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NSU’s Nova Singers To Celebrate Leonard Bernstein at 100

Nova Singers

Nova Southeastern University’s Nova Singers will join in the global observance of “Leonard Bernstein at 100” — a two-year celebration of the life and career of legendary composer Leonard Bernstein. Nova Singers’ March, 2018 concert series will feature Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, a tuneful, tonal and contemporary, composition featuring modal melodies and unusual meters. Through its use of motivic repetition, there is the sense of a hallowed rite.

From the time of its sold-out world premiere at Philharmonic Hall in 1965 conducted by the composer himself, it was apparent that Bernstein had created a magically unique blend of Biblical Hebrew verse and Christian choral tradition; a musical depiction of the composer’s hope for brotherhood and peace. Bernstein composed Chichester Psalms amid a busy schedule, completing his first work since the Third Symphony, Kaddish, in 1963, which he dedicated to the memory of President Kennedy following his assassination. Both pieces combine choruses singing Hebrew text, with orchestral forces, but where Kaddish is a statement of profound anguish and despair, Chichester Psalms is delightfully hopeful and life-affirming. Chichester Psalms juxtaposes vocal part writing most commonly associated with Church music, with the Judaic liturgical tradition.

Mr. Bernstein specifically called for the text to be sung in Hebrew (there is not even an English translation in the score), using the melodic and rhythmic contours of the Hebrew language to dictate mood and melodic character. By combining the Hebrew with Christian choral tradition, Bernstein was implicitly issuing a plea for peace in Israel during a turbulent time in the young country’s history. Each of the three movements of Chichester Psalms contains one complete Psalm plus excerpts from another paired Psalm.

Bernstein stated explicitly in his writing that the part for countertenor may be sung by either a countertenor or a boy soprano, but never by a woman. This was to reinforce the liturgical meaning of the passage sung, perhaps to suggest that the 23rd Psalm, a “Psalm of David” from the Hebrew Bible, was to be heard as if sung by the boy David himself. The text was arranged by Bernstein from the psalms in the original Hebrew.

Additional Bernstein compositions highlighted in the March concert series are Sanctus and Warm Up — both from his Mass commissioned by Jaqueline Kennedy to inaugurate the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. Mass was first performed in 1971. While arguing with God is an accepted part of Jewish theology (which Bernstein had exploited in his 1963 “Kaddish” Symphony), many Catholics were shocked at applying such rhetoric to the immutable truth and order of their Mass. At the Kennedy Center premiere, the audience reportedly sat in silence for three full minutes before beginning a half-hour standing ovation. Bernstein himself was so moved that he hugged and kissed everyone in sight, including a gracious but shell-shocked Rose Kennedy, matriarch of the patron family. Nova Singers is enthusiastic about bringing such a renown musical work to South Florida audiences.

In the second half of the concert the choir will sing a mash-up of Something’s Coming andTonight from Bernstein’s Broadway masterpiece, West Side Story.

Nova Singers, now in their 42nd concert season, is Nova Southeastern University’s preeminent community chorus comprised of students, faculty, administrators and members of the community. Under the leadership of artistic director Chuck Stanley, the choir performs 9 to 12 concerts annually throughout Southeastern Florida. Advance discounted tickets are available on the website and may also be purchased from any member of the choir.