LENOX - Saturday night was "not just any night" at Tanglewood. The Boston Symphony Orchestra presented a screening of the 1961 film "West Side Story," playing Leonard Bernstein's legendary score live as the newly remastered film rolled on large screens in high-definition.
Conductor David Newman made his BSO debut with the performance. Son of award-winning film composer Alfred Newman, David has more than 100 film scores to his own credit, among them "War of the Roses," "Matilda," and the animated feature "Anastasia" for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.
The "West Side Story" performance was part of a mini-tour. Since 2011, Newman has presented the film with live music with the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics, the Chicago Symphony, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, among others, to critical acclaim.
The original 1957 Broadway musical scoring for a pit band of 30 (orchestrated by Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal and approved by Bernstein) was expanded to full orchestra by Ramin, Kostal, and Saul Chaplin in 1961, when the United Artists film was released. Elements of that film score have since been lost.
The version heard at Tanglewood Saturday was an extensively researched hybrid of the original and the film score, its production assisted and guided by composer Eleonor Sandresky and realized by five orchestrators, among them Garth Edwin Sunderland, the Bernstein Office's senior music editor.
The task of stripping away the recorded music while leaving the original dialog and singing was a similarly difficult one. Paris-based Audionamix and restoration company Chace Audio accomplished the feat digitally, using computers to sample the wave-forms of the instruments, then erase their image from the monophonic soundtrack.
Newman's task of synchronizing the live music with the screen action (particularly in the hair-raising Jerome Robbins-choreographed dance numbers) was perhaps the most difficult of all, and he carried it off magnificently, abetted by the superb musicianship of the members of the Boston Symphony.
The stage of the Koussevitzky Music Shed was as packed as the sold-out shed itself, with a horde of percussionists, a guitar-mandolin doubler, and numerous additional reed players augmenting the standard classical or romantic orchestra that Tanglewood concert-goers witness. All black-clad in pit orchestra style, the players turned on a dime, changing tempo and mood as one under Newman's precise baton.
A video monitor with visual metronomic indication and a wired-in aural click track were among the tools of the conductor's trade for this demanding event.
The high-definition re-mastered film looked fantastic, and those responsible for mixing the vocals and dialog with the amplified live instrumental sound did a superb job that allowed the orchestra to play full-throttle in the thrilling "Dance at the Gym," chilling "Rumble" and transcendent "Tonight" ensemble without consuming the singers.
The audience applauded as if they were at a show with living actors and singers, recognizing each production number with an ovation. Following the program directions, most stayed to hear the end credit music, and applauded as the names of the cast and crew appeared graffiti-style on the screen, reserving the most boisterous applause for Bernstein's name.
After intermission, Newman brought special guests on stage, including Bernstein's youngest daughter, Nina Bernstein Simmons, and original film cast members Edward Verso (Juano), David Bean (Tiger), Harvey Hohnecker (Mouthpiece), and Herbert Michaels (Snowboy).
At that time, Newman remarked how central Tanglewood had been to Bernstein's career. Indeed, the 22-year-old got his "start" there in Koussevitsky's 1940 conducting class. Two years later, Koussevitzky made Bernstein his assistant and added him to the faculty of the Berkshire Music Center. From then on until his death in 1990, Bernstein's arrival at Tanglewood to conduct, teach, and just plain be in town was cause for excitement and celebration.
As Saturday's rebirth of "West Side Story" showed, Bernstein's musical legacy will continue to excite for years to come. Repeat performances are scheduled for Boston Symphony Hall in February 2014.
Clifton Noble, Jr. - Masslive.com
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