“Long time here live the people / dancing and singing today and tomorrow”

Deborah Cheetham Fraillon’s opening words for the Acknowledgement of Country Tarimi Nulay – Long Time Living Here, which opens every Sydney Philharmonia Choirs programme in the Gadigal language, had a special resonance when it brought up the curtain on the group’s concert in Sydney’s St Andrew’s Cathedral.

It was sung while the final votes were being cast in the Voice Referendum, at a time when many of us – sadly not enough – still hoped for reconciliation and healing of divisions.

If it was deeply personal to people listening, so was the main work of the afternoon, Scottish composer James MacMillan’s Stabat Mater, an astonishing hour-long piece of almost cinematic breadth which is rightly regarded as one of the finest choral compositions of this century.

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs’ Stabat Mater at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. Photo © Simon Crossley-Meates

The 13th century sacred poem about Mary watching her son Jesus die on the cross affected MacMillan who, as a young chorister, sang various settings of it. Its beauty...