Marin Alsop Leads Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Performances of Bernstein’s Historic Mass, October 16-18 in Baltimore and October 26 at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center
BSO production a highlight of Carnegie Hall’s Bernstein festival, October 24 and 25 in New York City
A Bernstein protégée, Alsop honors conductor-composer’s legacy with performances commemorating 90th year of his birth
Mass to be recorded for Naxos label
Baltimore, Md. (August 20, 2008)— In performances commemorating the 90th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, Maestra Marin Alsop will lead the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Bernstein’s Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers, October 16-18 at Baltimore’s Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and October 26 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. As the cornerstone of the BSO’s 2008-2009 season, Mass explores themes of faith, tolerance and renewal of tradition, and spans musical genres as diverse as classical, rock, jazz, blues and folk. Eclectic and historic, Mass was the famed conductor-composer’s largest and ultimately most controversial work. The BSO’s production of Mass will be recorded and released on the Naxos label.
The BSO’s Mass will feature nearly 250 performers, led by baritone Jubilant Sykes as the Celebrant and joined by the Morgan State University Chorus, the Peabody Children’s Chorus, a 50-piece marching band a Broadway cast performing as “Street People.” The semi-staged production will include costuming and musical movement with direction by award-winning stage director Kevin Newbury. In addition to the Baltimore and Washington events, the BSO will also perform Mass at New York’s esteemed Carnegie Hall on October 24 as a highlight of its citywide festival, Bernstein: The Best of All Possible Worlds. On October 25 at the United Palace Theater in Upper Manhattan, approximately 500 New York City public school children will sing in the chorus of Mass alongside the BSO as part of The Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall’s Bernstein Mass Project. See below for complete program information.
“Leonard Bernstein, for me, was the greatest risk-taker in 20th century classical music,” Music Director Marin Alsop has said. “He thrived on conflict, and this is nowhere more evident than in his most controversial composition, Mass. Even the response to Mass was divisive: the pubic loved it but most of the critics hated it. The vitriolic reaction to the 1971 premiere caused him great heartache because this work, more than any other, contains the essence of this complex man and artist.” Alsop’s relationship with Bernstein began when she was just nine years old at one of his famed Young People’s Concerts; awed by his dynamism, Alsop decided then that she aspired to be a conductor. Two decades later, Alsop was selected to study with Bernstein at the Tanglewood Institute, and he became one of her most influential mentors. With her many initiatives aimed at making classical music accessible to a broad audience, her commitment to music education and her championing of new music, Alsop is often considered a torchbearer of Bernstein’s legacy.
Commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the 1971 opening of Washington, D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Bernstein’s Mass explores the themes of religion, ritual, tolerance, doubt and renewal of faith. Employing diverse musical styles previously never before heard together in the concert hall, Mass was a product of its time, reflecting the political and social unrest that marked the late 1960s and early 1970s. Bernstein, himself Jewish, had long been fascinated by Catholicism and its rituals, and thus chose the traditional Roman Catholic Mass to commemorate John F. Kennedy, the country’s first and only Catholic president and a close friend of Bernstein. The BSO’s Mass marks only the fourth time the work has been performed at the John F. Kennedy Center since its premiere.
With its treatment of explosive social issues and unusual musical stylings, Mass provoked controversy from the start. Though overtly religious, the work was also intended as an anti-war piece and with its political undertones, some viewed Mass as a veiled critique of the Nixon administration. Following its premiere, many music critics savaged Mass, offended by its theatricality and Pop elements, with The New York Times’ Harold Schonberg dismissing it as “little more than fashionable kitsch…cheap and vulgar.” Taking issue with perceived sacrilege, some members of the clergy condemned Mass, forbidding their congregations from attending performances. But despite the controversy that Mass created, the popular response to the work was overwhelmingly positive, with audiences applauding for 30 minutes at the premiere. In the intervening years, Mass has developed a huge following, and remains the best-selling classical multi-disc set ever produced.
The narrative arch of Mass centers around the Celebrant leading his flock through a traditional Catholic mass. When Mass begins, the Celebrant’s belief is simple and absolute. But over the course of the 90-minute work, the Celebrant’s congregation increasingly expresses doubt in its faith and frustration with the human condition, which in turn forces the Celebrant to question his own faith and the trappings of the mass.
