"West Side Story" was a momentous occasion Saturday night at E.J. Thomas Hall as the Akron Symphony Orchestra played the concert version of the beloved musical, featuring a cast of 31 vocalists.
The performers, led by Puerto Rican soprano Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez as Maria, Connor Bogart O'Brien as Tony and Trinidad Snider as Anita, gave ample meaning to the concept of "acting the song," with passionate portrayals that put audience members in the heart of the story's most dramatic moments. Among the highlights, O'Brien's emoting was beautiful in "Maria" and the Jets made a lively comical team in "Gee, Officer Krupke."
The fact that this concert production did not include dance actually had me listening to the instrumental "The Dance at the Gym" in a whole different way, focusing solely on the beautiful complexity of Leonard Bernstein's score. For the first time, I detected a variation from the "Jet Song" melody embedded in the elaborate blending of musical styles in "The Dance at the Gym."
Before the concert, a talk by conductor Christopher Wilkins included numerous interesting tidbits, including a detail about Bernstein arguing with original "West Side Story" producer Cheryl Crawford, an Akron native, about how many musicians he could have in the orchestra. She insisted he could have only 30. After she quit the show, weeks before rehearsals were to start, Bernstein ended up with an orchestra of 33.
Wilkins also said young lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who was 27 in 1957, regretted having Maria say witty lyrics such as "It's alarming how charming I feel" when she had just come to the United States a couple weeks before. He also regretted the vaudevillian-style "Gee, Officer Krupke" because it was out of character for the Jets street kids.
"West Side Story" was a groundbreaking musical for its genius blend of Latin, jazz and orchestral styles.
"Bernstein was a musical polyglot. He spoke every musical language that there is," Wilkins said.
Tuesday Musical news
Eleven first- and second-place winners of Tuesday Musical's 2019 Scholarship Competition will perform in a free concert at 2:30 p.m. May 19 at Faith Lutheran Church, 2726 W. Market St., Fairlawn. Two additional performance scholarships — one for $1,000 and one for $2,000 — will be awarded during a post-concert reception. The concert and reception are free and open to the public.
The performers will include Isabelle Durrenberger, violin, Cleveland Institute of Music; Sarah Miller, cello, Cleveland Institute of Music; Andrew Ribo, euphonium, James Madison University; Allison Littlejohn, marimba/steel pan, the University of Akron; Jiana Peng, piano, Oberlin Conservatory; Alexis Reed, voice, Oberlin Conservatory; Karis Tucker, voice, University of Cincinnati; Peter Arfsten, flute, Cleveland Institute of Music; Ian Daugherty, oboe, Kent State University; Nick Giralico, horn, Cleveland Institute of Music; Yeram Yoon, guitar, Cleveland Institute of Music.
A total of 20 college and university music students, competing among 130 applicants, have already received $22,300 through Tuesday Musical’s 2019 Annual Scholarship Competition, which was held March 23 in Akron.
The Tuesday Musical competition has awarded more than 500 college music scholarships since 1955.
The other 2019 scholarship competition winners are Moriah Sprit of the University of Akron and Scott Little of Kent State University for music education; Kyle Perisutti, trumpet, Baldwin Wallace, third place for brass; Matthew Dion, organ, Oberlin Conservatory; Li Wang, University of Cincinnati, first place for piano; Chi Hoi Cheung, University of Cincinnati, third place for piano; James Hettinga, cello, Cleveland Institute of Music, third place for strings; Greta Groothuis, Oberlin Conservatory, third place for voice; and Ava Wirth, oboe, Bowling Green State University, third place for woodwinds.
• In other Tuesday Musical news, the organization has created the Myers Foundation New Music Fund to help support commissions of new music, premieres in Akron and opportunities for students to learn from talented composers. Support for the new fund comes from the Louis S. and Mary Myers Foundation.
"The Myers Foundation New Music Fund will enable us to build on our work with composers in recent years,” said Jarrod Hartzler, executive and artistic director.
Tuesday Musical's first commission was in 2015, when it co-commissioned Mark-Anthony Turnage to compose a work to celebrate the Emerson String Quartet’s 40th anniversary. Emerson performed the world premiere of "Shroud" for the opening concert of Tuesday Musical’s 2016-17 season, then went on to perform the work for audiences around the globe.
For its 130th anniversary in 2017-2018, Tuesday Musical commissioned South African-born James Wilding, a University of Akron music faculty member, to compose “Homeland Portraits” for the Escher String Quartet.
At the start of the 2018-19 season, Tuesday Musical named composer-pianist Gregg Kallor its inaugural composer-in-residence. He will compose a new string octet for Tuesday Musical’s 2019-20 season, to be premiered by the Dover and Escher quartets in a duo performance.
The public is invited to watch ArtSparks students from seven Akron grade schools show off their work with the "We are Stars! Dynamite Duos" performances Monday and Thursday at Firestone high school. Dancers from Resnik, Case, Barber and Harris-Jackson CLCs will perform at 11 a.m. Monday and students from Sam Salem, Crouse and Hatton CLCs will perform at the same time Thursday. Doors will open at 10:45 a.m.
The dancers will travel through outer space as their steps launch them through the universe. The "Dynamite Duos" project brings together children with disabilities and non-disabled peers in engaging dance partnerships.
ArtSparks, which conducts in-school partnerships, is an associate program of the National Dance Institute.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.