Centennial Celebration Features New Staging of Leonard Bernstein's "MASS"

Centennial Celebration Features New Staging of Leonard Bernstein's "MASS"

Legendary composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein will be celebrated with a Texas-style centennial staging of “MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” at The Long Center for the Performing Arts June 29-30. This production is part of Bernstein100Austin, a season-long celebration of community events marking his 100th birthday by honoring the life and legacy of Leonard Bernstein.

Led by the baton of maestro Peter Bay, musical director and conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the Austin performances will come to life in an epic production of 300 cast and crew members. Bernstein100Austin outreach events include free community discussions about Bernstein’s music and his influence on American culture; a “West Side Story” movie sing-a-long at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema; and for sponsors and donors, an opening gala event including the children and extended family of Leonard Bernstein and John F. Kennedy.

The provocative and compelling story behind Bernstein’s “MASS” began when it was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the 1971 opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. At that world premiere, the show addressed progress, peace and the role of religion in civic life amid the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement.

The themes presented are still relevant and timely, given America’s current political and cultural climate. The Austin production of “MASS” will honor the creative spirit of Bernstein’s original production while transforming The Long Center into a unique and engaging music and theatrical experience.

Drawn from Bernstein's own exploration of Jewish and Catholic traditions, the depiction of interfaith influences in “MASS” was controversial at the time. The son of Russian-Jewish parents, Bernstein created a broadly eclectic theatrical event. With 20th century music and lyrics, Bernstein explored the crisis in faith and cultural breakdown of the post-Kennedy era.

“I’m honored to work with the immensely talented artists we’ve gathered together for this production of ‘MASS.’ This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Bay said. “This production is a testament—not only to Leonard Bernstein’s genius—but to his generosity in giving this amazing gift of a performance piece that has the same potential to bring people together in celebration and in unity through music.”

Featured performers in the Austin production include Grammy nominated singer Jubilant Sykes as the Celebrant, the Austin Symphony Orchestra, Grammy-winning Conspirare with Craig Hella Johnson, Austin Opera, members of Ballet Austin, The University of Texas Marching Band, The African Children’s Choir, Panoramic Voices, The Austin Children’s Choir and guitarist Mitch Watkins.

Bernstein100Austin, a six-month community outreach program designed to engage and educate the community in observance of the centennial celebration of Leonard Bernstein, included Rabbi Neil Blumofe as part of an April interest session, “A Crossroad of Two Faiths,” which looked at the inspiration for “MASS” from Bernstein's personal history, the study of Judaism and the Catholic faith, and how these factors also impacted Bernstein’s other compositions. The panel also included Father Larry Covington from St. Theresa Catholic Church and Peter Bay from Austin Symphony Orchestra, with moderator Pamela Benson Owens of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Tickets are on sale now for the June 29-30, 2018 performances of “MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” at www.thelongcenter.org. ■

For more information, visit www.bernstein100austin.org.

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