Leonard Bernstein’s Mass is a melange of the earthly and divine

Mass: A Theatre Piece For Singers, Players And Dancers will be performed by the Orchestra of the Music Makers (left) together with vocal groups Symphonia Choralis, Volare Treble Voices and Philippine youth ensemble Himig Sanghaya.
Mass: A Theatre Piece For Singers, Players And Dancers will be performed by the Orchestra of the Music Makers (above) together with vocal groups Symphonia Choralis, Volare Treble Voices and Philippine youth ensemble Himig Sanghaya.PHOTO: YONG JUNYI

The Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) presents Leonard Bernstein's "reverent, irreverent" Mass for street singers, chorus and celebrant at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Saturday.

Inspired by the traditional liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church but with texts that question and challenge the service, Mass: A Theatre Piece For Singers, Players And Dancers (1971) is one of Bernstein's most discussed compositions.

Singaporean conductor Joshua Kangming Tan wields the baton for this performance, which is directed by Edith Podesta and features multimedia from Brian Gothong Tan.

Podesta is aiming for "mega-church vibes" and wants to transform the Esplanade Concert Hall into a place of worship where the audience is also part of Mass.

The work is not about religion in particular, but it is about faith, she says. "We're not setting out to offend anyone. We're trying to show how difficult it is to maintain a personal connection with divinity."

In Mass, the celebrant (American tenor Kevin Vortmann) is challenged by a street chorus, performed here by vocal groups Symphonia Choralis, Volare Treble Voices and Philippine youth ensemble Himig Sanghaya.

  • BOOK IT / LEONARD BERNSTEIN'S MASS

  • WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive

    WHEN: Saturday, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: $15 and $30 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

The Catholic liturgy was perhaps an odd choice for a Jewish composer, but one in tune with the times when it premiered in 1971.

Bernstein and composer-lyricist Stephen Schwartz (of religioninspired musical Godspell fame) expressed the disenchantment and loss of faith experienced by Americans in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Young people especially no longer trusted traditional authority figures and this is echoed in the format of Mass.

Podesta says: "There's a lot of discord in the piece. The discord in the music is in direct relation to the celebrant's personal crisis of faith."

Mass will be performed by an orchestra known for its youth - OMM started in 2008 and is mostly made up of 20somethings and 30somethings - and non-traditional programming. Apart from the works of classical composers such as Mahler and Rachmaninoff, OMM has performed John Williams' Star Wars tunes alongside costumed stormtroopers. Last year, it presented the Engelbert Humperdinck opera Hansel And Gretel, based on the fairy tale. Podesta directed that as well.

The addition of young ensemble Himig Sanghaya is also apt. The ensemble is coached by choral conductor Eudenice Palaruan of the Singapore Symphony Chorus. Sixteen singers from the Philippine group will fly to Singapore to make their debut with OMM.

The choir's coordinator Noemi Binag, 28, says the singers are excited to perform the work for the first time. "Bernstein's harmonic richness in his compositional style, his play of emotions in the text and the expressions - it's a beautiful melange of the earthly and the divine."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2018, with the headline 'Melange of the earthly and divine'. Print Edition | Subscribe