SF Symphony soars through magnificent West Side Story

Jun 28

SF Symphony soars through magnificent <i>West Side Story</i>

It's hard to imagine but it's true: the music is so glorious you barely even miss the dancing. The San Francisco Symphony concludes its season with the first concert presentation of the full score for West Side Story, and it's simply mind blowing. For the original 1957 production, composer Leonard Bernstein apparently made concessions in the orchestrations based on what was available to him at the Winter Garden Theatre. Then, when the chance came along to re-orchestrate for the movie in 1961, orchestrators Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal (under Bernstein's supervision) went big but perhaps too big. According to Symphony program notes, Bernstein then worried that the work had become "overblown and unsubtle."

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West Side represent!

Oct 28

<i>West Side</i> represent!

To quote one of the Jets, “Dig this and dig it the most.” The most compelling drama at Wednesday’s opening of West Side Story wasn’t happening on the stage of the Orpheum Theatre. It was a few blocks away at the giant theater known as AT&T Park, where the Giants were routing the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series.

The Orpheum stage crew thoughtfully announced the score before the show started and then shared the news of the Giants’ win before the show resumed after intermission.

The Giants delivered an impressive score Wednesday night, and so did West Side Story. Under the baton of John O’Neill the 19-piece orchestra conveyed the irresistible pulse of Leonard Bernstein’s music and gave the entire evening the sort of dramatic heft and unbelievable beauty that only occasionally appeared on stage.

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Just play it cool, boy! The enduring sound of West Side Story

Oct 25

Just play it cool, boy! The enduring sound of <i>West Side Story</i>

What is it that makes West Side Story so incredibly intoxicating, even 53 years after its premiere? There's no denying the power of Jerome Robbins' athletic and gorgeous choreography or the simplicity and (occasional) corniness of Stephen Sondheim's lyrics (his first for a Broadway show). And Arthur Laurents' book, which puts a 1950s spin on Romeo and Juliet, is about as solid as Broadway books come.

But it's the music, Leonard Bernstein's astonishing music that elevates West Side Story to legendary status. Combining classical with jazz with show tune, Bernstein concocted a highly original sound that has yet to be bested on the Broadway stage. This is a score for the ages, one equally at home in the symphony hall as in the high school auditorium. How many scores can fit as comfortably in both spaces? Aside from Bernstein's own Candide (which he was working on in tandem with West Side Story), not many.

We'll have the chance to revisit the score this week as the most recent Broadway revival comes to town as part of the SHN/Best of Broadway series.

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New side of `West Side Story’

Jun 02

The new Broadway cast recording of West Side Story is out today in all the usual outlets (in three dimensions on CD, digitally via iTunes, etc.). To celebrate the classic work of Leonard Berstein, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents and Jerome Robbins, let’s take a peek at the music video for “Tonight” from the new recording as sung by Karen Olivo...

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Bravo Bernstein! San Francisco celebrates Lenny

Sep 16

The great American composer Leonard Bernstein would have been 90 this year, and the man who gave us the memorable music for West Side Story, Candide and other Broadway shows, among all his other symphonic work, is being celebrated in style. The San Francisco Symphony leads the celebration with Michael Tilson Thomas, a longtime friend and colleague of the late...

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