West Side Story

San Francisco Symphony - West Side Story - Cover image

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Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor

This recording of West Side Story is made possible of the Koret Foundation.
The San Francisco Symphony would also like to thank the following for making this recording possible:
Jamie Bernstein, Alexander Bernstein, Nina Bernstein Simmons, the Leonard Bernstein Office (Paul H. Epstein, Marie Carter, Garth Edwin Sunderland, and Craig Urquhart), Stephen Sondheim, the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation, Inc. and David Saint, and The Robbins Rights Trust (Allen Greenberg and Chris Pennington).

Based on a Conception of Jerome Robbins
Book by Arthur Laurents
Music by Leonard Berstein
Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Entire Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Jerome Robbins

Producer: Jack Vad
Engineering Support: Roni Jules, Gus Pollek, and Jonathon Stevens
Wireless Design: Denise Woodward
Post Production/Surround Engineering:Jonathon Stevens
Design: Alan Trugman

Casting by Binder Casting
Jay Binder, CSA, Jack Bowdan, CSA, Mark Brandon, CSA, Jason Styres
Additional Casting: Michael Donovan, CSA, Richie Ferris, assistant
Photos: Ricardo Hernandez (cover), Stefan Cohen (cast and production).

All songs published by Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Co. LLC./Chappell & Co.

All rights administered by Universal – Polygram International Publishing, Inc. (ASCAP)

Released 2014

West Side Story

From a strictly musical point of view, West Side Story displays greater integration of material than had previously characterized works destined for Broadway. It might be an exaggeration to claim that the whole score is predicated on the interval of the tritone—the augmented fourth (it can also be “spelled” as a diminished fifth)—but as overstatements go, it would not be severe. The two notes of this interval may overlap but they nonetheless define distinct harmonic realms—a musical reflection, one might say, of Tony and Maria. Its harmonic instability notwithstanding, the frequent recurrence of this interval helps unify this wide-ranging score. The first two notes of “Maria” have served decades of ear-training students as a mnemonic device for the tritone, but by the time that song is first heard, in Scene Four, the interval has already been established as the work’s foundational sound. We hear it practically at the outset, in the louche phrase that accompanies the entrance of the finger-snapping Jets, then again in the solo-trombone gesture at the moment when Bernardo (of the rival Sharks) crosses their path, in the first two notes of “Cool,” in the melodic contours of “Something’s Coming”… ears attuned to the tritone will hear it over and over in West Side Story.

Rhythmic syncopation and metric dissonance are also elemental to the score. “When You’re a Jet,” for example, is composed almost throughout in 6/8 meter, and the bass line dutifully emphasizes the first and fourth beats of each measure. Bernstein, however, writes a melody (sung by Riff) that stresses the first, third, and fifth beat of the measure, yielding a constant syncopation in which two-pulses-per-measure exists in nervous conflict with three-pulses-per-measure. “America,” sung by Anita and her friends, is also famous for its mixed meters, here worked out sequentially rather than simultaneously. It, too, maintains a meter marking of 6/8, but Bernstein alternates measures of two pulses with measures of three pulses, achieving a buoyant sense of energy and propulsion.

—excerpt from liner notes by James M. Keller

I hadn’t heard the score of West Side Story performed live for more than fifty years—the last time being when I was on the Goldwyn Studios soundstage to pre-record my numbers for the movie. As I headed into Davies Symphony Hall I was filled with excitement and anticipation—I would get to hear the first-ever live concert performance of the original Broadway score.
From the first note … I moved to the edge of my seat, with every nerve ending prepared to receive this astonishing musical assault of notes, chords, and complex rhythms, held together by the sinew of one man’s genius. For me, the fiery passion, wit, yearning, dissonance, intensity, joy, and sharp angles of this work-for-the-ages were all present and fresh again. Thank you Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony, and a superb ensemble.


—Rita Moreno
—Academy Award-winning actress, played Anita in the 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story