With 32 different songs in English, Latin and Hebrew, Mass was revolutionary for its fusing of rock, blues, jazz and folk, alongside firmly classical elements reminiscent of the greatest composers of the 19th and 20th centuries. The work opens with “Kyrie,” an atonal quartet on pre-recorded tape that builds into chaos before the Celebrant enters with “Simple Song,” whose message of an unquestioning faith and folksy melody make it among the best known pieces in Mass. The mass continues with traditional hymns and multiethnic musical passages until the Street Singers introduce rock and blues with “I Don’t Know” and “Easy,” the first instances of the congregation’s existential questioning. An orchestral interlude, Meditation Nos. 1 and 2 follow, with the latter quoting from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. As Mass continues, the congregation becomes more and more restless, singing Vietnam-era protests and, in the comic “God Said,” a scathing critique of contemporary society’s proclivity to twist God’s intent to its own desires. After a brief respite, the choir devolves into anarchy, taking the “Dona nobis pacem” (“give us peace”) and twisting it into an anti-war protest that overwhelms the Celebrant.
At the height of the work, the Celebrant experiences a complete breakdown, questioning the meaning of the ritual and hurling the sacred communion chalice to the ground—the most notorious moment in Mass that ignited much controversy. He launches into the crazed and musically schizophrenic song “Things Get Broken,” before collapsing on the stage, absorbed by the shocked congregation. Peace and faith are restored by a boy soprano, who takes up the Celebrant’s “Simple Song.” One by one, members of the congregation join in, and in Bernstein’s words, “The chain of embrace grows and spreads through the entire stage, ultimately with the audience and hopefully into the world outside.”
Marin Alsop, conductor
Hailed as one of the world’s leading conductors for her artistic vision and commitment to accessibility in classical music, Marin Alsop made history with her appointment as the 12th music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. With her inaugural concerts in September 2007, she became the first woman to head a major American orchestra, which mirrored her ongoing success in the United Kingdom, where she served as the Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony from 2002-2008 and now holds the title of Conductor Emeritus.
In 2005, Marin Alsop was named a MacArthur Fellow, the first conductor ever to receive this prestigious award. In 2007, she was honored with a European Women of Achievement Award and in 2008 she was inducted as a fellow into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Maestra Alsop is a regular guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic. She also appears frequently as a guest conductor with many distinguished orchestras worldwide. After a highly successful 12-year tenure as music director of the Colorado Symphony, Ms. Alsop continues her association as conductor laureate. She also continues as music director of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in California.
Marin Alsop attended Yale University and received her master’s degree from The Juilliard School. In 1989, her conducting career was launched when she became a prizewinner at the Leopold Stokowski International Conducting Competition.
Jubilant Sykes, baritone
Jubilant Sykes has won the attention and respect of the world’s finest conductors, symphonies and opera companies. This critically acclaimed artist, lauded in The Wall Street Journal as one of “the next major stars,” brings a new dimension to the traditional career of the classically trained baritone by drawing on gospel and jazz influences.
Mr. Sykes’ repertoire spans from Copland’s Old American Songs to Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Brahms’ A German Requiem, to Mozart’s Requiem. He has performed concert versions of Bizet’s Carmen (Escamillo) with the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra and Cavalli’s Calisto with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Additionally, Mr. Sykes was a featured soloist for the premiere of Torke’s Four Seasons with the New York Philharmonic, and for the premiere of Libby Larsens’ Coming Forth Into Day for baritone and orchestra (set to a text by Jehen El Sadat, widow of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat).
Career highlights include performances with such noted conductors as Christoph Eschenbach, Marvin Hamlisch, Raymond Leppard, Andrew Litton, Keith Lockhart, Lorin Maazel, John Nelson, John Williams and David Zinman. He has performed with the London, Chicago, Baltimore and Boston symphony orchestras, the Lincoln Center Chamber Ensemble, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. Mr. Sykes previously performed the role of Celebrant in Bernstein’s Mass with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and with the London Symphony Orchestra, both productions under the baton of Marin Alsop.
Mr. Sykes has appeared in festivals across America including the Grant Park Music Festival, the Chautauqua Festival and Tanglewood. His recital engagements have taken him to the Van Cliburn Foundation, the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts in Tacoma, California Institute of Technology, Houston Society for the Performing Arts and the University of Arizona.
Morgan State University Choir—Dr. Eric Conway, director
The Morgan State University (MSU) Choir is one of the nation’s most prestigious university choral ensembles. While classical, gospel and contemporary popular music comprise the choir’s repertoire, the choir is noted for its emphasis on preserving the heritage of the spiritual, especially in the historic practices of performance.
The MSU Choir has performed for audiences throughout the United States and all over the world–including Virgin Islands, Canary Islands, Canada, Africa, Asia and Europe. They have appeared at The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall on numerous occasions and have performed with the New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Buffalo, Baltimore, Knoxville and National symphony orchestras, among others.
The Choir has experienced many historic moments. They have performed with Jessye Norman under the baton of Robert Shaw, conducting the Orchestra of St. Lukes in Carnegie Hall’s 100th Birthday Tribute to Marian Anderson. At the personal invitation of Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice, the choir performed for the State Department for their annual African American History Month Celebration. In October 2005, the Morgan State University Choir sang for the service honoring Rosa Parks, who became the first woman to lie in honor at our nation’s Capitol Rotunda. In August 2007, the Choir completed a tour of Ghana and performed at the invitation of the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana to celebrate its 50th year of Independence. In May 2004, Reader’s Digest named the MSU Choir “the Best College Choir in the U.S.’ in its list of “America’s 100 Best.”
