Review: Orchestra's "Mass" brings energy

Teddy Abrams
The Courier-Journal

At the end of a week marked by Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States, Louisville Orchestra’s performance of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” on Sunday at the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall held a mirror up to American culture and its continuing struggle to balance organized religion and personal. The performance also marked the orchestra’s season opening  and its second season with music director Teddy Abrams, who last year mobilized a massive production of Carl Orff’s “Carmina burana.”
“Mass” — also titled “A Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers” — poses many challenges in staging. Chief among them is balancing the multitude forms. There is orchestral, marching band, rock and choral music, melodies reflecting the American musical including Bernstein’s own music from “West Side Story” as well as a portion played with kazoos. All this develops as a spiritual leader finds his calling to nurture the love of God in the world and falls into frustration with the multitude of questions, criticisms and pain emanating from a swath of society.

Under the baton of conductor Abrams, who infused high energy into the performance with his own visible enthusiasm at the podium, and with Arvin Brown’s direction, “Mass” coherently integrated all the eclectic musical styles. It even worked when a marching band (members of the Louisville Male High School Marching Band) in traditional regalia entered via the Whitney Hall’s side doors, and Abrams donned a plume festooned shako hat that shook when he danced while leading the music.
Under Abrams’ and Brown’s vision, “Mass” also expertly weaved in the drama that begins with a joyful celebrant coming on stage to sing “A Simple Song,” Bernstein’s best-known piece form this massive work.
Although many critics dismissed “Mass” after its 1971 premiere at the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Louisville Orchestra’s production illuminated it as a significant work that reflects so much of our society that struggles with faith, religion and pain today.
Read the rest of the review here