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MASS: An ongoing celebration
Where to begin? My journey with MASS began with my left foot. Literally. Standing on one foot, eyes closed and arms outstretched. Gently wobbling, along with the winnowed few remaining at the end of the final callback, as the famed stage director, Tom O'Horgan, did the math. He'd flown to Bloomington only to realize Indiana University could not provide enough student talent to fully cast the upcoming 10th Anniversary production at The Kennedy Center in 1982. A swing. And a miss. Skip ahead to 1987. Bernstein again asked for a cast to be produced by Indiana University. This time, it was for the composer's 70th Birthday gala celebration at Tanglewood. I was long gone from IU. Currently, enduring experimental British musical theatre at the Banff Centre in Alberta. I had just signed on for another session when a message reached me. It was from a classmate, a choral conducting major still studying at IU. His message was simple: "Bernstein wants IU to produce MASS for his birthday party next summer. There's no one who they think can sing the role of the celebrant. The auditions are in three weeks. How fast can you get here?"
As it turns out, The Banff Centre had been slated for the Canadian premiere of MASS. The production never happened. But the library did have a score and a record. An hour later, I was in the basement of the Banff Centre library, seated at a listening station, looking at the cover photo of Alan Titus. As I paged through the score, following the recording, I felt an immediate and visceral quickening. With each page, I felt the aligning of my training, my talent and...my temperament. Then, the score rolled on into the, 'fraction'. I felt every twist and turn in the character's agony. I knew this guy. And I had every intention of portraying him.
As I stood up from the library carrel, I felt as though I had walked into a men's clothing shop, reached for a suit off the rack and put it on. And if fit, perfectly. So, yes. I was there for Tanglewood. And it started it all for me.
Twenty-five productions later, I am still in awe of the work. I've been privileged to lead the casts in Rome, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Spain, Carnegie Hall, Dallas, Denver, Columbus, California, and Oregon. And the most recent, for UNC School of the Arts. Each cast, crew, and orchestra has been equally inspired and enriched by the experience. And every producer, exhausted and well-satisfied for the effort.
As celebrant, director, casting director, or producer, it's all been a continual rediscovery. It's the most imperfectly perfect musical drama of my career's worth of drama. And it works. The secret, of course, is this: The audience is only along for the ride. The truest experience of Leonard Bernstein's MASS is to play, sing and dance it. And for a few of us, making a career of it.
Douglas Webster, Portland, Oregon
Fortunate to see 3 times!
My first experience with MASS was at a concert at (the old, pre renovated) Northrup Auditorium on Presidents Day presented for the University of Minnesota's President at the time. It was fully realized with set pieces, the U of M marching band, orchestra and soloists. That performance still gives me chills just remembering it.
The second performance was with the MN Orchestra, Eiji Oue conducting, at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. This time I was in the first few rows, center of the orchestra section. It was an overwhelming performance also with many moments indelible in my mind.
The third performance was a televised one from Ravinia, Chicago, with Marin Alsop conducting. Even on the 55 inch TV screen, it was a visceral experience. Marin Alsop is a genius with this piece.
I have been very lucky to be able to see/hear this masterpiece as many times as I have, and hope to see it again soon.
Douglas Myhra, St. Paul, MN
Opening night of Mass at Mark Taper Forum
My parents with Leonard Bernstein on opening night of the LA premier of Mass. My father directed the boys choir in the production, who were selected from the St. Luke’s Choristers in Long Beach.
Laura Fenn, Los Angeles, CA, United States
How Bernstein's "Mass" changed my life. Yale production New Haven, Ct. & Vienna 1972/1973
In 1972 and 1973 I was a member of the "Street Chorus" in the Yale productions of Bernstein's "Mass" in New Haven, CT, Vienna, Austria and Public Television"s "Great Performances". I was a member of the New Haven community at the time and auditioned my way into the production. "Mass" changed my life and has shaped it ever since. As a result of the "Mass" experience, I have gone on to have a wonderful life as a Choral Music Educator. Working with a friend I am going to produce a video chronicling that experience and its life altering impact. I know there are many others who were in this production who had their lives impacted also. It is my hope that I represent them and the power of Leonard Bernstein's life-work well. Wish me luck!!!
Michael P. Adam-Kearns, Eastford, CT, United States
First performances of Mass at Lincoln Center
All I can say is I was blown away by the radical mix of musical styles. Visually and audially, it can still appear vividly in my head.
Anne Chalmers, Newton, MA, United States
During rehearsals in Manhattan of the 1972 summer touring production of "MASS", Maestro Bernstein ribbed Alvin Ailey about how much the choreography he made for "MASS" reminded him of passages of movement in "Revelations". Alvin did likewise. He pointed passages of music in "MASS" that sounded to him like passages from "West Side Story".
Clover Mathis, San Francisco, CA, United States
I was driving and listening to NPR the first time I heard a portion of Bernstein's MASS. I muttered to myself, "What the hell is this?"
I don't remember exactly when I first heard MASS in its entirety, but it started to grow on me. It has been in my "top 5" for a long time now. The only time I saw it live was at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. My best friend (an avid Bernstein fan himself) and I drove 6 hours to attend, and it was worth every bit of effort. The performance was superb, and I learned even more about this amazing work.
Every time I revisit parts of the score I find something new. ("I never noticed that.") And now that I am back in school I plan to write my thesis on Bernstein's work, especially MASS.
There are so many ways MASS has changed my life, but I don't want to make this message too long. :~)
James Poteat, Acworth, GA
MASS still resonates after half-century
I first saw MASS at Philadelphia's Academy of Music in 1972 in its original production starring Alan Titus as the Celebrant and conducted by Maurice Peress. And although I was familiar with the score from the album, the production acquired even greater depth in live performance. Since then I have seen it twice at the Kennedy Center (under John Mauceri in 1981 and the Baltimore Symphony under Marin Alsop about seventeen years later), at Carnegie Hall with the late Robert Bass and The Collegiate Chorale in 2002, and at Philly's Kimmel Center with Yannick Nezet-Seguin (who was born four years after the 1971 premiere of MASS) and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2015, and all of these have been exceptional. However, I experienced a particularly memorable one at Penn State University's Eisenhower Auditorium in 2013, although I do not remember the conductor or who portrayed the Celebrant. For me, MASS remains Bernstein's most eclectic and monumental opus.
Robert J. Robbins, Media, PA
I was Gordon Davidson's assistant. Neither Celebrant could be located - David Cryer was stuck on a train somewhere between New York and Philadelphia, and Alan Titus was...well somewhere in Philadelphia. (Way before cell phones...). Performance time was fast approaching, and Michael Hume, who had been in the choir since the first performance and had taken it upon himself to learn the role, said, "I could do it." Left with no other choice, in a true Ruby Keeler moment, local producer Moe Septee stepped in front of the curtain and announced the debut of a fine young performer. Of course he didn't mention that there hadn't been any rehearsal. Michael got through just fine - I remember watching the Alvin Ailey dancers pulling him through the dances. The funny thing was that the beginning of "A Simple Song" took place in front of the curtain, and David realized he only knew where the Celebrant was standing when the curtain went up. He had no idea what the staging was up until that moment. So he improvised. It was one of those evenings to remember!
Ted Chapin, Connecticut...now
When MASS came out, I was a college freshman who really knew nothing about the overall content, but loved Leonard Bernstein. Growing up watching his Young Peoples Concerts with my mom and loving "West Side Story," I anticipated it would be good. So, I bought the album and from the moment I put the needle down, listened to it over and over, letting it soak into my soul. Having been raised singing in church and school choirs, it was unlike anything I had ever heard, but I knew it was something significant. As I look back now, I'm sure that at that age I was just beginning to start on a journey, trying to discover who I was and where I was going. I would consider MASS a catalyst to plant seeds in my soul that I didn't realize were there until many years later. It brought healing during a time when the world had experienced the turbulent 60's. Now that MASS is turning 50, I would hope it might be something that would help us heal from the turbulent recent years. Thank you for this marvelous work that has meant so much to me.
