Leonard Bernstein - Mass - Kent Nagano - CD
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Leonard Bernstein
Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players & Dancers (Harmonia Mundi)

This 1971 composition by Leonard Bernstein, commissioned by Jackie Kennedy Onassis for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., took a stunning, often controversial approach to both the art of classical composition and to the theme of the Catholic Mass. Bernstein (a Jew who was always fascinated by the Catholic liturgy) boldy combines a large orchestra, marching band, mixed chorus, children’s choir, dancers and a rock band to explore the sometimes dark, sometimes jubilant nature of The Mass. This beautiful new recording, two hours long and on 2 CDs, is conducted by Kent Nagano.

Jerry Hadley (tenor)
Rundfunkchor Berlin, dir Simon Halsey
Soloists of the Pacific Mozart Ensemble
Dir. Richard Grant & Lynne Morrow
Staats-und Domchor Berlin, dir. Kai-Uwe Jirka
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Conducted by Kent Nagano

Press info from the record label:
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis commissioned Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers from Leonard Bernstein for the 1971 opening of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. It was written to be a celebration and remembrance of her husband's life, achievements and ideals. As a result, the gala premiere was as much a political occasion as a musical or theatrical one. It was pointedly boycotted by then-President Richard Nixon who assumed that it would prove to be a rallying cry for his critics.

The nearly two-hour long work features a Broadway-sized ensemble including a large orchestra, marching band, mixed chorus, children's choir, dancers and a rock band. Bernstein had always found the Roman Catholic faith intriguing and found its liturgy especially theatrical. The libretto for Mass intersperses texts (tropes) written by Bernstein and Stephen Schwartz into the Roman Mass proper. The work explores the mass from the point of view of a Celebrant, who is experiencing a crisis of faith. It follows the liturgy exactly, but the liturgical passages are juxtaposed against frequent interruptions and commentaries by the Celebrant and the congregation, much like a running debate. The Celebrant's faith is simple and pure at first, as shown in his wish to sing "a simple song" in praise of God. Yet that faith gradually becomes unsustainable under the weight of human misery, corruption, and the trappings of human power. In the end, the Celebrant, on the verge of renouncing his faith, finds that the loneliness of his doubt is no match for the joy of gathering together with other believers in praise. Mass is a tour-de-force - a seamless blend of classical, modern, rock, popular and Broadway idioms – and a pointed commentary on spirituality in modern society. Over the past year, Bernstein's Mass has enjoyed a revival of sorts. Perhaps its political and spiritual relevance have been renewed given today's turbulent times. It has been staged in most major US cities (and many in Europe) and this summer, it was performed at the Hollywood Bowl. Surprisingly, Kent Nagano's new recording, taken from live performances at the Philharmonie in Berlin, is only the second complete recording ever put to disc. Tenor Jerry Hadley stars as the Celebrant. Three-time GRAMMY® Award winner Hadley is regarded as the leading American tenor of his generation. His equal ease in the realms of Broadway musical theater, operetta and popular song make him one of today's most versatile artists. The late Leonard Bernstein was a powerful musical mentor to Hadley. He often refers to Bernstein as "my artistic father." CONCERT REVIEW "The piece is very American in its eclecticism, its naive enthusiasm, its brashness and self-righteousness. Even taking the work as a document of a specific time with different concerns, its direct attitude to life and religion is quite different from the typical distanced German "been there, done that" cynicism or reserve. But Nagano got everyone going, heads nodding, feet tapping, smiling all around me, and at least half the audience was on their feet at the end." - ClassicsToday.com

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