Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra
Wright State University Departments of Music, Theatre, and Dance
A famous reclusive American novelist once mused that “art and controversy seem to be joined at birth”. Indeed every generation has its authors, songwriters, painters, sculptors, dancers, and creators exploring the darker side of human nature and in so doing, challenging the moral center of American life. Whether its a ‘Catcher In The Rye’ – style uproar or a team of protestors on a mission to take down a certain boy wizard, controversy has been at the center of some of the greatest artistic achievements of our time. Why? Well, often its because the best art challenges us to look at ourselves differently and with a critical eye – and let’s face it, Americans don’t like that! This weekend, a once deeply controversial work opens in Dayton in a new, glorious production sure to inspire a new following of fans (and protestors) alike.
Forty years ago, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis selected the famed Leonard Bernstein to compose a monumental work to memorialize her late husband and 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. The piece was to premiere on September 8, 1971 at the official opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The piece follows the structure of a Roman Catholic Mass, but includes elements of many styles typical of the contemporary American musical landscape of the period: Blues, Rock, Showtunes and Opera. While the liturgical text of Mass is in Latin, Bernstein and collaborators Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Children of Eden) and Paul Simon (as in Simon & Garfunkel) contributed additional English texts.
The piece examines faith, specifically crisis in faith. Considering the political landscape, Vietnam war, and the assassinations of the 1960’s, including that of JFK, the concept of addressing a personal crisis of faith through art was not necessarily anomalous, yet Bernstein’s Mass was not without controversy. With it’s anti-war themes, it is no wonder this piece was received with both joyful acclaim and turbulent disdain in the fall of 1971.
This collaborative production between the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and Wright State’s Music, Theatre and Dance departments is likely to be awe-inspiring. The piece itself is complex. It is symphonic & theatrical. The musical elements will surely be accompanied by the most amazing visual imagery possible- breathtaking choreography, costuming and scenery. The creative forces behind this production will surely give you something thrilling to discuss over coffee after the performance, and in the days to follow.
The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2010-2011 Miami Valley & Good Samaritan Hospitals Classical Series will conclude in spectacular fashion with performances of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers on Friday and Saturday, May 13 & 14, 2011, both performances at 8 p.m. at the Schuster Center.
This production will fuse the talents of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra with faculty and students from Wright State University in an unprecedented way. Neal Gittleman, Music Director of the DPO, will conduct. Greg Hellems of the WSU Department of Theatre is stage director and Gina Walther, of WSU’s Dance Department, is choreographer. Staging has been designed by WSU’s Pam Knauert Lavarnway and choral forces are being prepared by WSU’s Hank Dahlman. The production is under the overall artistic supervision of WSU’s W. Stuart McDowell, chair of the WSU Department of Theatre, Dance, and Motion Pictures.
All instrumental musicians – on stage and in the pit, and including rock and blues bands as well as traditional orchestral configurations – will come from the ranks of the DPO, while all actors, singers, and dancers – more than 100 in total – will be WSU students. The production will also include the Kettering Children’s Choir under the direction of Natalie DeHorn and noted tenor John Wesley Wright in the crucial role of The Celebrant.
Leonard Bernstein’s MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers was commissioned by former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening of the national arts center named in honor of her late husband, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The work premiered as part of the Kennedy Center’s opening festivities on September 8, 1971.
Bernstein’s MASS is based on the Tridentine Mass of the Roman Catholic Church, but is not at all a traditional concert setting. Although there are liturgical passages that are sung in Latin, MASS also includes additional texts in English written by Bernstein, Broadway composer Stephen Schwartz (of Wicked fame), and pop/folk singer Paul Simon.
According to the composer’s daughter, Nina Bernstein: “The piece follows the liturgy exactly, but it is juxtaposed against frequent interruptions and commentaries by the Celebrant and the congregation, much like a running debate. There is stylistic juxtaposition as well, with the Latin text heard electronically through speakers or sung by the chorus, and the interruptions sung in various popular styles including blues and rock-and-roll. On the narrative level, the piece relates the drama of a Celebrant whose faith is simple and pure at first, but gradually becomes unsustainable under the weight of human misery, corruption, and the trappings of his own power.”
“MASS is an enormous piece. It calls for a large pit orchestra, two choruses plus a children’s choir, a Broadway-sized cast (with ballet company), and a rock band. It may seem ironic that such multitudes are marshaled for a work that celebrates a man’s “Simple Song”: his love and faith in God. But in the end, that simplicity is shown to be all the more powerful because of it.”
Two years after its premiere, MASS was first performed in Europe (Vienna) by the Yale Symphony Orchestra. In the orchestra pit was young violinist and Yale student, Neal Gittleman.
This groundbreaking collaboration between the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and Wright State University promises to be the regional performance event of the season, if not the decade.
-SA/DB/DPO Press Release
We encourage local theatre companies to submit calendar items HERE, and official press releases to onStageDayton@DaytonMostMetro.com.
Tickets & Performance Information:
Location: The Mead Theatre inside The Schuster Center
Tickets are on sale now through TicketCenterStage.com, or via phone at (888) 228-3630
For more information visit www.DaytonPhilharmonic.com
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