Barb Boyd, Lansing, MI
So Many Mass Memories
Tickets to the original production of Mass in NYC were my sweet sixteen birthday present. I can't say this Jewish girl really knew what was happening on that stage, but I knew I wanted to be up there on that stage. Skip to 10 years later for the 10th Anniversary production at the Kennedy Center. The cast was already in production when they decided they needed another soprano. My friend was in the show and got me an audition. Tom O'Horgan, the director, was known for being a maverick, so my friend encouraged me to audition with my very funny irreverent belting song (very far from soprano notes and quite a risk). After the laughter ended, I did another 36 bars of a soprano song with really high notes. They told me right there at the audition that I had the part. It was my first year in show business and the beginning of my relationship with colleagues (Lenny, John Mauceri) and friends (Jamie Bernstein) that have been long lasting.
Louise Edeiken, NYC
Mahler Ninth at Carnegie Hall
I attended Leonard Bernstein's concert in Carnegie Hall with the Israel Philharmonic performing Mahler's Ninth Symphony. Leonard Bernstein is my classical music hero. And when I noticed in the New York Times the concert, I jumped at the chance to hear one of the most dynamic conductors ever. Driving down from Boston and then finding someplace to park my car, and finding a hotel, was actually very exciting for me. I parked my car across the street from Carnegie Hall, risking the car being towed, I ran in to the box office, received my ticket and ran back to my car. After finding my hotel and I rode the NY subway to the concert hall. I finally made it to Carnegie Hall and I did not have to practice. I sat up in the 2nd tier dead center, nosebleed seat.
When Bernstein came on I noticed how sprite he was for his age. He paused a moment and then started the symphony in the lower strings and muted horn. The third movement was very exciting, the movement is in rondo form and Bernstein conducted it in breakneck tempo. All I remember is how slowly the final movement went. The concertmaster of the Israel Philharmonic was on one knee for more expression. I mean this was one of the most powerful musical experiences I have ever heard. Also was amazed of the musicians concentration playing the final dying notes.
[Image from Bernstein's marked score of Mahler's Symphony No. 9 in the New York Philharmonic Digital Archives: http://archives.nyphil.org/index.php/artifact/52b54c6d-70ab-4118-a741-48954fd3df56-0.1/fullview#page/10/mode/2up]
Robert Phelan , Brookline, MA, United States
Jenny's signed note
Autographed note from Jenny Bernstein, Leonard's mother.
Earlyne Daddario, Rotterdam, NY
Opening Night, September 8, 1971
I have been enjoying the moving personal memories of MASS, the impact on so many lives. They stirred me to contribute a memory from my brother (A double song). I hesitate to add this. Maybe because it dates me. But I am one of the very lucky ones.
A half century ago, I attended the world premiere of MASS. Yes, it altered the course of my life. And with your indulgence, here is my memory of that first MASS.
My father was invited to the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, September 8, 1971, because he worked with JFK during the 1960 campaign, managed “the Catholic issue”, drafting the Houston speech that changed the trajectory of the election, and served the president as an ambassador in Europe and Africa.
My parents adored Leonard Bernstein’s music. Mom’s favorite was West Side Story, they’d seen the original Broadway production. For Dad, it was Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish”.
Dad happened to be overseas that week and Mom said I could go! JFK was my hero, a 17 year old obsessed with politics in those very divisive times. Music was my twin brother’s thing, but back then he was into Crosby Stills Nash. Later, that would evolve; see his MASS memory.
Once the lights dimmed, the intense experience of taking in this vast cultural memorial, meeting many of my father’s friends from the Kennedy years on the promenade above the Potomac, it all just slipped away. The grand opera hall became almost intimate.
