Stevie Wishart performs in the Vatican

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FoAM was prominently represented in the Vatican last Sunday, XXVII Sunday of Ordinary Time, when composer and performer Stevie Wishart, accompanied by her ensemble, Sinfonye, were invited to perform at Holy Mass in St Peter’s Square whilst His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI presided over the solemn concelebration of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation. It was on this historic occasion that St Hilegard of Bingen (O.S.B.) was proclaimed Doctor of the Church, thus formalising a de facto sainthood almost universally recognised but only now, after four previous attempts at canonization, formally acknowledged.

Additionally, Stevie and Sinfonye perform a series of short musical interventions Friday 12 October at the Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, Piazza del Gesù, Rome, on an evening dedicated to Dante’s Faith and part of the Year of Faith and the Synod of Bishops.

The performances at the Vatican were extracts from a larger project that had first started out as a film proposal before being picked up by Universal (under the Decca label) as a “Stevie Wishart CD around Hildegard.” It is a collaboration between her and composer/producer Guy Sigsworth.

Stevie mentions that while Hildegard’s music is really meant to be performed in a religious rather than secular context, it doesn’t actually fit very well in the liturgy, as her texts are very individual. She therefore decided to structure the CD on the idea of vespers, where antiphons could be “sandwiched” between Psalms to make a pleasing whole. This structure also allowed considerable flexibility, moving the album beyond a merely historical recording to include a number of Stevie’s new compositions, such as the Magnificat, based on one of Hildegard’s texts, and O doctor optimae, where the words of this medieval Latin service for instating a new saint were set to one of Hildegard’s most beautiful songs, O coruscans lux stellarum. The album also includes Guy Sigsworth’s ambient remixes of Hildegard samples.

While it remains to be seen whether the Catholic Church will begin to fully embrace principles of Viriditas or instate Lingua Ignota as an official ecclesiastical vulgate, the long-overdue canonization of Hildegard (the first ever composer and fourth woman to be canonised, bringing the number of official Roman Catholic saints to 35), celebrated in Stevie’s inspiring performance, can only point towards a positive transformation of the Faith.

We eagerly await Stevie’s return from Italy to hear her own impressions, which will be reported here in a followup post.

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