Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 22, 2013

West Side Story

Boston Symphony Orchestra
Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
July 13, 2013
by Shera Cohen

How did they do that? How did the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and its conductor David Newman recreate the entire score to the Academy Award winning movie musical “West Side Story” simultaneously with the singing and dialogue on screen? Didn’t the movie already have a sound track? Didn’t the actors/singers’ voices meld with the music? Yes and yes. However, today’s electronics and masterful techies designed means to lift the singing from the movie and, using layman’s terms, permit the BSO to perform as if it was the original composition of a half-century ago. The debut of “West Side Story” was 1963.

Oftentimes, the police on “Law & Order,” “CSI,” et al will ask the brilliant computer guy/gal to isolate the background sound (ah ha, I hear a train whistle) or increase the pitch and machination of the person talking (ah ha, sounds like our killer). Perhaps this isn’t exactly the way that the BSO managed the monumentally creative task of playing “pit band” to “West Side Story,” but the process was similar.

Tanglewood’s program book gives the details about “recognizing and removing orchestral elements on the sound track while retaining vocals, dialogue, and effects.” The program continues to describe the arduous work to synchronize the music with the action, the singers and the dancers in the movie.

The shed was completely sold out, and the lawn “seats” just about full. The off and on rain of the day stopped an hour prior to the first downbeat, and the 90 degree day cooled to a 75 degree dusk and evening. Large movie screens were set in the shed and along the outside. In other words, the view was perfect for all.

Hopefully, Tanglewood will program similar events like the coupling of the BSO with “WSS” to astound its audiences with other successes like this perfect evening of movie music.