From that first simple song to the peace in our clasped hands at the end, I sat spellbound, mesmerized by the immediacy, vibrancy and beauty of this incomparable expression. Evocative, provocative. It just kept coming at you. Music and voices from every corner, all kinds of music, all kinds of people, moving all over the place. Simplicity and chaos.
This was AMERICAN!
Ours was an era of conflicts and crises – the Vietnam war, the massacres, the assassinations, mass protest marches, civil disobedience, violence and riots, college students shot and killed by the national guard, a burgeoning mistrust of each other, chasms between generations, little faith in any kind of leadership or government, let alone any kind of god.
We were lost, we were drowning. At times cacophonous, at times tranquil. Always searching.
Here it all was, playing out before me, the innocence and helplessness, frustration, anger, rebellion, free love and costly avarice, our petulant vanities, our doting, our doubting, and our passionate spiritual resilience to reaffirm the shared sense of community for peace.
Then that ending. Members of the Boys’ Choir drifting into the audience, spreading the touch of peace “pass it on” (at the time ignorantly chided by some critics who didn’t realize it was being faithful to the “sign of peace” in the revised Roman Rite of 1969) and then the recorded voice: "The mass is ended; go in peace." (Was that LB’s own voice?)
Then silence. Not a sound in the cavernous hall. No one budged.
For what seemed an eternity. Everyone sitting still, still, still.
As if we couldn’t move, wouldn’t move from this house, filled with grace.
Minutes passed. Then came the rippling thunderous ovation as though something deeply painful and mournful had been purged and we could all celebrate again. The applause went on and on and on. More than 30 minutes.
We were all at the railing of the same ship, sailing beyond our worldly strife, waving semaphore to another shore: Pacem! Pacem!
Having met JFK as a kid and sitting there that evening facing the imminent prospect of being drafted into a pointless war half a world away, MASS jolted every nerve in my soul, shifting the course of my life from politics to poetics. Leonard Bernstein had seized and summoned it all at once, holding up a mirror to our time.
I knew I had seen a masterpiece. The whole world was wide open, could be touched.
More than 15 years later, I was back at the Kennedy Center to see my brother Charlie who worked there, only to be taken by surprise as we entered the side door to the backstage lobby and heard the sudden booming voice of the Maestro, arms spreading wide with welcome, “Ah, the Wine brothers!”
I was dumbstruck. The two of them talked as we walked to the concert hall. Charlie told him that I had been here on the opening night of MASS. “What do you remember?” he asked. Without missing a beat: “A Simple Song…Things Get Broken…Pax tecum, pass it on”
LB gave me a long look, as if reading straight through me, then threw an arm around Charlie’s shoulders, whispered something, they laughed and smiled. All Charlie would say later was that it was simple and secret.
Today, in these – once again – difficult and divisive times, I am reminded of one the last things LB told us, how concerned he was by the “frightening lack of creativity in leadership” across the whole of society in the face of what he feared were grave looming challenges for humanity. It was incumbent upon artists to get involved, speak up, stir things up.
This was – and is – MASS. The artist speaking up, stirring up. And, for me, that’s Leonard Bernstein’s abiding legacy.
“…go in peace; pass it on…”
James Wine, Köja, Sweden
James Wine, Köja, Sweden
MASS forever changed my life
At age 18, in the early 70's, I performed in "Leonard Bernstein's MASS" in the L.A. Mark Taper Forum production for several months. Meeting him, then performing in this piece was "life changing" for me on many levels. He singled me out, took me to after-rehearsal dinners, hang outs, told me to help him make the rock band play with more conviction, and started mentoring me from that moment on; whether it was correcting my grammar, or defining what a German doubly augmented 6th was, or playing Beatle songs for me in the style of Mozart of Ravel. When I showed him I was arranging a Bartok piece for rock band he said "Forget Bartok, do Pack!". He nicknamed me "Packissimo".
