Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, has lent its complex themes and functions, as well as its title, to at least two monumental achievements of 20th-century Western art: Allen Ginsberg’s best poem and Leonard Bernstein’s ambitious, tense and dramatic third symphony with spoken-word narration and a vast choral component. As to the former, read Ginsberg’s devastating lament for his mother, Naomi, if you haven’t. As to the latter, the Bardavon continues the Hudson Valley Philharmonic’s 56th season with a performance of Bernstein’s Kaddish on Saturday, April 16 at 8 p.m.
Longtime Hudson Valley Philharmonic (HVP) music director Randall Craig Fleischer will conduct. The legendary stage and film actress and director Estelle Parsons (who, amongst her many other distinctions, seems to be the first-call artist for spoken-word orchestral accompaniment) will deliver Bernstein’s text. The performance of Kaddish also features the notable soprano Kelly Nassief and the Vassar Choir, Cappella Festiva and Treble Choir under the direction of Vassar’s director of choral activities, Christine Howlett.
The Kaddish is a complex prayer. Even though it functions as a requiem, the word “death” never appears in it, and much of it is a celebration of life. Bernstein’s music embraces both the dissonance of 12-tone technique as well as conventional tonality to support the duality of the text. The symphony is in three movements: “Invocation,” “Din Torah” and “Scherzo,” all of which feature lengthy spoken-word passages, with and without orchestral backing.
Actress Estelle Parsons is an Oscar-winner (for Bonnie and Clyde) and a five-time Tony nominee. She is acting artistic director at the famed Actors’ Studio in New York. She also owns a house in the Clove on the Shawangunk Ridge in Ulster County. This is not her first work with the HVP and the Bardavon; she narrated Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Suite in 2002. In collaboration with the Bardavon and the Actors’ Studio she has also directed Al Pacino in Salome at the Bardavon for a pre-Broadway run in 2003, and in 2015 directed Rhapsody in Black, which was also developed with the Bardavon and the Actors’ Studio and is currently touring internationally. Parsons was most recently seen on Broadway in The Velocity of Autumn in 2014 and will co-star with Judith Ivey in Israel Horovitz’s Out of the Mouths of Babes, a new Off-Broadway comedy opening in June at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York.
Also on the program are Warhauser’s Like Streams in the Desert and Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo, featuring cellist Dane Johansen. Ticketholders are invited to a pre-concert talk by Maestro Fleischer and Estelle Parsons one hour prior to the concert.
Tickets for Bernstein’s Kaddish range in price from $34 to $56. Student rush tickets will be available one hour prior to the concert for $20. Tickets can be purchased at the Ulster Performing Arts Center box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; or at Ticketmaster, (800) 745-3000 (Bardavon member benefits are not available through Ticketmaster). For more information, visit www.bardavon.org.
Bernstein’s Kaddish, Hudson Valley Philharmonic, Saturday, April 16, 8 p.m., $34-$56, Bardavon 1869 Opera House, 35 Market Street, Poughkeepsie; www.bardavon.org.