Music: Bernstein Mass

Tonight caught the Bernstein Mass at the Barbican. The LSO played, Marin Alsop conducted, Jubilant Sykes was the celebrant and somehow despite a few hundred performers on stage the roof managed to stay on...

I had a suspicion that things were going to be interesting when the Barbican called yesterday wanting to exchange my seat as the percussion section would have blocked my view. It became evident that the swap was a good thing given the forces used on stage - particularly as the piece entered its second hour. Who would have thought either that the huge stage that makes the Barbican concert hall would have looked tiny and cramped, but with everyone and everything on stage it did. Still despite the dancers being omitted (which on reflection seems like a horrible omission) there was some nice staging for a concert version including the chorus ripping off their choral robes (they were wearing clothes underneath) and tearing up their music during the Agnus Dei.

Bernstein throws everything in this piece. There is a bit of opera, a bit of rock, a bit of broadway and a few Hebrew prayers as well. It all manages to come together quite stunningly as a piece for sensible liberal Christian values. Sure it is a reaffirmation of faith, but there is a liberal message there as well. Stephen Schwartz who with Bernstein wrote the libretto has updated the text here and there as well. I was familiar with a few parts of the piece including the quatrain donated by Paul Simon:
Half of the people are stoned and the other half are waiting for the next election.
Half the people are drowned and the other half are swimming in the wrong direction.

They were talking about 1971 but you could wonder whether it was about life (and the left) in 2005...

All the performances were fantastic - particularly Sykes who just was perfect for the role. He moved between the choruses and the orchestra and commanded such a presence. The others included a mix of opera and show singers were great too.

The only thing that seemed a little odd and out of place was the pre-recorded sections, which are the same pre-recorded sections from the first performance. Whether it was the Barbican or the recordings themselves, they sounded like shit and were a distraction. There was also a few technical problems where microphones kept cutting out or picking up interference, or when stage lighting didn't quite light the subjects on stage. Little technical glitches perhaps but this piece relies on the technology to make the magic happen so it was disappointing when it at times didn't all hang together. Still, it was an experience. One perhaps you wouldn't want to go through too often but nevertheless worth the effort once in a while!

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