Bernstein Mass composed in memory of John F Kennedy gets rare performance in Muswell Hill

The North London Chorus

The North London Chorus - Credit: Archant

An East Finchley choir will give a rare performance of a suite from a mass composed for the 1971 opening of the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

The enigmatic work by Leonard Bernstein examines the struggle between the chaos of organised religion and the simplicity of personal faith.

The original mass was epic in scale, requiring almost 30 soloists, but it has been edited into a 35-minute concert suite for choirs by Doreen Rao, which will be performed by the North London Chorus on June 11 at St James’ Church in Muswell Hill.

Bernstein was commissioned to write the piece to commemorate former US president John F. Kennedy, by his widow, Jackie.

NLC’s director Murray Hipkin said: “I first heard Bernstein’s Mass when it was televised in the early 1970s and I was completely swept away by the sheer scale and brazen eclecticism of the work and by the subversive battle between the chaos of organised religion and the simplicity of personal faith.

“The original stage version is scored for large mixed chorus, boys’ choir, a street chorus, about 30 soloists, a large orchestra on stage and in the pit, marching bands, and blues and rock combo.

“To date my attempts to get involved with a production have come to nothing, so when I realised that Doreen Rao had arranged and edited the best bits into a concert suite for choir, soloists and chamber ensemble, there was no stopping me, and I am looking forward to introducing some of my favourite music to a new audience.”

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The concert will open with a selection of Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, including arrangements of Simple Gifts, Long Time Ago and Ching-a-ring chaw. The two soloists will sing art songs by Dominick Argento and Samuel Barber and the first half with Eric Whitacre’s evocative Five Hebrew Love Songs in the version for choir, string quartet and tambourine.

The concert begins at 7.30pm. Tickets (£10-£20) or from Les Aldrich Music shop in Muswell Hill.