arrangement for two pianos and percussion by Irwin Kostal
West Side Story is probably Bernstein's masterpiece and unquestionably the best-known American work all over the world. Ever since the highly favorable critical and audience reception at New York's Winter Garner Theatre on Broadway, September 26, 1957, and the phenomenal success of Robert Wise's film adaptation in 1961, this contemporary urban version of Romeo and Juliet has never ceased to move spectators and fill them with enthusiasm.
Although West Side Story bears Bernstein's inimitable mark, it was born of collective work bringing together, amongst others, the choreographer and director Jerome Robbins, librettist Arthur Laurents, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and arrangers Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal.
It was Bernstein himself who asked Irwin Kostal to produce an arrangement for the duo-pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque. This suite of 17 pieces includes an assortment of dances and songs, which appear in a new light. Thanks to his perfect knowledge of the score, Kostal succeeds in giving his small ensemble an orchestral fullness. The seeming monochromy of the two pianos, far from making the music dull, allows us to appreciate a harmonic language that is simple yet quite subtle, in the service of the composer's enormous talents as a melodist. Deprived of the lyric dimension provided by the voices, the songs unfold their phrases with unsuspected naturalness and authenticity.
(August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990)
Bernstein told Rolling Stone:
'Everyone told us that [West Side Story] was an impossible project... And we were told no one was going to be able to sing augmented fourths, as with 'Ma-ri-a'... Also, they said the score was too rangy for pop music... Besides, who wanted to see a show in which the first-act curtain comes down on two dead bodies lying on the stage?... And then we had the really tough problem of casting it, because the characters had to be able not only to sing but dance and act and be taken for teenagers. Ultimately, some of the cast were teenagers, some were 21, some were 30 but looked 16. Some were wonderful singers but couldn't dance very well, or vice versa ... and if they could do both, they couldn't act.
IRWIN KOSTAL (October 1911 - November 1994) was an American musical arranger of films and an orchestrator of Broadway musicals. He did the original orchestration of West Side Story. His work won both an Oscar and a Grammy Award He conducted the digital re-recording of the music to Walt Disney's 1940 animated feature Fantasia. At the request of Leonard Berstein, he did the arrangement of 'West Side Story' for Katia and Marielle Labèque. In 2004 he was named a Disney Legend in recognition of his contributions to films released by the studio.