Stephen Schwartz, Paulo Szot & More to Take Part in MASS AT 50 Panel

Five decades later, MASS is no longer seen as controversial, but as a visionary work of its time that remains urgently relevant.

By: Dec. 16, 2021
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Stephen Schwartz, Paulo Szot & More to Take Part in MASS AT 50 Panel

The Leonard Bernstein Office and Indiana University (IU) Jacobs School of Music will co-present MASS at 50, a livestream panel discussion, on January 10, 2022 at 3pm EST. Registration is free and open to the public through the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music website.

Offering a range of perspectives about its history and its continuing impact, the panelists include Stephen Schwartz, lyricist, with Bernstein, for MASS; conductor Marin Alsop, frequent conductor of MASS, including the recent Ravinia production; Paulo Szot, baritone, Celebrant in the recent Ravinia production; baritone Douglas Webster, has been involved with over twenty productions of MASS; professor Carol Oja, William Powell Mason Professor of Music at Harvard University; conductor John Mauceri, frequent conductor of MASS, including first European performance and the tenth anniversary production at the Kennedy Center; and conductor Wayne Marshall, frequent conductor of MASS in Europe.

Leonard Bernstein's daughter Jamie Bernstein will moderate the panel, which will feature a conversation around MASS's history, musical ideas, controversial themes, and continuing legacy and impact on society. She remarked: "It was one of the privileges of my childhood to witness MASS coming into existence, bar by bar. I can't wait to hear what all our panelists will have to say." The 60-minute conversation will be followed by a Q&A from the audience.

Host Philip Ponella, Wennerstrom-Phillips Music Library Director and Chief Digital Officer at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, will welcome the webinar audience and introduce the panel moderator. He said of this collaboration: "We are thrilled to be working together with the Leonard Bernstein Office to celebrate Bernstein's groundbreaking composition, MASS. Leonard Bernstein shared a long and creative history with IU. During his residency here in the early 1980s, he workshopped his final opera, A Quiet Place, and, after he passed away, the archival treasures of his composition studio found a new home here at Jacobs. Over the decades, our students have performed most of Bernstein's works, including MASS (three productions), West Side Story, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Candide, On the Town, and Wonderful Town. In 1999, IU held a weeklong symposium for his 80th birthday celebration. Through this webinar, IU continues to honor Leonard Bernstein's legacy and share his commitment to the transformative power and joy of music to our students, alumni, faculty, staff, and community."

Stephen Schwartz said: "Working with Leonard Bernstein on MASS was one of the most exciting experiences of my professional life, and I learned so much from my collaboration with him. I am delighted with how surprisingly well the piece has aged, and I continue to be proud of having been able to contribute to it."

About MASS at 50

Leonard Bernstein's visionary theatre piece, MASS, celebrated its 50th birthday on September 9, 2021. Commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to inaugurate The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, MASS has gained in power and immediacy over the ensuing decades. MASS was groundbreaking in many significant ways. The piece called for a pit orchestra, two choruses, a boys' choir, a Broadway-flavored "Street Chorus," the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, a marching band, a rock band - and the work's protagonist, the Celebrant. MASS truly contains multitudes. Bernstein's score combines elements of musical theater, jazz, gospel, folk, and rock music, while also employing a rich symphonic palette. All of this was happening in the mid-20th century, when "serious" composers wrote strictly in the 12-tone idiom.

Bernstein collaborated with Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz on the English text. (The adult choruses sing the traditional Latin liturgy.) Sometimes anguished, sometimes wry, the lyrics demand answers to all of mankind's most searching questions about existence and faith. The piece builds to a shattering breakdown, followed by a healing finale.

Reactions to the premiere of MASS were nothing short of seismic - especially in the Catholic community. Some cities, under pressure from their local diocese, even cancelled planned performances. Other prominent members of the clergy, meanwhile, were declaring their ardent support for the piece. (It was eventually performed at the Vatican.) Some music critics raised an eyebrow over Bernstein's mixing of genres, while others found the work to be inspired and prescient. Live audiences were transported by the experience of sharing such an intense communal journey. The recording became a cult favorite.

Five decades later, MASS is no longer seen as controversial, but as a visionary work of its time that remains urgently relevant. Writer Ed Seckerson reflected on MASS's impact after half a century: "Put simply, no other work of Bernstein's encapsulates exactly who he was as a man or as a musician; no other work display's his genius, his intellect, his musical virtuosity and innate theatricality quite like MASS."