Read more about my Leonard Bernstein experiences: http://www.davidpack.com/leonard-bernstein
Photo: A "MASS BELT" I hand made LB in 1971 for an opening night gift, that contained a music quotation from "Simple Song" – he loved it and he wore it!
David Pack, Los Angeles, CA, United States
"Sing God a double song."
(This memory was written by my twin brother Charlie in 1998 to a friend. I thought this would be fine time and place to share it.)
I was at the Library of Congress studying the score to Bernstein's “Songfest”. The next day Jim and I were going to be the Maestro’s guests at rehearsals of the piece at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.The two of us, Lenny and the NSO. Wow!
While at the Library I looked at the ink score to “Mass”. An important piece to us for many reasons. I discovered, to my surprise, something missing from the Mass. The above page. The lyric “sing God a double song” had a big X through it. A cut! In the final performance score a clarinet takes the six note sequence, in place of the soprano and tenor. It occurs just before the finale.
Why? I copied the page in hopes of showing the Maestro and asking him why? The three of us talked about so many things those next two days. He had that way of keeping a discussion flowing in leaps and bounds. You had to work to stay right with him. In other words, I forgot about the score page in my pocket.
Jim and I became fascinated with the line and decided to write a piece based on those words and those notes. As twins the word double always gets our attention.
The next time we met I showed it to him and asked him why did he take it out. He took it in his hands and said “my God, I haven't seen this in over fifteen years.” Long pause as he kept looking at the page.
Then abruptly, looking intensely at us, he expounded “double comes from the Latin duplus, from duo, which also leads to dubitare, doubt, being of two minds. As a Jew writing a Christian Mass I could not show doubt before the finale!”
Right there on the spot, an answer. I smiled, “but Maestro, you did write the finale in canon.” He smiled.
I then told him of our desire to compose a poetry and music series of sequences on that line. “Wonderful” he said. “Great”, I responded, “it’s half done” and handed him a cassette. He roared with laughter, exclaimed “fabulous”, put the cassette in his pocket, whirled around to his assistant Charlie Harmon and was off to the stage to rehearse.
The last time we met the three of us were sitting on the piano bench after a concert with the Vienna Philharmonic. I pulled out the score page I treasured so much and asked him if he wouldn't mind putting his LB on it. I was reluctant to ask. He had been signing autographs in his dressing room for at least an hour. Craig Urquhart handed him the same magic marker and Lenny mock scolded him, “a pen, a pen, this is a piece of music”. Craig smiled and handed him a pen. I watched as he carefully looked over the score page again and passionately wrote: Love LB.
I never saw him again. I wrote him a long letter that spring. Ill, Harry Kraut, his manager, wrote to us that the Maestro wanted to learn more about our poesia per musica.
I, along with a few other million people, miss Lenny very much. But he does live on in his work, his family and in the people he touched along the way.
James Wine, Köja, Bjärtrå, Sweden
Three favorite memories of watching Bernstein on the podium with the New York Philharmonic
Story one: I was at the final concert of the Beethoven Ninth with the Juilliard Chorus on 17 May 1964 . (I looked it up; my memory is not that good.) This was just before Bernstein took a sabbatical to work on a musical based on Thorton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth which never materialized/ The Columbia recording, still in print, was made the following day and it is still thrilling. Anyway, the audience went absolutely nuts at the end; they would not let Lenny leave the stage. Finally, he took his baton and threw it out to the audience. I sat close to the stage but was not the lucky person who caught it.
Story two: In the 1965-66 season, Bernstein conducted the last few Mahler symphonies he had not yet recorded to complete his traversal with the Philharmonic. They included the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth. On the concerts of the Seventh, Bernstein programmed Webern's Symphony, Op. 21 before intermission. (In searching the Bernstein discography, I see that this performance was issued on New York Philharmonic Special Editions.) At the conclusion, a smattering of de rigueur applause after which Bernstein turned to speak to the audience, and Lenny the Teacher said essentially that the Webern was a difficult piece of music to absorb on first hearing and for that reason, the orchestra would play it again. A good portion of the audience left their seats and walked out. They did return for the Mahler.
