Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was an erudite, passionate musician whose exceptional talents and expressive gifts earned him a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers. His rose to instant national fame in 1943, at age 25, when he filled in for the suddenly ill Bruno Walter as conductor of a nationally televised New York Philharmonic performance. He went on to become the Philharmonic’s music director until 1969, and remained a frequent guest conductor there until his death. With the Philharmonic, he presented a series of 53 educational Young People’s Concerts which were broadcast on CBS, making him a familiar face around the nation. He also composed music, crossing from academic classical music into Broadway musicals, including West Side Story, On the Town, and Candide.
The Broadway musical West Side Story first came into being in 1957 as a collaboration between Bernstein (as composer), choreographer Jerome Robbins, writer Arthuer Laurents, and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Its story is based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Set in the 1950s on Manhattan’s West Side, it tells the tragic tale of Tony and Maria, whose rival gangs doom their young love. The musical became a film in 1961, winning 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture. Bernstein’s music was often a character itself, giving the film psychological direction in many long dance sequences. Originally written in English, West Side Story was recently revived on Broadway in a bilingual version, with the Puerto Rican Sharks speaking and singing mostly in Spanish while the white Jets retain their English.
This set of West Side Story Selections comprises sort of a greatest hits collection from the musical. It is a single movement that transitions smoothly from one tune to the next, focusing on the most popular melodies from the musical. Here it is in full: