Published November 8, 2011



James Newton discusses his Mass, which will be performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Sunday, December 13, 2011. For more information about the concert go to: Los Angeles Master Chorale at Walt Disney Concert Hall: Little Match Girl. Interview by Donna Armstrong.


Q. Why did you decide to compose a Mass?

A. The desire to compose a Mass was greatly impacted by two concerts performed in the last decade. In these performances at Disney Hall, the Los Angeles Master Chorale [conducted by Grant Gershon] and the Luckman Jazz Orchestra [conducted, at the time, by James Newton] surveyed the sacred music of Mary Lou Williams and Duke Ellington. Co-conducting with Grant Gershon was a truly unforgettable experience for me.

In addition, Southwest Chamber Music Conductor, Jeff Von Der Schmidt, suggested that I compose a Mass, which led to the commissioning of the Credo by Southwest Chamber Music. After the premiere of the Credo, the Metastasio Festival in Prato, Italy commissioned the completion of the Mass. The world premiere of the full Mass took place on February 4, 2007 at the Chiesa di San Francesco in Prato, Italy.

Q. Tell us something about the concert on November 13.

A. The concert features works by Johann Sebastian Bach, David Lang, and myself. The title of the concert, Little Match Girl, comes from the title of Lang's work.

Q.  What are the foundational ideas of your composition?

A. The Mass was influenced by the fact that it is celebrated at different times on the Sabbath by a huge diversity of cultures across the world. Imagine that as the day progresses through different time zones others echo this worship through their unique cultural resonances. Father Jeremy Driscoll once described in his moving book What Happens At Mass how the rooftops of different churches open up and the Glory of God pours in for the holy celebration. This cultural plurality, holy infusion and movement of time intones the journey of bringing together a work that reflects the colorful rainbow of God’s creation.

Q. What was your goal in creating this music?

A. An important mission of the music was to combine diverse musical languages to create and define new common ground that reflects our challenges, aspirations and dialogue with the God.  I endeavored to adapt my experiences as a composer/flutist and conductor, who has worked in jazz, classical and world music, to the music just as God has connected diverse people for His glory.

Q. What is your favorite section of the Mass?

A. For me the Credo is the centerpiece of the Mass. It is the profession of one’s faith, one’s belief in the Holy Trinity and the radiance of the Light of Christ shining through the luminescence of eternity. It acknowledges His perfect sacrifice and the inimitable gift of all gifts that Christ has given his believers and it invites all to accept Him as Savior.

Q. Did anything else inspire your writing?

A. In the process of composing the Mass, I was deeply touched by the writings and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as well as the writings of Thomas Merton. The quiet beauty of our family’s surroundings in Corrales, New Mexico also enthused the nine-month journey of completing this humble offering of faith.

Q. What instruments do you use for your composition?

A. Flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, acoustic bass, piano and percussion. There are also four vocal soloists as well as a chamber choir.

Q. How do these instruments carry your ideas?

A. They provide the capability of expressing a wide range of colors and emotions as well as being capable of conveying my rhythmical language with great clarity.

Q. I hear that the Mass has also been recorded. How did that come about?

A. In 2009 my dear friend Grant Gershon assembled a wonderful group of Los Angeles-based singers and instrumentalists and recorded the Mass in Zipper Hall at the Colburn School. The recording of the Mass and other recent compositions were released in March 2011, on New World Records. The CD is entitled James Newton Sacred Works.

Thank you for your time.


Note: A review of Newton's recording appears in Gramophone Magazine: page 1 ,page 2