Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are releasing a CD of their world premiere concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s complete score from the musical West Side Story – which MTT describes as “…. a new and rare opportunity to hear Bernstein’s complete score sung by a sensational young cast and a knock-your-socks-off orchestra”.
The recordings for this CD were made during performances in late June and early July 2013, after Tilson Thomas had obtained permission from all four rights-holders of the musical to perform and record the entire score in a concert setting – the first orchestra ever to have done so.
West Side Story was based on a concept by choreographer Jerome Robbins, who in 1949 suggested to Leonard Bernstein the idea of collaborating on a musical based on the story of a modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Bernstein thought it a “noble idea”. Playwright Arthur Laurents was engaged to write the book, and the then-unknown composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, was persuaded to provide the lyrics.
Based on the feuding between American and Puerto Rican street gangs in New York’s Upper West Side during the 1950s, the production was a reflection of the social issues of the time, and marked a significant turning point in American musical theatre. With overall direction and choreography by Robbins, score by Bernstein, book by Laurents and lyrics by Sondheim, West Side Story was finally given its official Broadway opening at the Winter Garden Theatre on September 26, 1957, making what was described as a “seismic impression” on the audience.
It wasn’t until several years after the premiere of the musical that Michael Tilson Thomas first met Leonard Bernstein, and they remained close friends and colleagues until Bernstein’s death in 1990. Their shared interests included a dedication to music education and a passion for promoting the music of Mahler.
The songs from West Side Story have been recorded many times since the version by the original 1957 Broadway cast, and Bernstein’s music has been winning awards since the film adaptation was released in 1961. Michael Tilson Thomas has frequently led the San Francisco Symphony in the music of this celebrated composer and conductor, including the all-Bernstein gala concert at Carnegie Hall in 2008, to mark the 90th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth – a concert which was broadcast on PBS in the Great Performances series, and is available on the SFS Media label.
This new release from the San Francisco Symphony – with the original instrumentation – features Cheyenne Jackson as Tony, Alexandra Silber as Maria, Jessica Vosk as Anita, Kevin Vortmann as Riff and Julia Bullock as A Girl – all making their debuts with the Symphony – with members of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus as Jets and Sharks.
Bernstein’s daughter, Jamie, appears to be as delighted with the release of the CD as she was with the performance last year. “Michael really understands my father’s music – how to conduct it and how to bring it to life,” she says. “It was such a treat to hear the entire score of West Side Story performed by the San Francisco Symphony on a stage. It is the greatest way to hear this music.”
The collector’s edition two-disc set of West Side Story on the SFS Media label is already available on pre-order from the San Francisco Symphony’s online store, for free worldwide delivery by the release date of June 10. This recording is playable on both standard CD and SACD devices – and included with the set is a 100-page booklet featuring a new interview with MTT, notes from Rita Moreno and Jamie Bernstein, a West Side Story historical timeline, archival photographs, complete lyrics, and rehearsal and performance photographs.
The recording is also available for an exclusive early download from iTunes.com/SFSymphony (as of May 20), mastered for iTunes and offered as an interactive iTunes LP with bonus visuals and content provided when viewed in iTunes.
All photographs courtesy San Francisco Symphony unless otherwise stated
San Francisco Symphony
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