Monday 9 April 2018

The Chichester connection - celebrating Bernstein

Walter Hussey
Walter Hussey
The Chichester Psalms is a most unlikely piece, a setting of texts from the Psalms in Hebrew for soloist, choir and instrumental ensemble/orchestra written for the Southern Cathedrals Festival in 1965 by America's leading composer, Leonard Bernstein. Who knew that it would go on to be one of Bernstein's most popular non-theatre works and, unusually for Bernstein, the work crosses the boundaries between classical and Broadway as Chichester Psalms incorporates unused material from a pair of musicals, The Skin of our Teeth (which never saw the light of day), and West Side Story.

The work owes its existence to Walter Hussey, then Dean of Chichester Cathedral and a character whose involvement in the arts included commissioning an altarpiece painted by Graham Sutherland, stained glass windows by Marc Chagall, a sculpture by Henry Moore, a litany and anthem by W.H. Auden, and the cantata Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Britten. Hussey did not just commission Bernstein, he developed a warm relationship with the composer as their correspondance testifies, and the Bernstein family would come to Chichester for the UK premiere of the work (the world premiere was given in New York under Bernstein's baton).

It is this Chichester connection which is celebrated in the festival Bernstein in Chichester which takes place from now until December 2018 in an around Chichester. The centrepiece of the festival is a performance of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms in Chichester Cathedral with Marin Alsop conducting the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and the choirs of Chichester, Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals (the three choirs which premiered the work). Also in the concert will be Bernstein's Symphony No. 1 'Jeremiah' a work he completed just before Chichester Psalms, but though the two have Hebrew psalm texts in common they are very different works.

Around this event, the festival has put together an imaginative series of events. The relationship between Bernstein and Walter Hussey is the subject of Peter McEnery's play Walter & Lenny which he will be performing at the festival, there will also be an exhibition at West Sussex Record Office curated by Peter Webster who has recently written a book on Walter Hussey's patronage of the arts. In connection with this, Nigel Simoene, who edited Bernstein's letters, will be giving a talk, and there is a symposium at Pallant House on Walter Hussey

Other performances at the festival include Bernstein's opera Trouble in Tahiti from Stage Left Project, a celebrartion of Bernstein's life devised by Carl Davis and Pamela Howard,  the Dave Brubeck Quartet (with Dave Brubeck's son Darius), a Bernstein cabaret and much more.

Dame Patricia Routledge, who worked with Bernstein on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and Edward Seckerson, who was one of the last people to interview Bernstein, will be remembering Bernstein, and so will Humphrey Burton who was a friend and colleague of Bernstein's as well as writing his biography.

Full details of the festival from the Bernstein in Chichester website

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