Sir James MacMillan’s Stabat mater was commissioned by the Genesis Foundation for Harry Christophers and The Sixteen. After a critically-acclaimed world premiere at the Barbican in October 2016 and an award-winning recording released on The Sixteen’s own label, CORO, the piece was premiered at the Vatican in April 2018.
On 22 April 2018, audiences around the world watched the performance of James MacMillan’s Stabat mater from the Sistine Chapel. Available for one month on Classic FM’s website, the concert was a rare honour, bestowed on the Genesis Foundation, as few performances are given in the Sistine Chapel and even fewer are given by ensembles not based in the Vatican. The Sixteen became the first professional British choir to sing there in over 20 years.
The concert was attended by 300 guests including Cardinal Vincent Nichols, David Lan, Rufus Norris, Daniel Kramer, Lord Heseltine, Dame Janet Suzman and many leaders of the arts, business and diplomatic community invited by John Studzinski, Chairman and Founder of the Genesis Foundation.
John Studzinski, Founder and Chairman of the Genesis Foundation said:
“I’m delighted that so many hundreds of thousands of people have the chance to experience James’s Stabat mater direct from the Sistine Chapel. It is rare for a new, hour-long work of sacred music to move audiences across the world as soon as it has been premiered, but James MacMillan’s Stabat mater is that rarity. A masterpiece, it has instantly connected audiences to the timeless story of Mary’s suffering as she observed the suffering and death of her son Jesus and simultaneously rose to become the Mother of Mankind.
“All of us at the Genesis Foundation were touched by the way people have reacted so powerfully to the Stabat mater. Joining our long-term collaborators, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, in bringing this great work to one of the world’s most sacred sites was an unforgettable experience, and the performance reaffirmed music’s capacity to reinforce the spiritual power of words. I wish to extend my thanks to the Papal Household for its gracious permission in permitting this performance to take place in the Sistine Chapel, and to Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, for his commitment to this entire undertaking.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster said:
“The Stabat Mater is a remarkable prayer. It expresses a burning desire for a share in the sufferings of Mary and Jesus. In this it stands in sharp contrast to our contemporary reaction to suffering, which is to flee whilst tossing blame over our shoulder. But this prayer begs for an active share in this suffering. It cries out a willingness, out of love, to stand by those who are suffering, taking their pain into our hearts. It is, radically and remarkably, a mother’s prayer. The composition of James McMillan powerfully explores the intensity and drama of this prayer. Its performance in the Sistine Chapel was an experience never to be forgotten.”
Harry Christophers, Founder and Conductor of The Sixteen, commented:
“James digs deep underneath the surface of this 13th century Marian hymn meditating on Mary’s suffering as she stands at the foot of the cross. He speaks of ‘a painful world of loss, violence and spiritual desolation’ and the score is packed to the full with those intense feelings. There is something special about the acoustics of the Sistine Chapel. The details we could hear, the resonance, is fantastic; it was very emotional. These occasions, you are lucky if they appear once in a lifetime, and here we are, I can’t think of anything greater.”
For press coverage of Stabat mater‘s Vatican premiere, click here.
For a gallery of images of the concert, click here.
To read James MacMillan’s reflection on the performance in Standpoint magazine, click here.
To watch the full performance, click here.
World Premiere (London)
The world premiere of the Genesis Foundation commission by James MacMillan, Stabat mater, was performed in October 2016 at the Barbican, London.
The concert received an ecstatic standing ovation and unanimous critical praise. Long–term Genesis Foundation partners, The Sixteen, under the direction of Harry Christophers performed with the Britten Sinfonia. MacMillan’s Stabat mater is a profound and deeply moving rendering of the Stabat mater text.
James MacMillan Stabat mater: a Genesis Foundation commission. Watch the film below:
On 23 January 2018, James Macmillan and Stabat mater received 3 nominations from the Scottish Awards for New Music 2018.
- Large scale New Work (11+ performers) sponsored by PRS for Music
- EVM Award for New Music Recording of the Year
- RCS Awards for Contribution to New Music in Scotland during 2017
The Stabat mater marked the culmination of a project run by the Genesis Foundation over a period of three years, Stabat mater: Spirit, Strength & Sorrow. James MacMillan and Harry Christophers had already mentored three outstanding young composers – Alissa Firsova, Tõnu Kõrvits and Matthew Martin – as they prepared their own a cappella choral settings of the Stabat mater, premiered at LSO St Luke’s in London in June 2014 and subsequently recorded for the CORO label.
James MacMillan wrote an article for the Spectator about his draw to the Stabat Mater, in addition to working with Harry Christophers, The Sixteen and Britten Sinfonia, available here.
For press coverage of the world premiere of Stabat Mater at the Barbican, click here.
For press coverage of the Stabat Mater recording, click here.