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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SF Symphony scales Bluebeard’s Castle

Jun 20

SF Symphony scales <i>Bluebeard’s Castle</i>

There are seven locked rooms in Duke Bluebeard's castle, and Nick Hillel knows what's in each one. From blood to torture to tears, the contents of the room were originally devised in French folklore and then formalized by the writer Béla Balázs for his friend, the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, for the short opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle. But it was up to Hillel, who helms a London-based digital media company called Yeast Culture, to bring those mysterious chambers into the 21st century.

Hillel is the director of an acclaimed new production of Duke Bluebeard, which had its premiere last October with the Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of Esa-Pekka Salonen. After a tour through Europe, the production comes to Davies Hall for three performances by the San Francisco Symphony.

As conceived by Hillel, who has worked with artists as diverse as the Beastie Boys and Cirque du Soleil, the symphony hall is transformed by a stage-engulfing set that is 24 feet high onto which he projects all sorts of wild video projections. And hovering over the orchestra itself is what Hillel calls "the sails," a sculptural origami-like structure that also provides projections surfaces as it unfolds over the course of the hour-long opera.

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