BUTLER/BERNSTEIN STUDIO ORCHESTRA PROJECT
In October of 2018, the Butler University Studio Orchestra, under the direction of Richard Auldon Clark, premiered three of my arrangements of Bernstein pieces; Big Stuff, Some Other Time, and Meditation #3, from Mass. The studio orchestra performance was a part of the university’s Leonard Bernstein Celebration, honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great conductor, composer and performer. Also, the Butler Jazz Ensemble played a varied program, and I played and conducted. Special thanks to Dr. Matt Pivec, Director of Jazz Studies at Butler, and the administration and faculty for making the visit and concert a special opportunity for great music making.
Zachary Woolfe wrote in the New York Times, Nov. 3, 2014, “Perhaps more than any other Bernstein work, the jam-packed Mass, commissioned for the 1971 inauguration of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, and rarely performed these day, encapsulates its composer: his ambitions, his charm, his quaint liberal pieties, his desire to bridge classical and popular cultural, his craftsmanship, his grandiosity. It’s alternately stirring and embarrassing, a work so teeming that it needs to be approached with utter clarity if it’s not to seem simply messy.”
In 2016 Woolfe wrote “Indeed, he enlisted Stephen Schwartz, the creator of Godspell, to collaborate with him on a text that crowds the traditional Catholic liturgy with hippie-ear nostrums. (“I believe in God,” goes one passage that does resonate in our equally self-absorbed times, “but does God believe in me?”) Bernstein, writing about the piece in 1971, explains, “At the climax of Communion, all ceremony breaks down and the Mass is shattered. It then remains for each individual on the stage to find a new seed of faith within himself through painful meditation, enabling each individual to pass on the embrace of peace (Pax) to his neighbor. This chain of embrace grows and spreads through the entire stage, ultimately into the audience and hopefully into the world outside”.
Personally, I was not interested in tackling the spiritual dimensions of the larger work in this arrangement. For me, as a jazz arranger, I was interested most in tunes that could be used as vehicles for improvising. One obvious choice was the Simple Song, but I settled on another part of the Mass, Meditation #3, which was performed by the great cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. It features a wild middle eastern dance which is perfect to feature Butler University students Kent Hickey, trumpet, Isaac Beumont, bass, and Ben Urschel, drums.
Enjoy, the recording below.