Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

West Side Story (2021)


Stephen  Fine
 Share

Recommended Posts

Steven Spielberg's West Side Story is out.  Finally got around to it.

Living up to the source material is difficult and Spielberg had never directed a musical, I so was nervous, but it's a beautiful adaptation and the performances are first rate.

The super-saturated color palette is an homage to classic American musicals, but the libretto, script, choreography, and staging have all been updated in meaningful and interesting ways.

If you don't know the show, you should make an effort to see it.  Bernstein's music is the star.  Not just the songs, but the dances as well.  One of my teachers called West Side Story the greatest work of the 20th Century.  There is a strong argument to be made.  Starting from the overture, there is no weakness in the score.  The music propels the drama forward, it's inventive, and Bernstein's harmonic language is very appealing.

I'm not an expert in the genre, but it seems they don't make 'em like this any more.  So much of musical theater now seems to be about being clever.  Don't get me wrong, I like clever, but it bothers me when the music is mediocre even if the musical is good.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Definitely some of my favorite Bernstein music, and some of my favorite "Broadway" music overall - just great stuff. I'm looking forward to seeing the new version when I have a chance - I've heard a lot of good things about it. The original is of course a classic of cinema. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

A musical masterpiece to be sure. Near and dear to my heart.

But I could never "see" Bernstein composing it -- clever and intelligent as he was, and musically adept, it always struck me that whoever wrote it  must have been much older, and a lot deeper, than good old Lenny the flakey wunderkind.

That incongruity bugged me to the point where I finally asked Skitch Henderson if he had ghost written it. He deflected the question, pointing out that Ferde Grofe, as was well known, had helped with the orchestration. Mitch Miller ducked it as well. Which doesn't mean anything, necessarily. But I still, all these yeats later, don't think LB's head ever got to the places some of that music came from.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, matesic said:

Maybe the greatest American work..?

No.  He was putting it up against Rite of Spring, Verklärte Nacht, Black Angels, Einstein on the Beach, Bartók String Quartets, Shostakovich and Mahler symphonies and the rest.

I'm not saying I agree, necessarily.  I can never pick "favorites" or "greatest" out of a category, but other than Rite of Spring, I can't think of a more joyous orchestra experience I've had than performing the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.  Prokofiev Romeo & Juliet was close, maybe.

There's no question that Bernstein managed high art with nearly universal appeal in West Side Story. It's hard to think of other 20th Century masterworks that tick both of those boxes.

11 hours ago, A432 said:

A musical masterpiece to be sure. Near and dear to my heart.

But I could never "see" Bernstein composing it -- clever and intelligent as he was, and musically adept, it always struck me that whoever wrote it  must have been much older, and a lot deeper, than good old Lenny the flakey wunderkind.

That incongruity bugged me to the point where I finally asked Skitch Henderson if he had ghost written it. He deflected the question, pointing out that Ferde Grofe, as was well known, had helped with the orchestration. Mitch Miller ducked it as well. Which doesn't mean anything, necessarily. But I still, all these yeats later, don't think LB's head ever got to the places some of that music came from.

Umm... it's classic Bernstein.  It sounds just like all his other music.  Is it your impression that he didn't write Candide either?  Hah.  If you wanted to flesh this idea out you've got one hell of a splashy topic.

(Also, we have so many examples in history of the wunderkinder composing music that seems impossibly deep, saying that someone was too young to compose something is ignoring virtually the entire history of art and music.)

PS- Bernstein was 39 in 1957. That's plenty mature, right?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Stephen Fine said:

No.  He was putting it up against Rite of Spring, Verklärte Nacht, Black Angels, Einstein on the Beach, Bartók String Quartets, Shostakovich and Mahler symphonies and the rest.

I agree it's a strong candidate for greatest American work, but the American competition you cite can't appeal to more than a few percent of the population and would lose the popular vote by an avalanche. Internationally, I think you'd agree it's a silly game.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, matesic said:

I agree it's a strong candidate for greatest American work, but the American competition you cite can't appeal to more than a few percent of the population and would lose the popular vote by an avalanche. Internationally, I think you'd agree it's a silly game.

Yup.  Very silly internationally.

Slightly less silly to just do the USA, Canada, and Europe.

Slightly less silly to just do the USA.

Slightly less silly to just do American musicals.

But I believe it remains silly to render any firm aesthetic judgement.  The canon is simply a silly construction.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I love West Side Story, but Bernstein sure has sticky fingers when it comes to stealing others' tunes--"Somewhere" from Beethoven & Tchaikovsky (slow movement from "The Emperor" Concerto + main theme from Swan Lake); "A Boy Like That" from Britten ("The Storm" sea interlude from Peter Grimes); "I Have a Love" from Wagner's Ring . . . probably others come to mind.

Given its reiteration in Tony's death sequence, "Somewhere" is probably the most important melody, & it's simply a spin on one of Beethoven's most famous works.

