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MASS changed my life
I discovered MASS in the late 90s. I was a teenager, and in that context of growing up, struggling, grunge, I was living my own personal "crisis of faith".
I heard MASS on a local classical radio. I was stunned. The drama, the yuxtaposition of styles. It was weird, catchy, spiritual, and also rocked!
I asked for it on record stores. No one heard about it. And suddenly I found it, a broken store was selling all its stuff very cheap, and I saw the blue set Leonard Bernstein: A portrait. Theater Works (Sony Classical, 1991). And yes, including MASS and also Dybbuk.
Naturally WSS, Candide and the symphonies were my subsequent purchases, but MASS has always been one my top favorite pieces ever. And I also have Marin Alsop's version and the Vatican DVD.
A few years later I took notice that the Word of the Lord section quotes a song by Chilean singer-songwriter Violeta Parra, that added an extra element to my personal connection with the work.
Living in a faraway country I've never seen MASS live. So I hope to experience the piece in concert someday. It changed my life, in the difficult days of teenage-angst it inspired me to carry on, there must be an answer, always. And as Lenny said in his Norton Lectures, the answer is Yes.
Alvaro Gallegos, Santiago, Chile
Ho avuto il privilegio e la fortuna di ascoltarlo e di vederlo saltare sul podio, due volte al Teatro alla Scala e alle Panatenee di Pompei. Le sue interpretazioni sono sculture sonore immortali e tra le sue esecuzioni registrate su disco ve ne sono, tra le altre, quattro memorabili e insostituibili:
Beethoven Sinf n. 3 "Eroica"; Sibeliius, Sinf. n 2; Liszt, Faust-Symphonie; Shostakovich, Sinf. n. 7 "Leningrado".
Vivissima la memoria di quando alla Scala di Milano alla fine di un magistrale
Stravinskiy de Le Sacre du Printemps e nel tripudio generale che non voleva mai finire e con lancio di rose rosse, ne raccolse per il gambo una, la mise in mezzo allo spartito rimasto chiuso per tutto il tempo dell'esecuzione e lo sollevò alto al pubblico. Il merito era di Stravinsky e non il suo.
Imperituro nei secoli ti sia lieve il Paradiso dei grandissimi.
I had the privilege and the good fortune to listen to him and to see him jump on the podium, twice at the Teatro alla Scala and at the Panatenee of Pompeii. His interpretations are immortal sound sculptures and among his performances recorded on disc there are, among others, four memorable and irreplaceable:
Beethoven Sym. No. 3 "Eroica"; Sibeliius Sym. No. 2; Liszt Faust Symphony; Shostakovich Sym. No. 7 "Leningrad".
The memory of when I was at La Scala in Milan at the end of a master's degree is very vivid:
Stravinskiy's Le Sacre du Printemps and in the general jubilation that never wanted to end and with the throwing of red roses, he picked up one by the stem, placed it in the middle of the score remained closed for the entire time of the performance and raised it high to the public. The credit belonged to Stravinsky and not his.
May the Paradise of the greatest ones be light for you over the centuries.
Ferdinando Siri, Italy
From D.C. to Texas
I was fortunate to have seen Mass in the first week of the inaugural performances in 1971, and it became an obsessive dream to conduct it one day. Fast forwarding to the Bernstein Centennial, my wife Sarajane and I assembled a remarkable company of players, singers and dancers, and fully staged two sold-out performances in Austin. We were blessed with the presence of Jamie and Alexander Bernstein along with their cousin Karen. So many donors shared my vision of the importance of Mass, and I'm grateful to have had the experience of conducting this life-changing work.
Peter Bay, Austin, TX
Entranced from the Beginning
I remember hearing the cast recording of MASS shortly after it was e released, and being entranced by the complexity, variety, drama, and sheer scope of the work. As a singer and flutist, of course I was immediately drawn to Simple Song. It became a staple of my repertoire for years to come, in churches, synagogues, and recitals.
Mass changed my life forever.
Attached is a video interview I created detailing my experience performing in "MASS" in 1973. It was 1972, I was a college dropout, working for a U.S. Army subcontractor packing meat for the Vietnam War. I had been a musical theater major and had had a crisis of confidence in my life. On my 21st birthday in October 1972, my mother granted my birthday wish and gave me a copy of Bernstein's "MASS," piece I had fallen in love with.
For my birthday I went to see the Yale Symphony Orchestra (YSO). They were excellent! The next month I again attended a performance of the YSO performing Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex with John Mauceri conducting. I was blown away by his production. And, coincidentally, in the program was an announcement that Yale was going to do Bernstein's MASS and that members of the community could audition to be in the performance. Fate can be kind! I pulled my confidence together, auditioned, and became a member of the Street Chorus. We performed at Yale and then went to Vienna to do the European and World Television Premiere under the Baton of John Mauceri. My life was changed forever. I went back to school and became a Choral Director.
