Aspen Choral Society premieres conductor Ray Adams’ Mass |

Aspen Choral Society premieres conductor Ray Adams’ Mass

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesRay Adams will conduct the Aspen Choral Society in world-premiere performances of his Mass in concerts in Glenwood Springs and Aspen this weekend.

ASPEN – Ray Adams, the composer and conductor of the Aspen Choral Society, doesn’t claim to love every bit of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. While praising the aria “A Simple Song” as “outstanding,” Adams says other parts of Bernstein’s Mass, which premiered in 1971 at the Kennedy Center, missed the mark.

“The jazz stuff – ‘doo-bing, doo-bong, doo-bing’ – I could leave,” Adams said.

Bernstein’s advice about the Mass, however, Adams has taken in fully. Bernstein said that every composer should write a Mass, and so Adams has. His Mass premieres this weekend at the Aspen Choral Society concerts – Friday at the First Methodist Church in Glenwood Springs and on Saturday at St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen. Both performances are at 7:30 p.m. and include Vivaldi’s “Credo.”

Bernstein’s command to other composers didn’t exactly come as news – prominent works set to the text of the Latin Mass had been composed by Bach, Beethoven, Schumann and Schubert. Over time, those pieces created a standard musical character for a Mass. Generally, the form features stormier sounds.

“Most Masses tend to be dark,” said Adams, who has been conducting choral works in the Roaring Fork Valley, including annual Christmastime performances of Handel’s “Messiah,” since the mid-’70s. “Some sections are about the Crucifixion, things like that. And that makes it easy to get dark.”

Adams, though, has steered his Mass toward the light. Writing at his mother’s house in Southern California, sitting on a bed and working with a little keyboard and a large stack of papers, Adams was motivated to create a brighter, lighter Mass.

“Lately I’ve been in a gentle mood,” Adams said. “My bipolarity is way under control, and I wanted something gentle. It’s not the sturm und drang, all that stuff.”

Adams added that his Mass, lasting 30 minutes, is shorter than the standard.

There are moments in the Mass where Adams struts his stuff. At certain points the 40-voice choir splits into eight distinct choral sections.

“Which is cool. It gets real thick,” Adams said.

Adams, 59, was raised in Upstate New York as an Episcopalian. The church didn’t have much of a lasting effect on his religious beliefs.

“Now I’m just a spiritual person,” he said.

But it might have steered his course in other ways.

“Episcopalians had the best music – and the best outfits,” said Adams, who studied music education in college and studied conducting and composing at the Aspen Music School.

Composing, Adams said, only sometimes becomes a sacred practice for him. But performing his music always brings him a little closer to heaven.

“Conducting it definitely does,” he said.

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