Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet inspired many composers from Benda to Prokofiev through Berlioz, Gounod or Tchaikowsky and it is always a challenge for a musician to approach such a subject so full of history. With Star-Cross’d Lovers French composer David Chalmin gives a new look at Shakespeare's drama : a contemporary ballet choreographed by Yaman Okur, written for two pianos, electric guitar, electronics and drums. The musical dramaturgy is based on tension and resolution, violence and harmony, brutality and poetry, which correspond to the two antagonist themes of hatred and love.
These contrasts enable a vast range of choreographic possibilities boosted by the energy exchanges between the seven breakdancers and the four musicians.
The piece is tinged with Minimalist, rock and electronics but also includes references to art music or ethnic music. It finds its unity in a cleverly combination of tradition and experimentalism.
The clashes between the two rival gangs take place in a dark, oppressive and threatening musical world where tension and danger are constant. It could describe a sordid urban environment, perhaps that of a soulless suburb of a big city. The tragic end of the work is prefigured in the first prologue by an evolving melodic theme played by the pianos in the lower register that could be a modern version of a Wagnerian leitmotiv of curse or fate.
Electronic roars and buzzes, howlings of electric guitar, aggressive hammerings of pianos, cold polyrhythmic combining motoric style, obssesive rave music but also african and latino influences, contribute to this dystopian vision of the drama.
The musical universe of the two famous lovers, which often tintinnabulate in the high register of the pianos, is instead full of delicacy and sweetness. David Chalmin gives his music a special charm drawing his inspiration from Ravelian limpidness, Schubertian lyricism and Chopinian poetry but also from styles close to jazz and pop music.
David Chalmin 30-minute score was composed for Katia and Marielle Labèque. It was premiered at the Philharmonie de Paris on May 2015. Since then, it has been performed in Luzern, Dortmund, Montpellier Festival, Bordeaux, Paris (Théâtre du Châtelet), Napoli Festival, etc...
Leonard Bernstein - West Side Story - 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.
KML / Deutsche Grammophon