I hope you watch and enjoy the attached video memory I put together for the Bernstein 100 memory project. It details how music can totally change a life and how that life can help change others. Thank you Lenny and thank you, John Mauceri. Life has been a wonder because of you both and "MASS". Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Michael Adam-Kearns, Eastford, Ct
Mahler Ninth at Carnegie Hall
I attended Leonard Bernstein's concert in Carnegie Hall with the Israel Philharmonic performing Mahler's Ninth Symphony. Leonard Bernstein is my classical music hero. And when I noticed in the New York Times the concert, I jumped at the chance to hear one of the most dynamic conductors ever. Driving down from Boston and then finding someplace to park my car, and finding a hotel, was actually very exciting for me. I parked my car across the street from Carnegie Hall, risking the car being towed, I ran in to the box office, received my ticket and ran back to my car. After finding my hotel and I rode the NY subway to the concert hall. I finally made it to Carnegie Hall and I did not have to practice. I sat up in the 2nd tier dead center, nosebleed seat.
When Bernstein came on I noticed how sprite he was for his age. He paused a moment and then started the symphony in the lower strings and muted horn. The third movement was very exciting, the movement is in rondo form and Bernstein conducted it in breakneck tempo. All I remember is how slowly the final movement went. The concertmaster of the Israel Philharmonic was on one knee for more expression. I mean this was one of the most powerful musical experiences I have ever heard. Also was amazed of the musicians concentration playing the final dying notes.
[Image from Bernstein's marked score of Mahler's Symphony No. 9 in the New York Philharmonic Digital Archives: http://archives.nyphil.org/index.php/artifact/52b54c6d-70ab-4118-a741-48954fd3df56-0.1/fullview#page/10/mode/2up]
Robert Phelan , Brookline, MA, United States
Jenny's signed note
Autographed note from Jenny Bernstein, Leonard's mother.
Earlyne Daddario, Rotterdam, NY
Opening Night, September 8, 1971
I have been enjoying the moving personal memories of MASS, the impact on so many lives. They stirred me to contribute a memory from my brother (A double song). I hesitate to add this. Maybe because it dates me. But I am one of the very lucky ones.
A half century ago, I attended the world premiere of MASS. Yes, it altered the course of my life. And with your indulgence, here is my memory of that first MASS.
My father was invited to the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, September 8, 1971, because he worked with JFK during the 1960 campaign, managed “the Catholic issue”, drafting the Houston speech that changed the trajectory of the election, and served the president as an ambassador in Europe and Africa.
My parents adored Leonard Bernstein’s music. Mom’s favorite was West Side Story, they’d seen the original Broadway production. For Dad, it was Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish”.
Dad happened to be overseas that week and Mom said I could go! JFK was my hero, a 17 year old obsessed with politics in those very divisive times. Music was my twin brother’s thing, but back then he was into Crosby Stills Nash. Later, that would evolve; see his MASS memory.
Once the lights dimmed, the intense experience of taking in this vast cultural memorial, meeting many of my father’s friends from the Kennedy years on the promenade above the Potomac, it all just slipped away. The grand opera hall became almost intimate.
From that first simple song to the peace in our clasped hands at the end, I sat spellbound, mesmerized by the immediacy, vibrancy and beauty of this incomparable expression. Evocative, provocative. It just kept coming at you. Music and voices from every corner, all kinds of music, all kinds of people, moving all over the place. Simplicity and chaos.
This was AMERICAN!
Ours was an era of conflicts and crises – the Vietnam war, the massacres, the assassinations, mass protest marches, civil disobedience, violence and riots, college students shot and killed by the national guard, a burgeoning mistrust of each other, chasms between generations, little faith in any kind of leadership or government, let alone any kind of god.
We were lost, we were drowning. At times cacophonous, at times tranquil. Always searching.
Here it all was, playing out before me, the innocence and helplessness, frustration, anger, rebellion, free love and costly avarice, our petulant vanities, our doting, our doubting, and our passionate spiritual resilience to reaffirm the shared sense of community for peace.
Then that ending. Members of the Boys’ Choir drifting into the audience, spreading the touch of peace “pass it on” (at the time ignorantly chided by some critics who didn’t realize it was being faithful to the “sign of peace” in the revised Roman Rite of 1969) and then the recorded voice: "The mass is ended; go in peace." (Was that LB’s own voice?)
Then silence. Not a sound in the cavernous hall. No one budged.
For what seemed an eternity. Everyone sitting still, still, still.
As if we couldn’t move, wouldn’t move from this house, filled with grace.
Minutes passed. Then came the rippling thunderous ovation as though something deeply painful and mournful had been purged and we could all celebrate again. The applause went on and on and on. More than 30 minutes.
We were all at the railing of the same ship, sailing beyond our worldly strife, waving semaphore to another shore: Pacem! Pacem!
Having met JFK as a kid and sitting there that evening facing the imminent prospect of being drafted into a pointless war half a world away, MASS jolted every nerve in my soul, shifting the course of my life from politics to poetics. Leonard Bernstein had seized and summoned it all at once, holding up a mirror to our time.
I knew I had seen a masterpiece. The whole world was wide open, could be touched.
More than 15 years later, I was back at the Kennedy Center to see my brother Charlie who worked there, only to be taken by surprise as we entered the side door to the backstage lobby and heard the sudden booming voice of the Maestro, arms spreading wide with welcome, “Ah, the Wine brothers!”
I was dumbstruck. The two of them talked as we walked to the concert hall. Charlie told him that I had been here on the opening night of MASS. “What do you remember?” he asked. Without missing a beat: “A Simple Song…Things Get Broken…Pax tecum, pass it on”
LB gave me a long look, as if reading straight through me, then threw an arm around Charlie’s shoulders, whispered something, they laughed and smiled. All Charlie would say later was that it was simple and secret.
Today, in these – once again – difficult and divisive times, I am reminded of one the last things LB told us, how concerned he was by the “frightening lack of creativity in leadership” across the whole of society in the face of what he feared were grave looming challenges for humanity. It was incumbent upon artists to get involved, speak up, stir things up.
This was – and is – MASS. The artist speaking up, stirring up. And, for me, that’s Leonard Bernstein’s abiding legacy.
“…go in peace; pass it on…”
James Wine, Köja, Sweden
James Wine, Köja, Sweden
MASS forever changed my life
At age 18, in the early 70's, I performed in "Leonard Bernstein's MASS" in the L.A. Mark Taper Forum production for several months. Meeting him, then performing in this piece was "life changing" for me on many levels. He singled me out, took me to after-rehearsal dinners, hang outs, told me to help him make the rock band play with more conviction, and started mentoring me from that moment on; whether it was correcting my grammar, or defining what a German doubly augmented 6th was, or playing Beatle songs for me in the style of Mozart of Ravel. When I showed him I was arranging a Bartok piece for rock band he said "Forget Bartok, do Pack!". He nicknamed me "Packissimo".
Read more about my Leonard Bernstein experiences: http://www.davidpack.com/leonard-bernstein
Photo: A "MASS BELT" I hand made LB in 1971 for an opening night gift, that contained a music quotation from "Simple Song" – he loved it and he wore it!
David Pack, Los Angeles, CA, United States
"Sing God a double song."
(This memory was written by my twin brother Charlie in 1998 to a friend. I thought this would be fine time and place to share it.)
I was at the Library of Congress studying the score to Bernstein's “Songfest”. The next day Jim and I were going to be the Maestro’s guests at rehearsals of the piece at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.The two of us, Lenny and the NSO. Wow!
While at the Library I looked at the ink score to “Mass”. An important piece to us for many reasons. I discovered, to my surprise, something missing from the Mass. The above page. The lyric “sing God a double song” had a big X through it. A cut! In the final performance score a clarinet takes the six note sequence, in place of the soprano and tenor. It occurs just before the finale.
Why? I copied the page in hopes of showing the Maestro and asking him why? The three of us talked about so many things those next two days. He had that way of keeping a discussion flowing in leaps and bounds. You had to work to stay right with him. In other words, I forgot about the score page in my pocket.
Jim and I became fascinated with the line and decided to write a piece based on those words and those notes. As twins the word double always gets our attention.
The next time we met I showed it to him and asked him why did he take it out. He took it in his hands and said “my God, I haven't seen this in over fifteen years.” Long pause as he kept looking at the page.
Then abruptly, looking intensely at us, he expounded “double comes from the Latin duplus, from duo, which also leads to dubitare, doubt, being of two minds. As a Jew writing a Christian Mass I could not show doubt before the finale!”
Right there on the spot, an answer. I smiled, “but Maestro, you did write the finale in canon.” He smiled.
I then told him of our desire to compose a poetry and music series of sequences on that line. “Wonderful” he said. “Great”, I responded, “it’s half done” and handed him a cassette. He roared with laughter, exclaimed “fabulous”, put the cassette in his pocket, whirled around to his assistant Charlie Harmon and was off to the stage to rehearse.
The last time we met the three of us were sitting on the piano bench after a concert with the Vienna Philharmonic. I pulled out the score page I treasured so much and asked him if he wouldn't mind putting his LB on it. I was reluctant to ask. He had been signing autographs in his dressing room for at least an hour. Craig Urquhart handed him the same magic marker and Lenny mock scolded him, “a pen, a pen, this is a piece of music”. Craig smiled and handed him a pen. I watched as he carefully looked over the score page again and passionately wrote: Love LB.
I never saw him again. I wrote him a long letter that spring. Ill, Harry Kraut, his manager, wrote to us that the Maestro wanted to learn more about our poesia per musica.
I, along with a few other million people, miss Lenny very much. But he does live on in his work, his family and in the people he touched along the way.
James Wine, Köja, Bjärtrå, Sweden
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
Watching West Side Story
1957-58 - Staged in Manchester Opera House - We emerged, shaken, thrilled, and said, "WHAT WAS THAT?!?" One of our group, with a beautiful voice, started to sing "Maria" and it went on from there - "Officer Krupke," etc.
Lee Glance, Manchester, United Kingdom
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