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MTT and San Francisco Symphony release recording of 'West Side Story'

Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony
Kristen Loken

Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony are releasing on CD the live recording of the first ever concert performances of Leonard Bernstein’s score for West Side Story - described by MTT as “.... a new and rare opportunity to hear Bernstein’s complete score sung by a sensational young cast and a knock-your-socks-off orchestra”.

The recordings were made during live performances at Davies Symphony Hall in late June and early July 2013, when Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony became the first orchestra to receive permission from all four rights-holders of the musical to perform and record the entire score from West Side Story in its entirety, in a concert setting.

The performances starred Cheyenne Jackson as Tony, Alexandra Silber as Maria, Jessica Vosk as Anita, Kevin Vortmann as Riff and Julia Bullock as A Girl - all making their SF Symphony debuts - as well as members of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus as Jets and Sharks.

West Side Story was based on a concept by choreographer Jerome Robbins, who in 1949 took it to Leonard Bernstein with the suggestion that they collaborate on the production of a musical based on a contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet. Playwright Arthur Laurents was brought in to write the book, and a then little-known songwriter, Stephen Sondheim, was engaged to write the lyrics.

Jamie Bernstein, daughter of the composer, says of this recording: “Michael really understands my father’s music - how to conduct it and how to bring it to life. It was such a treat to hear the entire score of West Side Story performed by the San Francisco Symphony on a stage. It is the greatest way to hear this music.”

The songs from West Side Story have been recorded many times - the first recordings having been made by the 1957 original Broadway cast, and the 1961 movie soundtrack. The Symphonic Dances from West Side Story are in the repertoire of many major world orchestras, and have been recorded by many - including the San Francisco Symphony, under the direction of Seiji Ozawa. It wasn’t until 1984, however, that Bernstein recorded, for the first time, the complete score from the musical with an operatic cast. This new release from the San Francisco Symphony is the first ever recording of live concert performances of the complete musical score, with the original instrumentation.

The collector’s edition two-disc set of West Side Story on the SFS Media label is already available on pre-order from the San Francisco Symphony’s online store, for delivery by the release date of June 10. This audiophile SACD recording - playable on both standard CD and SACD devices - includes a 100-page booklet featuring a new interview with MTT, notes from Rita Moreno and Jamie Bernstein, and a West Side Story historical timeline, archival photographs, complete lyrics and rehearsal and performance photographs.

The recording is also available for an exclusive early download from as of May 20, mastered for iTunes and offered as an interactive iTunes LP with bonus visuals and content provided when viewed in iTunes.

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