LEONARD BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1961)
The thrilling dance episodes of the iconoclastic Broadway musical West Side Story underscore the highly charged atmosphere that is Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents’ modern take on Romeo and Juliet. The rival street gangs of the 1950s, the Sharks and the Jets, have replaced the Montagues and the Capulets, and Tony and Maria are the modern doomed lovers. The gritty urban setting among New York tenements forms the backdrop against which the warring gangs play out the inevitable tragedy. Jerome Robbins (he won the 1957-58 Tony Award for choreography) was the masterful choreographer who propelled the action forward with brilliant dances, set to Bernstein’s positively electrifying score. The Symphonic Dances, selected by Bernstein as a concert work, and orchestrated under his direction, take the familiar melodies and create a vibrant tapestry that is a microcosm of the story. Summaries of each of the nine sections appear in the score, including the “Prologue”—The growing rivalry between the two teenage street gangs; “Somewhere”—In a visionary dance sequence, the two gangs are united in friendship; “Mambo”—Reality again; competitive dance between the gangs; “Cha-Cha”—The star-crossed lovers (Tony and Maria) see each other for the first time and dance together. “Cool-Fugue”—An elaborate dance sequence in which the Jets practice controlling their hostility; “Rumble”—Climactic gang battle during which the two gang leaders are killed; and “Finale”— Love music developing into a procession, which recalls, in tragic reality, the vision of “Somewhere.” Lukas Foss led the New York Philharmonic in the premiere of the Symphonic Dances on February 13, 1961. Breathtaking. Heartbreaking.