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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
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
Riffs & Fanfares
I had never met Lenny, but like thousands of musicians around the world he had a tremendous influence on my early interest in music. In 1988 when Zubin Mehta commissioned my Concerto for Trumpet for the NY Philharmonic I wrote a note to Mr. Bernstein in hopes of inviting him to the premiere. Unfortunately I never knew if he had received it or not.
Several years later the Chamber Music Society commissioned me to write a piece for string trio, horn, clarinet and piano. They wanted a short piece that could open the 1990 season in October. I composed RIFFS & FANFARES and throughout the writing process I thought a lot about Bernstein and the wonderful music he had composed and in particular for the film ON THE WATERFRONT. I attended the Chamber Music Society’s first rehearsal at Alice Tully on October 14, and afterwards I remember crossing the street to Avery Fisher Hall. I remember passing Nick Webster in the lobby and noticed that he seemed depressed and sad. I asked, “How are you” and he replied “not well.” I later found out that Leonard Bernstein had passed away that day. It was at that time I dedicated Riffs and Fanfares to Lenny’s memory. The premiere was to take place the week of his passing.
The amazing coincidence is that the review of the concert in the NY Times on Oct. 22, 1990, by James Oestreich was as follows:
"As it happened, this addition merely enhanced the symmetry of an already well-balanced program, which alternated larger European standards with brief contemporary American works. What's more, another of the recent works, Joseph Turrin's well-crafted "Riffs and Fanfares" for clarinet, horn, string trio and piano, commissioned by the society and receiving its premiere, also made a nod toward the late composer, with a brief melodic figure right out of Bernstein's score for the movie "On the Waterfront." This may, of course, have been inadvertent, in a work completed before Bernstein's death, but perhaps not; as a film composer himself, Mr. Turrin must surely know the older score."
Joseph Turrin, NJ, United States
Dance At The Gym
West Side Story, "Somewhere (Ballet)", — but, only the Broadway version of the score. Lenny added a 49 - 50 bars of a syncopated melody to the Somewhere ballet. This was about 90 seconds of music that has blown my mind since i was a little boy. ( about 55 years ago).
There are only a few pieces of music in my long life that have affected me as severely as this ballet music.
1. Bix Beiderbecke's, "In A Mist"
2. Claude Debussy, "Clair de Lune" & "Golliwogg's Cakewalk".
3. Thelonious Monk. "Epistrophy".
4. Mozart's, "The Magic Flute".
And Lenny achieved this in 50 bars. Dear Lord, what hath God wrought?
Donald Hoffman, New York, NY, United States
A Day with Lenny
I was recommended to Jack Gottlieb by Sid Ramin to come into the apartment at the Dakota and help Lenny program a synthesizer for the American premiere of "A Quiet Place". What should have only taken a few hours took all day, because Lenny loved to talk about everything from his recent recording of "Tristan and Isolde" to Cicero's orations in the Roman Senate. But, since I brought my own Prophet 5, I had to plug into something to hear it, and so I set up next to his stereo system to plug into that. And I vividly remember what he had on his turntable : Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing".
Kinny Landrum, Sleepy Hollow, NY, United States
My most amazing music teacher
One of the most amazing gifts one can have as it relates to music is being raised in New York City.
While I was privy to many music lessons both as a young girl and my parents giving me piano lessons and then in junior high where I was assessed as being musically inclined and had the privilege of joining the school orchestra during the three years I was there; some of the most amazing musical experiences I have ever had was having been able to attend many of Leonard Bernstein's young people concerts growing up and then having seen him once in Tanglewood in The Shed during a summer that I worked as a counselor nearby... and now at 70 years old I have just had the amazing experience of completed the reading of his daughter Jamie Bernstein book "Famous Father Girl". Having always searched out any article or piece of written material about Leonard Bernstein throughout my lifetime I must say I have to thank Jamie for sharing information about her father that simply has allowed me to know more about him and his amazing family that I never knew before...thank you.
Reva Egdal, Bronx, NY, United States
Grand Canyon Suite
I remember listening to Leonard Bernstein's interpretation of the Grand Canyon Suite when I was about 10 years old.
To this day, his performance of the Grand Canyon Suite with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra is a "must listen" for anyone who wants to conduct an orchestra and do it brilliantly.
I am still in awe of his talent.
Kevin Elzinga, Ypsilanti, MI, United States
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