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MacMillan's Stabat Mater: reviews from the Vatican

(May 2018)

MacMillanStabatMaterMyers.jpg James MacMillan's Stabat Mater became the first musical work to be live streamed from the Sistine Chapel in April - a historic performance by The Sixteen, Britten Sinfonia and Harry Christophers.

April saw a historic performance of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater in the Vatican, the first work to be live streamed from the Sistine Chapel, providing a powerful musical and visual experience. The 55-minute work for choir and string orchestra, commissioned by the Genesis Foundation, was performed – as at its premiere and on the acclaimed premiere recording – by The Sixteen and Britten Sinfonia conducted by Harry Christophers.

The Stabat Mater performance, surrounded by the stunning Sistine Chapel frescoes by Michelangelo, was live streamed and available for the following month via the Classic FM Facebook page attracting 32,000 views. MacMillan's score was heard in the Sistine Chapel by an audience ranging from cardinals, bishops, clerics to laiety and special guests, visibly moved by the spiritual and raw emotional power of the Scottish composer's music.

"…one of those performances during which you can hardly breathe for fear of missing a nuance of expression… utterly gripping… the power and passion with which the 26 professional singers tackled MacMillan’s ferocious choral demands – from austere plainsong to stratospheric solos, and from whispers and chordal clusters to ravishing close harmonies – sent shivers down the spine."
The Times

"Listening to Sir James MacMillan's setting of the Stabat Mater is painful. It also transfixes, captivating the audience for an hour in a contemplative prayer. But this is no sweet mysticism. After a soft beginning of plainchant the concert swiftly moves onto the tremendous agony of the crucifixion... The waves of grief are unsettling and haunting... After being taken to the bewildering depths of darkness, there was consolation. This is a story that spoke to people in the 13th century. The performance shows it still speaks powerfully to those in the 21st."
The Tablet

"The performance of this profoundly moving piece, conveying the depths of Mary’s despair as she witnesses the Crucifixion, received a lengthy ovation at the conclusion of its four movements... Thousands of online listeners, in countries across the globe, tuned in... Members of the audience described the drama and intensity of MacMillan’s score as "mind blowing"."
Vatican News

"...the music soared, its anguished strings and imploring conclusion coming across well in the chapel's generous acoustic, and Michelangelo's teeming figures proving a rich visual counterpoint. Amid the pomp and circumstance, this was a celebration of the arts, of the enduring power of human creativity."
Financial Times

Plans are underway for a further Genesis Foundation commission from MacMillan of a choral symphony - his fifth symphony.


>  Further information on Work: Stabat Mater

Photo: Adrian Myers

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