Commissioned by the Genesis Foundation for Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, Stabat Mater was the first ever work to be performed and live-streamed at the Sistine Chapel in April 2018. The vocal score is now available, scored for mixed voices and string orchestra.
Since its premiere, MacMillan's Stabat mater has toured in England and received performances in Scotland and the Netherlands. The composer is particularly acclaimed for his choral works which range from full-scale settings with orchestra, such as Stabat Mater, Seven Last Words from the Cross, Quickening, St John Passion, St Luke Passion and A European Requiem, through unaccompanied works sung by the world's leading chamber choirs including Miserere and Tenebrae Responsories, to simple settings sung by church choirs such as the motet O Radiant Dawn.
In his Stabat mater MacMillan followed such composers as Pergolesi, Rossini, Dvorák, Szymanowski and Poulenc in setting the stark and searing 13th-century liturgical text, which meditates on the suffering of Mary standing at the foot of the Cross.
"…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
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