The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity

The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s <em>Stabat Mater</em>: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity

Can a medieval poem meditating on the suffering of Mary, the mother of Christ, as she stands at the foot of the cross have any relevance to these times, or to someone like me who adheres to no faith? The answer given by the performance of James Macmillan’s new setting of Stabat Mater at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall was a resounding yes.

The singers of Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen and the strings of the Britten Sinfonia combined to produce an electrifying performance of Macmillan’s elegiac, angry and often discordant cry of grief and personal commitment in the face of tragedy. I don’t think I’ve attended a more enthralling concert of contemporary music in the classical tradition. Continue reading “The Manchester premiere of James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater: sacred music concerned with the suffering of humanity”


Arvo Pärt in Manchester: music that fulfils a deep human need

Arvo Pärt in Manchester: music that fulfils a deep human need

During the interval at last night’s magnificent Arvo Pärt concert at the Bridgewater Hall I sneaked a look at the latest news on my phone. At the Brussels eurozone summit, Greece was being forced to accept financial colonialism in terms as humiliating as those imposed on Germany at Versailles in 1919.

Back in the concert hall, the programme of Pärt’s sublime music continued with his impassioned work for orchestra and solo soprano, Como cierva Sedienta. With its declamatory choruses, it seemed to speak to the ugly mood in Brussels: Continue reading “Arvo Pärt in Manchester: music that fulfils a deep human need”

Bartok, Beethoven and Pärt

Martha Argerich

Last night we dipped our toes into the Manchester International Music Festival, attending a concert at the Bridgewater Hall featuring a very varied programme – Bartok, Beethoven and Arvo Part.  I was there primarily for the Bartok (Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste) and Part (Lamentate), but most of the audience were there for pianist Martha Argerich, who played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, receiving several several rapturous standing ovations. Continue reading “Bartok, Beethoven and Pärt”

Jackson Browne at the Bridgewater Hall

Jackson Browne at the Bridgewater Hall

On stage alone (apart from a rack of 15 guitars and keyboards) for close on three hours, Browne sang his way passionately through a huge back-catalogue stretching back over a quarter of a century:

But it’s a long way that I have come
Across the sand to find this peace among your people in the sun
Where the families work the land as they have always done
Oh it’s so far the other way my country’s gone
Across my home has grown the shadow
Of a cruel and senseless hand
Though in some strong hearts
The love and truth remain

(‘Our Lady Of The Well’: his closing song)

Jackson Browne at Bridgewater Hall

Jackson was spontaneous and good natured, responding impromptu several times to requests from the audience. He said how great it was to hear so many people call out for his songs: there were some he hadn’t sung for a while, but he was willing to have a go.

At one point he jokingly asked the audience to talk in northern accents, so he could see if he understood them. He explained that David Lindley had been able to do some interesting impressions of northern accents. When several people obliged, he tried but failed to understand anything, (‘too much echo in here’) and suggested that he might go and walk out on the streets the next day and ask some people to talk to him.

He gave a long explanation of how the word ‘girlfriend’ seems inappropriate for the woman he’s been with for ten years. He found the phrase ‘stunning mystery companion’ in a Spanish magazine, and had written the new song using these words to describe her without realising that they were not all that unique.

A fortnight before the US elections, a segment of the show featured his songs of political commitment:

Don’t you want to be there, don’t you want to know?
Where the grace and simple truth of childhood go
Don’t you want to be there when the trumpets blow
Blow for those born into hunger
Blow for those lost ‘neath the train
Blow for those choking in anger
Blow for those driven insane

Don’t you want to be where there’s strength and love
In the place of fear

(‘Don’t You Want To Be There’)

He described waking up in the morning and wondering how he managed to get himself on a tour when the American election was so close.  He hoped that the people could ‘take America back.’ He followed comments on the election and the state of his country by playing ‘Lives in the Balance’, ‘For America’ and ‘I am a Patriot’ to resounding applause.

He said he’d been in the hall most of the afternoon, playing and that he really liked it and it was superb place to play.  Throughout the concert, Browne gave the impression of having no set list, seeming to respond instantly to shouted requests from the audience. But this was a probably an impression. Overall, this was a powerful and moving performance that took the audience on a generation’s journey and reflected a soul still searching:

Still I look for the beauty in songs
To fill my head and lead me on
Though my dreams have come up torn and empty
As many times as love has come and gone

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say
It could be I’ve lost my way
Though I keep a watch over the distance
Heaven’s no closer than it was yesterday
And the angels are older
They know not to wait up for the sun
They look over my shoulder
At the maps and the drawings of the journey I’ve begun

(‘Farther On’)


(g) = guitar;
(p) = piano

1. The Barricades Of Heaven (g)
2. Never Stop (g)
3. Call It A Loan (g)
4. Sleep’s Dark And Silent Gate (p)
5. The Night Inside Me (g)
6. For Taking The Trouble (g)
7. Don’t You Want To Be There (g)
8. Farther On (p)
9. Black And White (p)
10. The Naked Ride Home (g)
11. These Days (g)
12. For Everyman (g)


13. Lives In The Balance (g)
14. For America (g)
15. I Am A Patriot (g)
16. Something Fine (g)
17. My Opening Farewell (g)
18. For A Dancer (p)
19. Before The Deluge (p)
20. In The Shape Of A Heart (g)
21. My Stunning Mystery Companion (g)
22. Fountain Of Sorrow (p)
23. Rosie (g)
24. Running On Empty (g)

25. Late For The Sky (p)
26. Take It Easy (g)
27. Our Lady Of The Well (g).