John Studzinski remembers the moment he realised the world needed a new Stabat Mater. He was sitting in a concert hall listening to Rossini’s “chocolate box” setting of the great 13th-century hymn. As the music played on – and on – he wished that Rossini had stuck to The Barber of Seville. He decided then to commission a new Stabat Mater that would “channel the divine”, rather than opera buffa.
Studzinski, a spry 60-year-old Polish American with a full head of boyish hair, is one of London’s great patrons of the arts. In what he calls his day job, he is a senior figure at private equity giant Blackstone. The Financial Times describes him as an “über-banker” and he is extremely well connected, with ties to both Theresa May and Angela Merkel.
Alongside the arts and finance, there is a third major element in Studzinski’s life: his Catholic faith. This has a very practical side. He is co-founder of the Arise Foundation, which supports the grassroots fight against human trafficking, and he has long worked with the homeless. His faith also has an aesthetic dimension. He has a collection of rosary beads dating back to the 10th century and a Pietà in his private chapel. And he has just asked a “very ancient calligrapher” in Washington to write out Padre Pio’s prayer after Communion in cerulean blue ink for a pocket-sized personal prayer book. Sacred art, he says, is “a form of being closer to God and practising your faith”.
Studzinski, a soft-spoken man with exquisite manners, wanted his new Stabat Mater to have spiritual depth. He needed a composer who was less of a Rossini and more of a Pergolesi – the Italian who wrote an agonisingly beautiful Stabat Mater while dying of tuberculosis aged 26.
Sitting in his Mayfair offices in front of a black coffee he barely touches, Studzinski says: “The longer Stabat Maters – the ones that are 30 to 60 minutes long, that are more contemplative – are the most powerful, because they really allow for your mood to almost go into a form of meditation. But five to 10 minutes, or something that sounds like ‘Here Comes Mr Easter Bunny’, is not really, I think, the whole purpose of that text.
“If it accomplishes its objective, truly sacred music almost creates a miracle – and I use that word very carefully – in that the individual does experience that whole pain of suffering, of God becoming man and then man dying on the Cross, the whole Incarnation which is the bedrock of our faith.”
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