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West Side Story Suite (1957/2000)

Arranged By Williams David Brohn

Adpated By Charles Czarnecki 

The genesis of "West Side Story" is famously framed as being an East Side Story and was the brainchild of director/choreographer Jerome Robbins. He pitched the idea of a modern retelling of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" to Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Laurents in 1947, with an Irish Catholic and Jewish rivalry set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Laurents would pen the book "East Side Story," but the project would linger in development hell. Nearly a decade would lapse, and the emerging headlines of rising juvenile delinquency in Los Angeles and the Chicano turf wars shifted the East Side Story westward. Then, at the urging of Oscar Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim joined the team to pen the lyrics for the tragedy of star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony.


In addition to Bernstein's original score, not many orchestral arrangements of "West Side Story" have been authorized by the Bernstein estate. Just a handful exist that includes Bernstein's own "Symphonic Dances" and the often performed James Mason arrangement that exclusively focuses on the songs. Broadway arranger and orchestrator William David Brohn's arrangement of a suite for violin and orchestra, completed in collaboration with Joshua Bell, was the exception and garnered the blessing of the composer himself before his death in 1990, and support from Bernstein's daughter, Jamie Bernstein. 


Bell gave the world premiere with the New York Philharmonic and first recorded the work with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Brohn, famous for his orchestrations of "Miss Saigon" and "Wicked," arranged a 20-minute suite with some controversial alterations. According to Bell’s arranger Charles Czarnecki, "Joshua had hoped to have a slightly shorter version adapted for a slightly smaller orchestra including [and] featuring Soprano to be performed with Larisa Martinez. We collaborated on the arrangement and violin part, and then I fleshed out the full arrangement in trio form with piano to be featured at their Casals Festival headline performance and then expanded it for orchestra." 


Czarnecki's adaptation runs 13 minutes and, in addition to solo violin and soprano, calls for two flutes (piccolo), two oboes (English Horn), two clarinets, saxophone, bassoon, two horns, two trumpets, trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, piano, and strings. Bell explains that the arrangement features the "best pieces from the musical…West Side Story is one of the greatest American pieces of the 20th century… It's a masterpiece, something everyone knows so well. Larisa is from Puerto Rico, and I think of her as just the perfect Maria. I guess that means I play Tony, in a way, on the violin."


Leonard (Louis) Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and died on October 14, 1990, in New York City. © MTF

(Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai)


American masters take center stage to celebrate an American experience, fearless women, impossible virtuosity, and unforgettable journeys. Violinist Joshua Bell and Soprano Larisa Martinez join your Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra in a program of the unshakable American spirit with Barber’s sweeping Violin Concerto, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Bernstein’s West Side Story, Gershwin’s tour de force An American in Paris, and more! © MTF

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