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September 11, 2008

Get ready for Mass

(Sanctus of Bernstein's Mass from a 2007 performance in Riga, Latvia. YouTube)


If you've never been to Mass -- Leonard Bernstein's Mass, that is -- there's a great chance for you to get the faith. Next month, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will give a rare performance of this eclectic, challenging, fascinating and moving "theater work for singers, players and dancers" from 1971. Music director Marin Alsop is one of its few champions today. Her conviction is such that when the subject came up in Denver last June, during a discussion before members of the Music Critics Association of North America, she said she was sure she could ...

persuade skeptics that Mass is a masterpiece. I'm happy to say I don't need any persuading (I got to attend the very first performance, and the experience left an indelible mark on my oh-so-very young, impressionable and did I mention very young mind), but I know I'm in the minority among members of my profession. I also know that some concertgoers may be hesitant, too, not just because Mass has the reputation of being flawed, but because it raises big questions of faith (and politics, for that matter).

So I'm glad to see that efforts are under  way to help people get more comfortable with the issues raised by this work before it arrives at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Oct. 16-18). Later this month, the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies and the BSO will hold a public forum called: "Bernstein's Mass: An Evening of Musical and Spiritual Discovery." Alsop will join the Rev. Christopher Leighton, executive director of the Institute; Rabbi Mark Loeb, recently retired from the Beth El Congregation; and Rosann Catalano, associate director of the Insitiute.  The forum, which will look at the text and the context of Mass, is at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at Central Presbyterian Church, 7308 York Road. Tickets are $25. Call 410-494-7161 or go register online.

Posted by Tim Smith at 11:00 AM | | Comments (1)


Tim: I too had the opportunity to see/hear the Mass when it opened in NY. (I was 16.) My strict Catholic uncle was appalled. I was not to sure what to make of it. It will be interesting to see what time has done to the music and my appreciation of it.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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