August 2022 — “The life of the arts,” wrote President John F. Kennedy, “far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose.” The 35th president believed in the vital role of the arts in American life as sincerely as he believed in public service. Next month, in September, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts celebrates its namesake with two projects: the opening of “Art and Ideals: President John F. Kennedy” – a new permanent exhibit exploring Kennedy’s presidency and commitment to the arts – and a reprise of Bernstein’s MASSwhich premiered at the center’s opening exactly 51 years before the upcoming performance. These projects cap an extraordinary year that saw the center reopen its doors after the pandemic lockdown for a landmark 50th anniversary season. Capturing the full breadth and scale of Kennedy Center programming, from opera and symphonic premieres to theater, hip-hop, jazz, chamber music, ballet and dance, comedy, educational initiatives, community engagement and more, the milestone season has not only looked back at Kennedy’s legacy and the center’s own first half-century, but also ahead to the future: a future in which his values continue to inform the vision of Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter, for whom the arts serve as an agent for meaningful engagement and social change. One of our nation’s preeminent cultural leaders, Rutter became President of the Kennedy Center in 2014. Looking ahead to the September events that conclude the 50th anniversary season, she explains:
“As we mark 50 years, it has been important to take time not only to celebrate our legacy, but also to look forward to the next half-century and examine and evolve our role as the national cultural center and living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. From inspired performances that represent the breadth and diversity of the arts in America to deeply impactful national education programs and innovative social impact work, it is my most fervent hope that this anniversary year reinforces our commitment to the ideals of our namesake and his vision of the arts as being ‘close to the center of a nation’s purpose.’”
Read more about the new exhibit and about Kennedy Center’s upcoming season here. To request press tickets for MASS or to attend the exhibit press preview on Sep 8, please contact Noel Steier.
Leonard Bernstein’s MASS at 51 (Sep 15–18)
As the concluding event of the Kennedy Center’s extended 50th anniversary season, Leonard Bernstein’s MASS returns for three performances on September 15, 17 and 18. Baritone Will Liverman, star of the Metropolitan Opera’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones and winner of the 2020 Marian Anderson Award, leads a huge cast as the Celebrant, supported by the Heritage Signature Chorale, the Children’s Chorus of Washington and the National Symphony Orchestra, all under the baton of James Gaffigan, Music Director Designate of the Komische Oper Berlin. Featuring original choreography by acclaimed dancer, choreographer and Kennedy Center Artistic Advisor for Dance Education Hope Boykin, the monumental work will be directed by Alison Moritz, whose previous productions at the Kennedy Center include the world premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s Proving Up for Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative.
MASS was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the opening of the Kennedy Center, at which the work received its own world premiere 51 years ago. John F. Kennedy was the nation’s first Roman Catholic president and Bernstein, a frequent White House guest, had been one of his friends. The composer was also a lifelong activist and the son of Russian Jews, so his decision to memorialize his late friend by setting the Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass was still a surprising one. Perhaps more characteristically, rather than producing a traditional setting of the Latin liturgy, Bernstein collaborated with Broadway’s Stephen Schwartz to create an innovative, fully staged, dramatic pageant that the composer considered a “reaffirmation of faith.” Juxtaposing the words of the 16th-century ritual with highly contemporary text, MASS straddles genres from the Lutheran chorale to world music, jazz and the musical, resulting in “a cornucopia of genius” (New York Times) that is “arguably the best thing Bernstein ever wrote” (Washington Post).