Stuart MacRae was born in Inverness, Scotland. After reading Music at Durham University with Philip Cashian, Sohrab Uduman and Michael Zev Gordon, he studied composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Simon Bainbridge and Robert Saxton.
MacRae came to public attention as a finalist in the 1996 Lloyd's Bank Young Composer's Workshop when the BBC Philharmonic gave the first professional performance of Boreraig, a piece inspired by a visit to a deserted village on the Isle of Skye. From 1999 to 2003, MacRae was Composer in Association with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. He was Edinburgh Festival Creative Fellow during 2005/6 and held a residency at Villa Concordia in Bamberg from 2006-7.
The premiere of his Violin Concerto in 2001 by Tasmin Little at the BBC Proms brought MacRae wider public recognition; it was performed again at the Edinburgh Festival and Festival Musica in Strasbourg, and has been recorded by Christian Tetzlaff on NMC.
MacRae's works include Ancrene Wisse (2002), a setting of Middle English texts for soprano, female chorus and orchestra, and Hamartia (2003), for cello and strings, premiered by the Scottish Ensemble and Li Wei in 2004 and performed again at the 2005 BBC Proms. In Two Scenes from the Death of Count Ugolino (2004) a mezzo soprano soloist brings to life grotesque passages from Dante's Inferno. The premiere of Gaudete - a setting of poetry by Ted Hughes - at the 2008 BBC Proms demonstrated a significant development in MacRae's musical language.
Recent years have also seen the one-act opera The Assassin Tree (2006), to a libretto by Simon Armitage, and Echo and Narcissus, MacRae's first work for dance.