Miracle Mass starring renowned pianist and composer Stephen Hough (who’s also a MacArthur Genius Grant recipient!) and local acclaimed choral group VocalEssence bring classical music and modern momentum to the Basilica of Saint Mary’s for one night only — THIS Saturday, April 22nd at 8:00 P.M. Miracle Mass is a deeply personal work for Hough, a gay man and devout Catholic whose personal faith has seen ebbs and flows. He’ll be joined by VocalEssence for the event, a group whose website (here) states that their goal is to “engage people of all ages and cultures in our community through innovative, enticing choral music programming.” The show itself is described by the group as “a spiritual journey from unquestioning faith to doubt to profound joy” that will make you “reflect on your own journey and, ultimately, remind us all of the miraculous gift of life.”
Miracle Mass is comprised of two smaller shows: Missa Mirabilis and Mass of Innocence and Experience. Says Hough of the show, “Well, these are both works using the Latin words of the Catholic Mass. The Missa Mirabilis takes the idea of ‘I believe’ (the Credo) and explores what it might mean to sing those words and not to believe. The tensions involved. The other Mass combines poems of William Blake and the Mass texts — Innocence and Experience, Childhood and Adulthood.”
In addition to presenting this inspiring work, the collaboration with VocalEssence is exciting to Hough too. “’I’ve heard such great things about them and Philip [Brunelle; artistic director and founder of VocalEssence, and conductor of the April 22 performance] is a superb musician.” This collaboration marks a unique experience for Twin Cities audiences. VocalEssence is incredibly well-known and well-respected in classical music communities here that has also headlined mainstream festivals and music events, and partnering with a headliner like Hough is going to make for a unique, exciting night that audiences will be talking excitedly about for the foreseeable future.
One of the reasons Miracle Mass is so unique is because of the event’s backstory. Hough was working to compose the show while struggling with his own faith when he was in a traumatic car accident. In spite of the impact of the event, Hough walked away almost scot-free.
“I worked on this work for over a year, gathering sketches along the way as I played concerts and travelled. The crash came after I’d put all of this material together and fully drafted three of the movements. As my car tumbled over on the highway I wondered if I’d ever get to hear it performed.” he mused. That thought and those moments led him to fine tune a show he was already thrilled about, and now he’s even more excited to bring it to Minneapolis.
Music and faith are two of the biggest motivations in Hough’s own life, and that pours through with stunning clarity in Miracle Mass. He was willing to get a little bit personal with me about both of these things. When asked why he was driven to create music and performances like the one at hand, Hough said, “I think it’s many things, isn’t it? Communication — sharing common feelings but also hinting at secrets; a desire to reach beyond the everyday; a way to release tension. When I was a kid, I think it was also a way to express a sexuality which was forbidden and considered wrong. All art is a kind of ecstasy and performers want to bring this extraordinariness to their audiences. But also a celebration of beauty.” That latter comment is incredibly moving. Art, and LGBTQ+ focused art in particular is so many things and has so many purposes. At The Column we’ve covered — ad nauseum — the societal and political importance of lifting up these artists and covering shows; we also still believe that life is joyful and beautiful. Hough’s devotion to that will make this show a rare uplifting moment in both art by marginalized people and the world of classical music, which most people, even fans, deem heady.
Hough’s other passion is his faith. I knew he’d have some wonderful comments as he geared up for Miracle Mass that The Column readers might respond too. When asked to expound on his own journey and offer some compassionate insight, Hough responded with sincerity and intelligence. “It’s a big issue but I think it boils down to the fact that Catholicism, unlike some extreme forms of Protestantism, sees God speaking both through the Bible and through the real world around us. Creation is not a mistake, for all of its imperfections. Homosexuality exists in the natural world therefore it can’t be bad, and if it isn’t bad it should be celebrated and embraced. As social science has made more discoveries so theology should keep up — and it has. There are many excellent writers around now who have explored this issue. James Alison is one and Matthew Vines too from the Evangelical side.”
That journey is a key component of Miracle Mass, and you can find out more at the Basilica of St. Mary’s on Saturday, April 22nd at 8:00 P.M. Tickets range from $20-40. You can purchase them in advance here.
To find out more about VocalEssence, their website is a stellar resource. Stephen Hough has a novel in the works, a concert at Carnegie Hall next January, and a Debussy recording in the works. Find out more or keep up with those things here.