robert Burns and Burns himself will be with us at Cumnock Academy, to share his thoughts on the proceedings, played by the wonderful Scottish actor Martin Docherty. There will new music for dancers, new music created by young string players and more world premieres than ever before! 

 “Flow Gently? is a huge celebration of creativity in all its forms as the Tryst continues to give a platform for young musicians at all stages of their careers. In our second collaboration with writer Martin Travers and The Citz, this is one of those events you’ll not want to miss!” Sir James MacMillan



 Danielle de Niese has been hailed as “opera’s coolest soprano” by New York Times Magazine and “not just a superb performer, but a phenomenal one” by Opera News. A multi-faceted artist, de Niese has gained wide recognition for her superb stagecraft, assured singing and her ability to communicate on every level. She regularly appears on the world’s most prestigious opera and concert stages and is a prolific recording artist, TV personality and philanthropist.

 Born in Australia to parents of Sri Lankan and Dutch heritage, de Niese became at the age of eighteen the youngest ever singer to enter the Metropolitan Opera’s prestigious Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. Her debut recording for Decca, Handel Arias, was awarded the prestigious Orphée d'Or and the much-coveted ECHO Klassik award, as well as earning her a Classical Brit Award nomination for Female Artist of the Year. Her appearance at Cumnock Tryst marks her first ever solo recital in Scotland.

 “Our audience will thrill not only to an incredible and beautiful voice, but to an immense and engaging personality who has lit up opera theatres and concert halls around the world.” said James MacMillan

Danielle de Niese (c. Chris Dunlop)

Danielle de Niese (c. Chris Dunlop)


 On the Friday and Saturday evenings the buzz is to be found at the Festival Club at the Dumfries Arms Hotel. Tickets are free and can be booked in advance for a chance to enjoy music alongside a drink and snacks from 9.45pm each evening of the Tryst.

 On Friday evening Sax Ecosse, a quartet of saxophone players which includes local New Cumnockian composer is set to entertain. The ensemble has enjoyed considerable success throughout the UK and Europe, with recent engagements ranging from the Usher Hall to Celtic Connections and Cottiers Chamber Project, to recitals in Ljubljana, Slovenia and the St Olav’s Festival in Norway.

 The Tryst has always taken a special interest in ordinary people who do extraordinary things in music. This year the Festival welcomes a truly brilliant initiative – the collection of Scottish farmers, their family and friends established as a choir in 2013 – The Farmers Choir perform at the Festival Club on Saturday night.

 The first evening of the festival sees Barbara Dickson and Nick Holland bring an intimate show to The Cumnock Tryst in the evening slot at the Dumfries Arms. Described as Scotland’s best-selling female singer and winner of two Olivier Awards, Barbara Dickson’s hits have included I Know Him So Well, Answer Me and January February. Tickets for this very special evening are set to sell-out fast!

“It has always been my hope and intention to bring a wide range of music to The Tryst. Barbara Dickson’s wide and full musical life-experience, covering folk, pop, rock and musical theatre will be perfect for our first late night concert in the Dumfries Arms Hotel. She will bring real stardust and variety.” Sir James MacMillan


Sir James MacMillan CBE, Founder and Artistic Director of Cumnock Tryst said: “We are looking forward to welcoming everyone to the sixth Cumnock Tryst. It has been profoundly exciting to watch the Festival mature and grow these last few years.

 “New music abounds again with works by Penderecki, Messiaen, Donatoni, New Cumnock’s very own Jay Capperauld and a brand-new Festival commission from young Ayr composer Gillian Walker. There will also be some specially commissioned surprises for the last night, when our Festival Chorus is joined again by the brilliant young Novantae Singers. We will also hear music specially written by young composers from Auchinleck Academy and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

 “The sixth Tryst is a huge cause for celebration. Join us in Cumnock in October for one of our most diverse Festivals so far.”

 Keep up with developments at The Cumnock Tryst at

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Twitter - @TheCumnockTryst

Ayrshire composer and Tryst favourite Michael Murray has US premiere of two guitar works

Tomorrow sees the US premiere of 2 guitar pieces from Ayrshire-local and Tryst favourite, Michael Murray! The talented composer from Auchinleck was commissioned by the Cumnock Tryst a few of years back, and his piece pricked the ears of a visitor from the US called Stephen Ferguson. Stephen was so taken by Michael’s talent that he commissioned two new works for guitar – ‘Pilgrims’ and ‘St David’s Dance’ which were premiered at the Tryst 2017.

During a rehearsal with a string ensemble from the Pacific Symphony Orchestra, the musicians cheered when asked to rehearse the encore for ‘St David’s Dance’, a good sign indeed, and a reaction that Stephen has said he has never seen in all his years as a violinist performing in orchestras.

Members of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and the wonderful Scottish guitarist (and former Tryst star) Sean Shibe will perform both pieces tomorrow at the Ahmanson Gallery in Irvine, California. It’s so fantastic to see Michael’s musical career doing so well, and we’re so pleased to have been a part of his story so far. Best of luck to all and wish we could be there!

Here’s a photo of Sean, Michael and James at the Tryst premiere in 2017.

(Photo thanks to Robin Mitchell)