Preview: Cleveland Orchestra closing 2016-17 season with ‘West Side Story’

Brett Mitchell will lead The Cleveland Orchestra in four performances of West Side Story to close their 2016-17 season.

Brett Mitchell will lead The Cleveland Orchestra in four performances of West Side Story to close their 2016-17 season.

The News-Herald (Cleveland) has published a preview of Brett Mitchell's final subscription concerts as Associate Conductor of The Cleveland Orchestra:

Brett Mitchell is, unabashedly, a fanboy of legendary composer Leonard Bernstein. However, unlike Comic Con-goers — whose adoration is limited to “Star Wars” and such things — the Cleveland Orchestra Associate Conductor’s love affair begins with “West Side Story.”

“When you think about American music in the 20th century, it’s impossible not to think of Leonard Bernstein,” Mitchell said. “Notice, I didn’t say American classical music or American orchestral music. I mean, Lenny had his hands in every possible cookie jar he could.

“It’s amazing to me to think Bernstein was music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1958 to 1969. It was literally the year before he started that they released ‘West Side Story,’ which is one of the great Broadway hits of all-time. You’ve got somebody that really was every bit as comfortable in the Broadway world as he was in the classical, orchestral world.”

The Cleveland Orchestra is merging those worlds for “West Side Story,” which is the season finale of its “At the Movies” series. Performances run June 1 through 4 at Severance Hall.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Broadway production.

With Mitchell conducting, the Cleveland Orchestra will perform Bernstein’s electrifying score (including iconic songs “Something’s Coming,” “Tonight,” “America,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere”) while the remastered film is shown on a high-definition big screen with the original vocals and dialog.

When looking over the score, Mitchell said the challenge for the Orchestra stems around the material, which is very much symphonic but also based in dance music and jazz. The latter finds the musicians coming out of their collective comfort zone.

“It’s very much letting our hair down, and it’s a whole lot of fun for all of us,” Mitchell said. “The great joy for me in particularly doing film projects like this with the Cleveland Orchestra is that there is no more-flexible orchestra in the world. We’re basically kind of retrofitting the accompaniment onto these pre-existing sung vocal lines.

“Having an orchestra like the Cleveland Orchestra — that has no problem playing as quietly and as subtly and as sensitively as possible — that is really a boon for me on the podium and fantastic for the audience. It’s great to do a project like this because it really lets both the Orchestra and the film shine.”

What makes this program different is normally the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra performs the most challenging material that may not appeal to neophytes. This is one example where universal appeal exists for the casual music or movie fan.

“Everybody knows ‘West Side Story,’ everybody can sing a tune from ‘West Side Story,’” Mitchell said. “And the idea you can see it on the big screen, that’s fantastic. But what’s really fantastic is having one of the world’s greatest orchestras, along with a conductor who is an unabashed devotee of Leonard Bernstein, doing this project together in Severance Hall on subscription as the season finale.

“It doesn’t get bigger than that. This is not just a performance, it’s an event. I couldn’t be more excited.”

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