For more than a century, St Patrick’s Cathedral has been a gathering place for the people of God in Melbourne. But its presence in the city has also been a testament to the very human desire for the beautiful and the sacred, and for connection. According to the cathedral’s Music Director Dr Philip Matthias, that’s exactly what lies at the heart of this year’s Cathedral Music Festival, running from 15 to 17 September.

‘We want the festival to have breadth in different ways—vespers, workshops, concerts—rather than just “presenting” music. There’s something for everyone,’ says Dr Matthias.

A range of music genres will be showcased across the weekend, from medieval plainchant to extravagant choral pieces, First Nations songs, folk music and organ classics. Dr Matthias sees the weekend as an opportunity for people to come together and to celebrate the role that music plays in creating space for meaningful dialogue and goodwill in the community.

The festival kicks off on the evening of Friday 15 September with a vespers service directed by Christopher Mason, which will include plainchant and polyphonic settings by the great Renaissance masters.

A series of workshops will take place during the day on Saturday 16 September, with the cathedral’s Master of Ceremonies and Assistant Priest Fr Michael Buck and resident soloist and cantor Larissa Cairns leading sessions specifically aimed at priests and cantors looking to enrich liturgical worship and encourage participation from the congregation.

On Saturday evening, attendees will have the chance to hear from a range of local and international musicians in a special concert called This Land. In a program that seeks to find ‘the threads that bind us together through music, culture, spirituality and community’, Dr Matthias says, This Land is an opportunity to hear from and engage with Indigenous artists and explore the power of stories.

Featured in the concert will be John Wayne Parsons, Luke Captain and other local artists who will present traditional and new First Nations songs with deep connections to place, Country and people. Also performing will be Sri Lankan vocalists Saman Lenin and Nilakshi Helapitiya, who are both passionate about promoting and protecting Sri Lankan folk music. Guiding the audience will be narrator Sherry Balcombe (Coordinator of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria), who will share the story behind each composition.

This is the second year that the This Land concert has been hosted by St Patrick’s Cathedral, but it’s something that Dr Matthias has been involved with since 2017. ‘I’ve done it in Sydney and Newcastle and now Melbourne. It’s about opening up conversations, especially if you wanted to learn more about different cultures.’

‘We got some really powerful feedback from last year’s concert,’ Dr Matthias shares, with attendees commenting on how unique the program was. One attendee described it as ‘an evening of excellence and being taken into a diversity of cultures’, while another shared how wonderful it was to hear Indigenous music and experience ‘the awesome moving sounds of ancient languages’.

On Sunday, as part of the 11am Mass, the St Patrick’s Cathedral Choir will sing the evocative and commanding Messe Solennelle by French composer Charles-Marie Widor. Originally written for two choirs and the two organs of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the rich tapestry of sound is set to fill the grand space of St Patrick’s. As an added bonus, the choir will perform the hymn of thanksgiving ‘Non nobis, Domine’ (based on Psalm 115), composed by Patrick Doyle and featured on the soundtrack of the 1989 film Henry V.

Rounding out the weekend on the Sunday afternoon will be a brass and organ concert with the St Patrick’s Cathedral Brass and cathedral organist Dion Henman. Pieces include Bach’s Three Chorales, Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ and Morricone’s ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’ from The Mission.

Dr Matthias sees the whole festival weekend as an opportunity for locals to experience something new and is especially excited about Saturday night’s This Land concert, given the richness of Melbourne’s multicultural identity.

‘What we are going to have at that concert is a coming together of different worlds,’ he says. ‘It’s about learning from each other. It’s about opening conversations between peoples and telling stories—both the good stories and the tragic ones. It’s not just a concert of music; it’s a concert of understanding, embraced by the deeply spiritual and Catholic space of St Patrick’s Cathedral.’