News Classical 11/05/2011

Dayton Philharmonic & Wright State University Present Rare Performances Of Leonard Bernstein's Mass: A Theatre Piece For Singers, Players, And Dancers

Dayton Philharmonic & Wright State University Present Rare Performances Of Leonard Bernstein's Mass: A Theatre Piece For Singers, Players, And Dancers

Dayton, OH (Top40 Charts/ Detroit Symphony Orchestra) No one should ever accuse Dayton's performing arts community of not thinking big. Performances of Bernstein's eclectic stage production MASS are almost unheard-of, even in major metropolitan markets. But now this groundbreaking stage work, in its full glory, comes to vivid life in the Mead Theatre at the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center in Dayton, Ohio in two landmark performances at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, May 13 & 14, 2011.

The two evenings are a spectacular conclusion to the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra 2010-2011 "Voyages" Season and are part of the Miami Valley & Good Samaritan Classical Series of nine programs (18 performances). The joint production between the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra (DPO) and Wright State University (WSU) blends the talents of the Orchestra's instrumental forces under DPO Music Director Maestro Neal Gittleman with dancers, actors and stage designers from the WSU Department of Theatre, Dance and Motion Pictures, chorus members from WSU Department of Music, and choir members from the Kettering Children's Chorus.

MASS: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy for the opening the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. on September 8, 1971. With music written by Leonard Bernstein, and additional texts from Stephen Schwartz and Leonard Bernstein, MASS is a theatrical and musical breakthrough that combines music, dance and song in a way that is completely unique to its original era. In today's musical crossover world, MASS now seems less controversial - and more visionary - in its impact and legacy.

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. "These days, we listen to and accept all kinds of music. Crossover is just part of the landscape. But back then people were more rigid in their listening styles. So Lenny's music - combining blues, rock, classical and musical theatre - had something to make everybody mad..." explains DPO Music Director Gittleman. Politically, religiously and musically controversial in 1971, in retrospect, MASS stands revealed, first and foremost, as a deeply spiritual journey.

The new production is directed for the stage by WSU Professor Greg Hellems. "While there are flavors of the 1970's musical and lyrical conventions in the work, it nonetheless is eerily relevant, now, 40 years later. When you hear the song 'World without End' dramatizing the end of mankind with the words 'no one to oil the seas' it gives you a real shiver..." says Mr. Hellems. Veteran tenor John Wesley Wright lends his considerable singing and acting skills to the production, taking on the lead role of the Celebrant. "Coming from a long line of teachers and preachers gives me a sense for how the Celebrant feels. I've been blessed to have experience in opera, oratorio and dance. That gives me insight into what Bernstein was doing with this marvelous work."

In addition to stage director Greg Hellems of the WSU Department of Theatre, the complex and varied production benefits from the talents of chorographer Gina Gardner-Walther, of WSU's Dance Department. Staging is designed by WSU's Pam Knauert Lavarnway and choral forces are prepared by WSU's Hank Dahlman. The production is under the overall artistic supervision of WSU's W. Stuart McDowell, chair of the 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 actors, singers, and dancers will be WSU students. The production will also include the acclaimed Kettering Children's Choir under the direction of Natalie DeHorn.

Bernstein's MASS is based on the Tridentine Mass of the Roman Catholic Church, but is not at all a traditional concert setting. 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 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."

Says DPO President Paul Helfrich, "Considering the scale of the artistic forces employed here, Neal's passion for the project, and the fantastic amount of talent and inspiration that is going into this production, it's not much of a stretch to say that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Tickets for the Bernstein Mass performances on May 13 & 14 range from $9 - $59 and are available by calling (888) 228-3630 or by ordering online.

The Dayton Philharmonic's 2010-2011 Classical Series is sponsored by Miami Valley & Good Samaritan Hospitals. The Presenting Sponsor of the May 13-14 performances is the Miriam Rosenthal Memorial Trust Fund. The Weekend Sponsor is The Allegro Fund of The Dayton Foundation. Supporting Sponsor is Wright State University, with additional support provided through CELIA. The sponsor for Saturday night, May 14, is The Milt Kantor Family.


Founded in 1933, the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra has a distinguished place in the Gem City's history as one of the Miami Valley's oldest and longest standing cultural institutions. The Dayton Philharmonic is a regional orchestra with 83 contracted musicians. Today, rich in artistic tradition, the Orchestra is proud to call the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center its home. The Schuster Center is a world-class, state-of-the-art performance hall that serves the region and regularly attracts arts aficionados from all corners of the nation.

Music Director Neal Gittleman inspires each listener's imagination with his unique programming, in-depth comments, easy-going style and infectious enthusiasm for music. His focus is to make symphonic music readily understandable, as well as appreciated, by all musical tastes. Maestro Gittleman continues to bring breakthrough programming to the Dayton Philharmonic. Under his direction, the Orchestra has received the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) award for Adventurous Programming of Contemporary Music eight times. His tenure has seen the addition of four new subscription series: Classical Connections, a beginner's guide to better understanding of classical music; the Family Series, concerts designed so that families can fully experience multiple facets of the great repertoire; the Symphony Sundaes Series of casual classics; and the Rockin' Orchestra Series aimed at the heart of the boomer generation. Under Gittleman, the Dayton Philharmonic has also expanded and diversified its non-subscription Special Event offerings.

Mr. Gittleman has been on the Dayton Philharmonic podium since September 1995. He continues to broaden the Orchestra's repertoire with a range of 20th century compositions and wide variety in programming. In 2010, the Orchestra introduced it's own CD label, DPO Alive, with the first two releases featuring the music of William Grant Still, Shostakovich, Elgar, Wagner and Franck.

With Maestro Gittleman at the helm, the Orchestra continues to enjoy renewed community support and enhanced artistic vision. He has introduced a number of world, American and Dayton premieres and has expanded performance collaboration widely within Dayton's arts community and the region.

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra
Performance Place at the Schuster Center
109 North Main Street, Suite 200
Dayton, Ohio 45402

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