Peabody Children’s Chorus—Doreen Falby, director
Founded in 1989, the Peabody Children’s Chorus is dedicated to providing age-appropriate vocal training for young people. The Chorus brings children together to rehearse and perform art and folk music of multiple cultures, languages, historical periods and styles. In six ensembles rehearsing at two campuses, young people gain invaluable experience making music in ensemble settings. Ear-training and music-reading skills are also emphasized.
Approximately 300 children between the ages of six and 18 participate each year in three levels of training. Members of the Training Choir (ages 6-10), the Choristers (ages 10-14), and the Chamber Singers (ages 12-18) rehearse high-quality treble music of advancing challenge and sophistication, and perform in public concert at least twice a year.
The Peabody Children's Chorus performs frequently with other arts organizations such as the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, the Baltimore Opera Company, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Concert Artists of Baltimore, the Peabody Conservatory's Opera Theater and the Peabody Symphony Orchestra. The Chorus has performed in master classes with Mark Cudek, Vern Falby, Tom Hall, Bobby McFerrin, John Shirley-Quick and Webb Wiggins, and has toured in England and France.
Kevin Newbury, stage director
Kevin Newbury is a theatre and opera director based in New York City. Recent opera credits include Falstaff (Santa Fe Opera), The Marriage of Figaro (Minnesota Opera), The Magic Flute (Opera Colorado and Houston Grand Opera) and Nixon in China (Chicago, Portland, Cincinnati, Minnesota and Colorado Operas). Recent New York theatre credits include Candy and Dorothy (GLAAD Media Award Winner, Drama Desk Nominee), The Second Tosca, Kiss and Cry (GLAAD Nominee), The Eumenides and concerts at Joe's Pub, Birdland, Ars Nova and the Weill Recital Hall.
In 2007, nytheatre.com named Mr. Newbury one of the “15 Most Influential People in Downtown NYC Theatre.” Mr. Newbury is a resident director at New York University’s MFA Dramatic Writing Program, a member of the Lincoln Center Theatre Director’s Lab and a former member of the Directors-in-Residence Program at Ensemble Studio Theatre. He has directed readings and workshops for companies including the New Group, Rattlestick Playwright’s Theatre, Young Playwrights, Inc. and the Ensemble Studio Theatre.
Mr. Newbury’s upcoming projects include Candy & Dorothy (off-Broadway re-opening), Roberto Devereux, Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda (Minnesota Opera), Trovatore (Minnesota Opera), La Cenerentola (Glimmerglass Opera), Eugene Onegin (Opera Theatre of St. Louis) and a new production with the Wexford Opera Festival in Ireland.
COMPLETE PROGRAM INFORMATION
Bernstein’s Mass: A Theatre Piece for Players, Singers and Dancers
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop, conductor
Jubilant Sykes, baritone
Morgan State University Choir
Dr. Eric Conway, director
Peabody Children’s Chorus (Baltimore and Washington, D.C. performances)
Doreen Falby, director
Brooklyn Youth Chorus (New York performances)
Dianne Berkun, director
Kevin Newbury, stage director
Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall—Baltimore, Md.
Thursday, October 16, 2008 at 8:00 p.m.
Friday, October 17, 2008 at 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 8:00 p.m.
Tickets range from $26 to $75 and are available through the BSO Ticket Office, 410.783.8000 or BSOmusic.org
Carnegie Hall and the United Palace Theater—New York, NY
Friday, October 24, 2008 at 8:00 p.m.—Carnegie Hall
Saturday, October 25, 2008 at 3:00 p.m.—United Palace Theater*
Tickets for the Carnegie Hall performance on October 24 range from $31 to $94, and are on sale beginning September 2 through the Carnegie Hall Box Office, 212.247.7800 or carnegiehall.org.
Tickets for the United Palace Theater performance on October 25 are $15, and are on sale beginning September 2 through the Carnegie Hall Box Office, 212.247.7800 or carnegiehall.org.
*The United Palace Theater performance is part of The Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall’s Bernstein Mass Project and will feature approximately 500 New York City public school children performing alongside the BSO. For more information on The Bernstein Mass Project, please contact the Carnegie Hall Public Affairs Office at 212.903.9750 or email@example.com.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts—Washington, D.C.
Sunday, October 26, 2008 at 4:00 p.m.
Tickets for The John F. Kennedy Center performance range from $25 to $78 and are on sale now though The John F. Kennedy Center Ticket Office, 800.444.1324 or www.kennedy-center.org.