Story three: In the 1966-67 season, Bernstein conducted Mahler's Das Lied with Jess Thomas and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. To the best of my knowledge, a recording of these performances of March 17, 18 and 20 was never issued. (Bernstein did record it in 1966 with Fischer-Dieskau, James King and the Vienna Philharmonic for Decca/London.) If you know the work, you know the fortissimo chord, pizzicato cello and bass, that ends Das Trinklied. Some in the audience started to applaud. Bernstein would tolerate none of it. He wanted absolute silence between movements. Bernstein, back still to the audience, raised his left hand, palm faced down, and brought it down with the utmost vehemence. Everyone immediately became silent.
William David Curtis, Rhode Island
"I want to see the Cand-eeee"
Candide opened in 1956. I was four. My parents were all dressed up; clearly they were about to do something exciting. “Where are you going?” I asked. “We’re going to see Candide!” Mummy said, with a little shiver of anticipation. They were going to see candy? That sounded wonderful. “I want to go too!” I said. “No, darling, this is for grownups.” Candy – for grownups? Impossible. “But I want to see the candy! I want to see the can-deee...!” I was still kicking my nanny's shins in the throes of my tantrum as Mummy and Daddy scurried out the door in their opening night finery.
Jamie Bernstein, New York, NY, United States
Remembering Freiheit in Berlin, 1989
One of the most memorable days of my life. (Listen to the audio below)
Craig Urquhart, Berlin, Germany
Gag of a 3-year-old
My father hit me only twice. Once when came home at 4 am, without calling, after an evening at the Fillmore East. The first time, though, I was three years old. I was in his studio while he was studying a score. I thought it would be funny to pretend to sharpen a pencil in his ear. I believe I did deserve that slap!
Alexander Bernstein, New York, NY, United States
Postlude to LB's First DG Recording, "Carmen" at the Met
I produced this recording for Deutsche Grammophon in the fall of 1972. After several months of post-production in Hannover, I brought discs of the preliminary edit back to New York in March of 1973 and played them for LB at his Amberson Productions offices on Sixth Avenue.
He liked it, and didn't ask for any of the 692 edits to be changed, but he requested a number of subtle but important changes in the mix. I went back to Germany, made those changes and sent him a new set of discs, along with a note expressing my admiration and thanks. This is the note which I received from him in reply.
The recording was released later that spring to wide acclaim. It was DG's best-selling opera recording, and Maestro and I each received a Grammy Award for it.
Thomas Mowrey, New York, NY, United States
Leonard Bernstein and stuffed lion at a rehearsal with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
I took this photo of Leonard after a rehearsal. A woman had presented him a stuffed lion and when he posed with it I quickly reacted and grabbed this photo. One of my all time favorites!
David Taylor, Chicago, IL, United States
On Race, Jewish Music, Spirituals, and Bernstein's Legacy
Wynton Marsalis discusses Bernstein's legacy, addressing the topics of race, Jewish music, and African American spirituals.
This interview was conducted in 2018 by the National Museum of American Jewish History, located on Historic Independence Mall in Philadelphia, as part of the original exhibition "Leonard Bernstein: The Power of Music".
Wynton Marsalis, New York, NY
42 years ago and I still think about it
It was May 1979 when a Haydn Mass and Shostakovich V were performed at the Royal Festival Hall, London. Afterwards we queued up for what seemed like forever to see the great man close to.
There he was, in the green room, in a striped dressing gown, clutching scotch and cigarettes, signing autographs, shaking hands and answering even the dumbest questions from his fans. The whole thing was very exciting and I’ve thought about it countless times.
RIP Lenny !
Mark S. , London
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