Royal Albert Hall, London
Commissioned for the opening of the John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington DC in 1971, Leonard Bernstein's Mass caused a storm of controversy at its first performance that shows little sign of abating. Described as "a theatre piece for singers, players and dancers", it reflects his dismay over the Vietnam war and the assassinations of Kennedy (a personal friend) and Martin Luther King. Richard Nixon, notoriously, refused to attend the first performance. Though the work's mixture of the lofty and the demotic has antecedents in Mahler's symphonies and Mozart's The Magic Flute, the rock-classical fusion that underpins its style caused huge ructions at the time and is still an acquired taste for some.
More pertinent nowadays is the question of whether the music is equal to the immensity of the subject. Depicting the spiritual crisis of a religious leader as he celebrates Mass, the work examines the role of faith in times of social and political disillusionment. There are moments when Bernstein's inspiration buckles. Great things – the Gloria, for instance – sit alongside curiously unmemorable passages. The reconciliatory ending, in particular, falls short of its symbolic significance.
The Proms premiere was phenomenal, whatever you think of the work. Kristjan Järvi conducted the combined forces of the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and National Youth Choir of Wales. Four Welsh schools supplied the children's chorus, while the Street People, who unpick the Celebrant's faith, were drawn from students and graduates of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. They all played and sang with the thrilling mixture of precision and abandon the work so crucially demands. Morten Frank Larsen was the formidably intense, if occasionally effortless Celebrant.
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