BWW Reviews: WEST SIDE STORY Still Shows Many Faces
The day Leonard Bernstein died, a sense of gut-wrenching loss pervaded the musical world. Anyone who had watched and listened to his extraordinary music making could not help but be affected by his passion and reverence for music. Those of us lucky enough to have known and worked with him and availed ourselves of his wisdom, still hold deep affection and respect for him, along with a feeling that we have been blessed many times over.
According to journalist Peter Gutmann http://www.classicalnotes.net, "No musician in the history of America touched so many people so deeply and in so many ways... Hailed as a hero, Bernstein was able to popularize the classics in a way that no previous musician had ever done. An entire generation of Americans was drawn to great music through his television shows... Whatever he did was with his whole heart. Anyone who attended a Bernstein concert left feeling profound wonder not only of music, but also of life itself."
Many others have documented the greatness of Bernstein through hundreds, if not thousands, of quotes. Celebrated Russian writer Boris Pasternak, upon greeting "Lenny" after a 1959 Moscow concert, said: "You have taken us up to heaven, now we must return to earth. I've never felt so close to the aesthetic truth. When I hear you I know why you were born." Gutmann's quote from a jaded music veteran embodies Bernstein's contagious attitude toward music: "When he gets up on the podium, he makes me remember why I wanted to become a musician."
Bernstein himself said: "Life without music is unthinkable. Music without life is academic. That is why my contact with music is a total embrace... I can do things in the performance of music that if I did on an ordinary street would land me in jail. I can get rid of all kinds of tensions and hostilities. By the time I come to the end of Beethoven's Fifth, I'm a new man."
At the end of any Bernstein performance, whether listening or performing, we all felt renewed.
I count myself among those fortunate souls whose lives Lenny touched personally. Mesmerized and captivated by his Saturday morning Young People's Concerts, I found myself less than two decades later gazing worshipfully at him from the front of the first violin section of the Tanglewood Music Center (then called the Berkshire Music Center) Orchestra, able to capture his every gesture, mannerism and raise of the eyebrow like lightning in the bottle of my mind. Studying and performing Bruckner's Ninth Symphony with Lenny was an unforgettable experience; being married to one of Lenny's conducting students allowed me extra personal time with our great maestro, hanging out in his conducting classes, chatting with him after rehearsals, and even being invited on rides around the Tanglewood grounds in his huge boat of a car. A few years later, as a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, I was ecstatic to again have the privilege and delight of working with Leonard Bernstein.
From the moment Jerome Robbins burst into Lenny's tiny studio apartment in the Carnegie Hall building in 1943 with the idea for a ballet about Three Sailors on leave in New York City, Robbins became a major force in Lenny's life. But in 1949 when Robbins proposed a contemporized version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the trajectory of Lenny's career changed irrevocably.
Even now, almost fifty-six years after West Side Story debuted on Broadway, hardly a day goes by without a performance of this beloved work taking place somewhere in the world, in professional, school, or amateur versions. This past summer I attended two astonishing productions of this masterpiece: a live concert version of the entire Broadway symphonic score, with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Concert Hall; and another at Tanglewood with David Newman and the Boston Symphony Orchestra accompanying a screening of the 1961 film. Each version was very different, and each was uniquely satisfying to witness.
Maestro Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are the first musical entity to have received permission from all four West Side Story rights holders (the estates of Bernstein, Robbins, Laurents and Sondheim) to perform the complete music to the work in a live concert setting with live singers. This groundbreaking world premiere consisted of all the music from the original Broadway show, in an orchestration identical to the one used by the Broadway pit orchestra during the work's debut in 1957. As evident from the photo, this orchestration does not include violas.