The first live UK performance of the new album Alma Mater – featuring the voice of Pope Benedict XVI took place at Westminster Cathedral.

The Chamber Choir of the Philharmonic Academy of Rome (the Vatican’s choir) made their UK debut, and were joined by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, composers Simon Boswell, Stefano Mainetti and Nour Eddine, and singer Yasemin Sannino. The only performer not present was the Holy Father himself. Instead, his voice was heard via recordings. The first part of the concert featured Gregorian chant sung by the choir, conducted by Monsignor Pablo Colino, Emeritus Chapel Master for St. Peter’s Basilica. In the second part, six of the new CD’s eight tracks were performed. Simon Boswell and Stefano Mainetti took turns to conduct the combined forces of choir and orchestra. The works combine Gregorian chant, contemporary music from the Western art music tradition, and Middle-Eastern music. Stefano Mainetti and Simon Boswell’s backgrounds in film music composition come through in the lush string textures and repetition of motives. This sound is contrasted with sparse exchanges between different sections of the choir and orchestra and the Pope. Regina Coeli, composed and conducted by Stefano Mainetti, features the voice of Istanbul-born Yasemin Sannino alongside that of the Pope, who first chants in French and later sings. The introduction of Arab elements in Sannino’s line in this work paved the way perfectly for the following piece, Advocata nostra. The performance was a spectacle, with mood lighting on the stage, candles around the altar, and screens on each side, displaying  the Pope during the sections in which he chanted. Classic FM  spoke to Simon Boswell, Stefano Mainetti and Yasemin Sannino after the concert. They all enjoyed the experience of performing the project live in the wonderful acoustic of Westminster Cathedral. It was the first time that all those involved had come together to perform, since the different forces were put together in the Abbey Road Studio, for the recording.