Curated by


The Philadelphia Community Mass was premiered on Saturday, August 11, 2018 at the Monumental Baptist Church in Philadelphia, PA. This performance was jointly presented by NEWorks, the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, and Monumental Baptist Church as a component of the Mann's fifth annual festival, Brilliantly Bernstein: Beyond the Baton.

Inspired by Leonard Bernstein’s MASS, the Philadelphia Community Mass is an immersive concert-theatrical experience that explores anew the relevance of faith in our times. The work features new sacred compositions by American composers Evelyn Simpson Curenton, Rollo Dilworth, Naomi Ruth Floyd and Jay Fluellen, punctuated with spoken dialogue rendered by two central characters, a celebrant and a skeptic, along with immersive congregational spoken refrains.

Commissioned by

Mann Center for the Performing Arts


Premiered in 1971, Leonard Bernstein’s MASS was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. With this work, Bernstein used the rituals and ceremony of the Catholic Church to explore the dichotomy of faith and disillusionment in his day.

In this centennial year of Bernstein’s birth, we have drawn together a collective of Philadelphia-based composers and performing artists from the city’s rich African American church community to create a community mass that explores anew the relevance of faith in our times. Featuring the compositions of Evelyn Simpson Curenton, Rollo Dilworth, Ruth Naomi Floyd, and Jay Fluellen, the Philadelphia Community Mass presents ten original songs—which collectively capture the broad diversity of African American sacred music traditions. Spoken text is drawn and adapted from Bernstein’s MASS; additional text has also been added. The dichotomy of the original work is given voice by two speakers: a celebrant and a skeptic. And, to add an immersive touch to this setting, each of you, as congregants, will speak responsively and in unison throughout.

As in the days of Bernstein, the uncertainty of our times can readily prompt people of good will to question their beliefs. This Mass explores the juxtaposition of faith and skepticism given our current national state of affairs. It is set in Philadelphia, the birthplace of American democracy, as a subtle reminder of the ideals upon which our nation was founded: ideals that have promised to all religious freedom and the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  


A second production of the Mass was presented by NEWorks and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday. November 25, 2018. Click below to view the full video of this performance.

NEWorks Productions

 -Nolan Williams, Jr.

  Conceiver and Artistic Director, Philadelphia Community Mass

Four African-American composers go to church with Bernstein's 'Mass'