In many ways, the musical quotes make the work even more enjoyable. But they do not elevate Bernstein to the stature of the original authors (if there is even such a thing).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

3 minutes ago, crazy jane said:

In many ways, the musical quotes make the work even more enjoyable. But they do not elevate Bernstein to the stature of the original authors (if there is even such a thing).

"Stealing" melodies was pretty universal as far back as you can go.  Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Britten, Wagner...  melodies are simple creatures, we only have 12 notes to work with.  By the time Bernstein was composing, hundreds of years of melodic canon... I really don't think it's possible to write an "original" melody by the 1950s.

 

PS- I should specify vocal melodies.  The range and tendencies of the voice puts some extreme limits on composing in a cantabile style.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For what its worth, for me the musical score is almost invisible in this movie, submerged in the background behind the marvellous libretto and the gorgeous imagery. Sure, the melodies are vital and cannot be disentangled from the whole, but again, for me, the music makes no sense without the libretto and the whole glorious visual package.

I cannot actually listen to the suite on its own, I find it almost painful, but when taken as a whole Westside Story is an absolute triumph.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

15 hours ago, Televet said:

For what its worth, for me the musical score is almost invisible in this movie, submerged in the background

I agree somewhat.  I think that Dudamel gave us a very flat rendition.  The orchestra sounds polished, but static.  Considering how much I love the score, it was the most disappointing element of the movie for me.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 3/18/2022 at 1:42 PM, Televet said:

 

I cannot actually listen to the suite on its own, I find it almost painful, but when taken as a whole Westside Story is an absolute triumph.

The Boston Pops-ish suite that youth orchestras always drag out is lame.  But the Symphonic Dances are pretty hot.  Lots of material, and brilliantly focused.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

de gustibus non disputandem.

By way of response, it may or may not be significant that neither Skitch nor Mitch seemed shocked by my implication that LB had not composed it, or protested that he could have -- another necessarily inconclusive) conclusion drawn from silence, or a reinforcement of the first one. 

IOW, you disagree with the idea that he couldn't have composed it, while they didn't. 

FWIW (if anything).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, A432 said:

de gustibus non disputandem.

By way of response, it may or may not be significant that neither Skitch nor Mitch seemed shocked by my implication that LB had not composed it, or protested that he could have -- another necessarily inconclusive) conclusion drawn from silence, or a reinforcement of the first one. 

IOW, you disagree with the idea that he couldn't have composed it, while they didn't. 

FWIW (if anything).

Can you cite anything Skitch or Mitch wrote that resembles it to any marked degree? One of Bernstein's earlier works that I think points the way is the Prelude, Fugue and Riffs.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

7 hours ago, matesic said:

Can you cite anything Skitch or Mitch wrote that resembles it to any marked degree? One of Bernstein's earlier works that I think points the way is the Prelude, Fugue and Riffs.

Sure. Not sure of proper title; first line "Boy, boy, crazy boy . . . stay cool, boy!" Pure Skitch Henderson suavity.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 3/8/2022 at 5:08 PM, Stephen Fine said:

Steven Spielberg's West Side Story is out.  Finally got around to it.

  Kodi nox

Living up to the source material is difficult and Spielberg had never directed a musical, I so was nervous, but it's a beautiful adaptation and the performances are first rate.

The super-saturated color palette is an homage to classic American musicals, but the libretto, script, choreography, and staging have all been updated in meaningful and interesting ways.

If you don't know the show, you should make an effort to see it.  Bernstein's music is the star.  Not just the songs, but the dances as well.  One of my teachers called West Side Story the greatest work of the 20th Century.  There is a strong argument to be made.  Starting from the overture, there is no weakness in the score.  The music propels the drama forward, it's inventive, and Bernstein's harmonic language is very appealing.

I'm not an expert in the genre, but it seems they don't make 'em like this any more.  So much of musical theater now seems to be about being clever.  Don't get me wrong, I like clever, but it bothers me when the music is mediocre even if the musical is good.

Great talk!

Edited by kasperven21mman
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 3/20/2022 at 2:47 PM, A432 said:

Sure. Not sure of proper title; first line "Boy, boy, crazy boy . . . stay cool, boy!" Pure Skitch Henderson suavity.

I think it's already been pointed out to you that Bernstein didn't write the libretto, just the score.

And maybe if you wanted to make some point about Henderson being older and wiser than Sondheim (b. 1930) you'd have a point, but Henderson and Bernstein were the same age, both born in 1918.  I'm surprised Skitch didn't mention that to you when you told him your theory about Bernstein being too young.

On 3/22/2022 at 3:18 PM, kasperven21mman said:

Great talk!

Thanks!

On 3/19/2022 at 8:45 AM, Stephen Fine said:

I agree somewhat.  I think that Dudamel gave us a very flat rendition.  The orchestra sounds polished, but static.  Considering how much I love the score, it was the most disappointing element of the movie for me.

PS- I watched part of the movie again listening closely this time to the score.  Unfortunately, my initial reaction holds up.  I think part of it is the sound editing/mixing, the orchestra is a bit low in the mix, but there's so much conflict and angularity in the score, to have all the edges so rounded and polished feels wrong.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...