We went to a wonderful performance by the St. Louis Symphony last night. The program included Dvorak, Saint-Saens, Ravel, and two of my favorites — Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” and Bernstein’s symphonic dances from “West Side Story.”
The former featured the St. Louis debut of 15-year-old Julliard prodigy Sarina Zhang on piano. Her performance was so powerful and exciting she received a well-deserved extended standing ovation with two curtain calls.
The latter was a medley from Leonard Bernstein’s fabulous original Broadway score. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would sound like to someone who had not seen “West Side Story” on stage or screen. I’d hope they would be as mesmerized as I was. As a lifelong fan of the show, I’m familiar with every note yet still awed by Bernstein’s rhythms and instrumentation, which were so original and compelling, unlike anything else I’ve seen in a normal classical setting.
One of the things that makes the piece so distinctive is Bernstein’s use of percussion. According to Wikipedia, it takes four musicians to play all of the instruments in his score (Traps, Vibraphone, 4 Pitched Drums, Xylophone, 3 Bongos, 3 Cowbells, Conga, Timbales, Snare Drum, Police Whistle, Gourd, 2 Suspended Cymbals, Castanets, Maracas, Finger Cymbals, Tambourines, Small Maracas, Glockenspiel, Woodblock, Claves, Triangle, Temple Blocks, Chimes, Tam-tam, Ratchet, Slide Whistle, Timpani). I’d like to see an orchestra feature the percussion section out front for a performance, just so we can watch them move back and forth among all of that apparatus.