Something’s Coming, Something Good…

West Side Story is a towering example of great collaboration, a seamless synthesis of song, dance and dialogue. But it almost didn’t happen. In 1947 when choreographer and director Jerome Robbins had the idea of setting Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in modern New York, his original notion was to set the star-crossed lovers against a Jewish-Catholic rift. It was to be titled East Side Story. But his initial discussions with composer Leonard Bernstein and author Arthur Laurents went nowhere, and the subject was dropped. Five years later, Bernstein and Laurents bumped into each other in Hollywood, and the subject of gang violence, then in the nation’s headlines, came up. It was Bernstein’s idea to rework the Jewish-Catholic East Side Story into an Hispanic vs whites conflict set in Manhattan’s crime-ridden West side.

Bernstein’s inspiration didn’t just save one of the greatest musicals of the century from becoming a maybe; it suddenly gave him permission to dive head first into the Latin American rhythms he loved: the mambo, cha-cha and others. His two previous musicals, On the Town and Wonderful Town had also featured Latin rhythms, but West Side Story’s more ambitious scope, it’s long dance sequences, gave him much more to play with. His musical education, steeped in the classics and solidified by his already established career as a conductor and pianist, meant he could weave fugues and Verdian ensembles into the mix. The result was the most adventurous score heard on Broadway since Porgy and Bess, as New York critic John Chapman perceptively observed: “It takes up the American musical idiom where it was left when George Gershwin died. It is fascinatingly tricky and melodically beguiling, and it marks the progression of an admirable composer…”

West Side Story’s rhythms have proven irresistible to arrangers over the years, spawning numerous concert versions. Trombonist Eric Crees, who has been a principal for Covent Garden and the London Symphony Orchestra, has produced one of the best with his arrangement for brass. Only someone with detailed, inside knowledge of the brass section could have come up with the spectacular results Crees obtains with his West Side suite. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra Brass Ensemble, directed by James Somerville, will raise the roof when they tackle it at ANAM on Friday 3 June. Get ready to mambo!

Words by Phil Lambert

WILLIAMS Music for Brass
TURNAGE Out of Black Dust
LAURIDSEN O magnum Mysterium
GABRIELI O magnum Mysterium
GABRIELI Magnificat
BERNSTEIN Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (arr. Eric Crees)

James Sommerville conductor
Sydney Symphony Orchestra Brass Ensemble

Venue South Melbourne Town Hall
Bookings anam.com.au 03 9645 7911
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Presented in partnership with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra


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