Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

The MASS that Unites

The MASS that Unites

Peabody Children’s Chorus Singing
Morgan State University Choir

George Alderson remembers being deeply moved by the world premiere performance of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS, A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers. A scholarship donor and member of the Peabody Institute’s Friedberg Society, Alderson has a unique perspective on that 1971 performance: He was in the viola section of the orchestra contracted to perform the premiere.

“The rehearsals were interesting, of course,” he recalls. “But it didn’t make its full emotional impact until the whole thing was put together in front of an audience.”

The transformational experience of participating in the MASS was also on Marin Alsop’s mind when she proposed a Peabody performance of the singular work to celebrate Bernstein’s centennial year.

“It is a piece that embraces and unites, bringing together hundreds of performers of all ages and backgrounds, to work together toward a common goal,” says Alsop, who worked closely with Bernstein early in her conducting career. “For music students it is not only a journey about the musical piece, but also a journey with a moral. Bernstein wanted all young people to feel the transformational power of music and use that power to make important statements in our world.”

Peabody’s October 26 performance of Leonard Bernstein’s MASS is sure to create indelible memories for the many performers involved — Conservatory students including the Peabody Opera Theatre and Peabody Opera Theatre Orchestra, vocal soloists, and dancers in the new BFA Dance program; Peabody Preparatory students including the Peabody Children’s Chorus, the Peabody Community Chorus, and members of the Tuned-In program; and performers from the Baltimore community, including the renowned Morgan State University Choir and students from Baltimore City College.

Described by Alsop as “an entirely unique piece in content, structure, scope, and message,” the MASS is a massive undertaking whose many logistical challenges render live performances of it relatively uncommon — making it a unique experience not just for the artists involved, but also for the audience. (It was last performed in Baltimore 10 years ago, under Alsop’s baton, by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.)

Its overarching message of unity gives listeners the opportunity to reflect on issues of individuality and community, peace and conflict, as they absorb a theatrical spectacle with widely varying musical styles tacked onto the framework of the Latin Mass. “This is Bernstein’s ultimate narrative reflecting his deep faith in the goodness of humankind and his belief in our extraordinary potential when we join together,” Alsop adds.

For his part, George Alderson is looking forward to taking the journey in a different seat. “The performers involved will have a wonderful experience,” he reflects, “and I am eager to take part as an audience member this time around.”

— Tiffany Lundquist