Cabrillo Music Festival presents Leonard Bernstein's seldom produced, controversial extravaganza.
Thursday, August 5, 1999
But why should anyone have expected anything less. After all, Bernstein was then and remains the most grandiose musical personality this country has ever produced, and probably the most complete creative reflection of our melting-pot culture.
Opening Marin Alsop''s Cabrillo Music Festival this Friday at Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, Bernstein''s Mass, his magnum opus, is a gigantic theater piece "for singers, players and dancers" that remolds the traditional Roman Catholic missa into a confrontation between fearing, despairing, yearning mankind and God, the creator. In a dozen ways, Bernstein makes Mass serene and troubled, sacred and secular, timeless and contemporary; in a word, universal. Commissioned to honor the memory of John F. Kennedy, it is nothing less than a vivid self-portrait.
In the words of British critic Edward Seckerson, "History may yet recognize Mass as Bernstein''s most significant piece...A grand, theatrical reassertion of his belief in the power of music to transcend religious, social and cultural barriers, to heal and reunite." Alsop says, "Mass is the ultimate piece for our time--even more relevant today than 25 years ago. Mass is more than an evening of theater. It is an experience born of hard work, love, beauty, anger and humanity."
Having just re-auditioned the original 1971 recording, I agree. (Though ultimately a song of faith and hope, an undercurrent of despair pervades; the celebrant''s last solo ends in lonely disillusionment.) Moreover, this represents a rare opportunity to witness the greatest project of Bernstein''s super-human career, a work whose demand on resources puts it beyond the budgets of most producing organizations. I strongly urge anyone planning to attend one of the three performances this weekend to obtain the CD set (Sony SM3K 47158) and make time to listen to the work in advance (bearing in mind that Mass is a theater piece, with full staging, dancers, etc.) Alsop''s production team includes director (and celebrant) Douglas Webster, choreographer/assistant conductor Gary Masters, designer Matthew Antaky, chorus master Milton Williams and children''s choir director Cheryl Anderson. Lest they mistakenly imagine Mass is not for them, blues, jazz and rock fans should also be securing tickets. (Coincidentally, the rock band Ambrosia, which the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll credits with having played in the debut performance of Mass, is playing at the Long Bar in Monterey on Thursday.
Notwithstanding the disproportionate production of Mass, most Cabrillo regulars will go for the complete package of concerts, spread over the next two weekends and culminating, on Aug. 15, at Mission San Juan Bautista. Resident composers who will hear their own works include Richard Danielpour (Celestial Night), Michael Daugherty (Le tombeau de Liberace with pianist Terrence Wilson), Aaron Jay Kernis (Lament and Prayer, featuring violinist Yumi Hwang), Michael Torke (Jasper) and Gregory Smith (Zoo Story). Other major music includes Christopher Rouse''s Flute Concerto (with soloist Carol Wincenc), the West Coast premiere of James MacMillan''s masterpiece Confession of Isobel Gowdie, Sally Beamish''s The Caledonian Road, and important works by Steve Reich (Three Movements), Aaron Copland (Connotations and Statements), Howard Hanson (Symphony 2 "Romantic") and John Adams (The Chairman Dances from the opera Nixon in China).
Cabrillo''s box office phone is 420-5260. Web site is http://www.infopoint.com/fun/music/cabrillo/.
Those with a taste for the unusual got plenty of stimulation at the Carmel Bach Festival''s concerts on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. Music by the likes of William Cornysh, Jose Mauricio Nunes Garcia, John Tavener, Michel-Richard de Lalande and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi all piqued the inquisitive imagination.
Chanticleer took the stage at Sunset Center for a Monday program of a cappella works from the past and present. With impeccable ensemble, the 12 men who sing all voice parts, soprano to bass, restored the English Renaissance courtesy Cornysh, Byrd, Farrant and Weelkes and toured Iberia in search of Victoria, Guerrero and de Padilla. Nunes Garcia, the prolific Afro-Brazilian priest (whose lifespan exactly matched Junipero Serra''s California mission era and who conducted the Brazilian premiere of Haydn''s The Creation) proved positively Schubertian in the two motets, Crux fidelis and Felle potus.
For new music, Steven Stucky''s Drop, Drop Slow Tears indulged an often dissonant weaving of lines, not unlike the late Renaissance madrigals of Gesualdo. Paul Schoenfield (whose Vaudeville for trumpet and orchestra was played a few seasons back by Wolfgang Basch and the Monterey Symphony) was represented by four motets, sung in Hebrew, to verses from Psalm 86. John Tavener''s The Lamb (a setting in simplicity of William Blake''s verses) and Village Wedding (an image of the Orthodox church in Greece) put the spotlight on this major British contemporary voice. (Village Wedding is included in Chantcleer''s excellent new Teldec CD, Colors of Love, that also includes new music by Stucky, Bernard Rands, Zhou Long, Chen Yi, Augusta Read Thomas and Steven Sametz.)
Bruce Lamott''s Carmel Mission program celebrated Christmas in July through vocal works of Gabrieli, Calvisius, Praetorius, Charpentier and J.S. Bach. Organ music by Bach and seasonal orchestral pieces by Lalande and Sammartini added texture and variety. Solo voices from the festival Chorale lacked the polish of the festival''s professional quartet, but imparted something of the provincial character of the works (excepting Charpentier''s Christmas cantata, a work as sophisticated as it is simple.) Bach''s cantata BWV 191 recycles the most exciting music from the "Gloria" of his Mass in B Minor and, along with Praetorius'' Puer natus in Bethlehem set the high mark of the program.
Festival Concertmaster Elizabeth Wallfisch''s Thursday program promised fireworks but, in the scale of things, delivered only a sparkler. A good sparkler it was, however, in scheduled concertos by Corelli, Pergolesi, Wassanaer, Durante and J.S. Bach, the latter represented by alternate versions of the Violin Concerto in E and Triple Harpsichord Concerto in C. John Butt played a harpsichord version of the familiar violin concerto and, accordingly, accommodated only five strings in order to vouchsafe his instrument''s tiny voice. Indeed, it required an extra effort at listening to such a small sound, but Butt nevertheless played with great flair and cheek. Cheek also helped Wallfisch keep the party going, since some of the music inherently deserves its obscurity.
Last Week''s Quiz: Why was conductor Thomas Beecham''s orchestra sometimes called the Royal "Pillharmonic"? Answer: Because his family fortune was made from the sale of Beecham''s Pills, a popular digestion "remedy." (Beecham: "Hark! the herald angels sing! Beecham''s pills are just the thing. Two for woman, one for a child...Peace on Earth and mercy mild!")
This Week''s Quiz: On hearing him conduct Petrushka, what famous dancer remarked, "How well the orchestra conducts Mr. Beecham tonight"?