Commissioned by the Genesis Foundation for Harry Christophers and The Sixteen
This work was composed in 2015. It was first performed on 15 October 2016 at Barbican Hall, London, by The Sixteen and the Britten Sinfonia, conducted by Harry Christophers.
"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."
"MacMillan speaks of a ‘painful world of loss, violence, and spiritual desolation’, and those are the intense feelings packed into his score. Both sides of MacMillan are to be found here, the devotional and the painter of bold, dramatic canvases – the former in the ethereal writing for solo and ensemble voices, the latter in the lacerating blows and feverish anxieties depicted in the string ensemble."
"It’s not often that the composer of a new work gets a standing ovation, but then every new work isn’t like James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater for chorus and string orchestra… The chorus’s plangent cries, carved with a scalpel, might have been expected – but what about the string commentary of stabbing chords, high-speed buzzings, sickening crescendos, growls and whispers?... from noble lament through fury and shriek to contemplative devotion."