Special CD re-issue marks Bernstein centenary in Chichester

A special edition of Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms has been released to celebrate the city's Bernstein in Chichester Festival.

Leonard Bernstein (credit Allan  Warren)
Leonard Bernstein (credit Allan Warren)

The repackaged 2005 recording by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under conductor Marin Alsop has been produced with a commemorative Bernstein in Chichester slipcase – a souvenir of the wide range of events marking Bernstein’s centenary year.

The recording has extra special significance in Chichester. A major highlight of the Bernstein in Chichester Festival, and indeed the worldwide Bernstein centenary celebrations, will see the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop perform the Chichester Psalms in Chichester Cathedral on Saturday, November 24 at 7.30pm (BSO box office: 01202 669925).

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Bernstein in Chichester has been created by Edward Milward-Oliver and Emma-Jane Wyatt and they are delighted with the re-release.

“The CD is wonderful,” Emma-Jane said. “We have had such positive feedback in all directions to the festival. It was Edward who picked up the phone to Naxos saying we are having this concert in the cathedral at the end of year. We just wanted them to know about it as maybe an outlet for selling CDs, but they said ‘Why don’t we do a special slipcase so you can have a bespoke edition for the concert?’ It is a lovely idea, and that’s how it took hold.”

The recording dates back to 2005 when Marin Alsop was working with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra: “She was a great protegee of Bernstein’s. She studied under him. He inspired her to become a conductor. Bernstein is very much in her DNA, and I would imagine that Marin was the inspiration for Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra doing this recording of a composer who clearly meant a lot to her.”

As Emma-Jane says, the Chichester Psalms, commissioned by Walter Hussey, then Dean of Chichester, are a remarkable piece: “First of all, the text is in Hebrew. Bernstein wrote it for an Anglican cathedral, and that must have been extraordinary for Dean Hussey when Bernstein said ‘I hope it is OK that the psalms are in Hebrew.’ Hussey very wisely went along with what Bernstein wanted and was very accepting of however Bernstein wanted to write the piece.

“But also the orchestration is quite extraordinary. Would he have been expecting something for regular orchestra? What he got was a truly-extraordinary orchestration. But it has become one of the most performed choral works of the 20th-century repertoire. It is an exquisite piece of music for the church, absolutely grounded in the choral repertoire, but it works for performance in the church and also in concert. It bridges both performance situations.”

For the concert, the BSO will be joined by the choirs of Chichester, Salisbury and Winchester Cathedrals. The full concert programme is Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No 1 Jeremiah with Michelle de Young, mezzo soprano; JS Bach Motets with a cappella choirs; and Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.

Emma-Jane added: “I have always loved his music. I saw Bernstein once at the Proms. I would have been about eight rows back, and there was this conductor. He was like a rag doll. He was so loose and so fluid in his movements. He was just so fantastic to see.”

The CD is available from the cathedral shop, price £8.

For other stories by Phil, see https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2