HARTFORD – For composers like Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Vivaldi, the Mass inspired the highest musical and spiritual expression. Where is that inspiration, now?
This year, at 7:30 p.m. June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, it is at Carnegie Hall – and on a monumental scale. More than 650 performers from around the globe will gather for the world premiere of Julian Darius Revie’s “Mass of the Divine Shepherd” – the first major setting of the Mass in the revised English translation.
“The Mass as an art form has largely been lost for over a century,” Mr. Revie noted. “The church, by sponsoring new Mass settings, was once directly involved in cutting-edge culture in a leadership capacity. Perhaps the time to renew this has come.”
“Mass of the Divine Shepherd” serves as the focal point and culmination of “Alleluia!” an evening of sacred music sponsored by St. Thomas More Chapel at Yale University as an opening gala for its new Center for Music and Liturgy.
Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, ordinary of Yale’s home Archdiocese of Hartford; and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, ordinary of the hosting venue in the Archdiocese of New York, are honorary patrons of the event, along with Bishops Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport and David M. O’Connell of Trenton, N.J.
Illustrious British conductor Stephen Layton will lead a full symphony orchestra, a 400-voice International Festival Chorus (including the 150-voice National Children’s Chorus) and 200 handbell players, along with two soloists, tenor Stuart Neill and mezzo-soprano Karolina Wojteczko, a resident of Derby.
“The interest in this performance has been stunning to me,” Mr. Revie said. “We began by inviting 20 handbell players and ended up with 200.” And this musical bounty will not be reserved for the stage: “The sheer number of musicians, and their placement around the hall, will engulf the listeners in a sonic whirlwind,” he added.
However, for the composer, the voices of the children provide the most powerful imagery.
“The children sing from the balconies, behind and above much of the audience; the children begin and end the piece; their dialogue with the adult chorus and orchestra, on stage, defines the Mass as a whole.
“At first, the adults lead,” he continued, “But as the piece proceeds, the children assume more and more of a central role, with the adults eventually following them – until ultimately, for the final ‘Grant Us Peace,’ the children sing and the adults are left silent. This silence – a call to fill the void, to respond to the prophetic voice of the children – is the point of the piece,” Mr. Revie explained. “After all, the end of the Mass – Ita missa est – means, ‘Go, you are sent.’”
This is where “Mass of the Divine Shepherd” meets the Mass as sacred liturgy, said Val Tarantino, program manager. “Pope Saint John Paul II envisioned the ultimate potential of the whole cosmos as eucharistic, a heavenly liturgy in which, as he said, ‘the whole universe is called to recapitulation in Christ the Lord.’”
For his part, Mr. Revie is eager to take “Mass of the Divine Shepherd” itself beyond the concert hall; he intends to release simplified settings of the Mass parts for choral use in parishes. This will be among the first ventures of the new Yale-based Center for Music and Liturgy.
The creation of such new Catholic music is only one arm of the center’s mission. According to the center’s director, Richard Gard, “Our call is to renew and refresh the music of the church. Thanks to today’s inexpensive digital devices, it is feasible to publish and distribute music at virtually no cost. Our research uncovers public domain music; we support new compositions, and then distribute it all for free. Moreover, our teaching and training apps, such as Choir Prodigy, make a virtual music teacher and accompanist available to anyone at any time.”
This entire project is envisioned as a work of service, not only for the church, but touching the whole world. Ms. Tarantino cited Benedict XVI’s description of “liturgy’s essence: to transpose the cosmos, to spiritualize it into the gesture of praise through song, and thus to redeem it.”
She added, “The church is to blaze a path which opens into the future, a destiny of glory to unite temporal and eternal. But it is only through humility, love and service that this happens, in the fully human effort of cooperation toward beauty.”
This vision resonates with Mr. Revie.
“I have always seen the audience in this Mass as a critical, unnotated ‘third voice’ – a silent participant, engaged with the music not merely as spectators, but in active participation, in a liturgical spirit,” the composer said. “This is why I am so eager to extend the audience for this premiere beyond the regular concertgoer to those who pray, who listen and live liturgically day to day, in their own lives of faith. I want them to be there, to participate, to share in the creation of this beauty.”
Tickets for “Alleluia!” at Carnegie Hall are available at www.carnegiehall.org or by calling 212-247-7800.