Spielberg signs Dudamel to conduct West Side Story film

Spielberg signs Dudamel to conduct West Side Story film


norman lebrecht

May 18, 2019

A match made by John Williams, no doubt:

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story announced today that acclaimed conductor Gustavo Dudamel will be guiding the baton for the film’s recording of Leonard Bernstein’s iconic score.

Also part of the music team are Oscar-nominated composer and conductor David Newman (Anastasia) who will be arranging the Bernstein score for the new adaptation; Tony Award®-winning composer Jeanine Tesori (Broadway’s Fun Home and Thoroughly Modern Millie), who will be working with the cast on vocals; and Grammy®-nominated music supervisor Matt Sullivan (Beauty and the Beast, Chicago), who will serve as executive music producer for the film.

“Since the moment West Side Story hit Broadway in 1957, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s iconic music has helped define America’s musical identity,” said Spielberg. “To find a team with the experience and talent to honor the original work – while bringing a fresh vision to our new adaptation – was a tall order. I’m confident that this incredible group will do just that, and I am privileged and grateful to have them as partners on this journey.” – Steven Spielberg, Director



  • MusicBear88 says:

    I know that Dudamel receives little respect on this blog, but I think that it’s an excellent choice for some of the most iconic theater/film music written.

  • fflambeau says:

    Wow. The “dream team”: Spielberg and the Dude.

    There’s no question that the Dude is the most charismatic and energetic conductor around (I didn’t say he’s the best). Great choices.

    This is an exciting project and may I say that the early Bernstein is much better than the older Bernstein. His score for “On the Waterfront” is a knockout. And “West Side Story” is another winner.

  • Nick2 says:

    Why does Bernstein’s superb score require “arranging” I wonder? It has more than stood the test of time. I recall Spielberg’s disastrous arrangement of J M Barrie’s “Peter Pan” – “Hook”. The original movie of WSS certainly warrants updating and Jerome Robbins choreography, for so long protected by the copyright looked after by the Bernstein Estate, is now dated. But the score?

    • Ricardo says:

      I was thinking the same. It seems Hollywood likes to mess around with masterpieces (like in Fantasia: Stravinsky was famously pissed off at the “improvements” they made to the score of Le Sacre). What is the justification? (genuine question to which I do not now the answer)

      • Tamino says:

        What’s the justification?
        There is money in it for good friends of the director.

      • Phillip Ayling says:

        Unless it is a shot for shot remake, which I highly doubt, Steven Spielberg will be making choices as the Director that will different from those made by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise (the Directors of the 1961 film).

        This means that some scenes will be longer or shorter or ‘cuts’ between characters will be different than those in the original film.

        At a minimum, this will require new arrangements which are synchronized and accommodating to those changes. That doesn’t necessarily mean that attempts are being made to ‘improve’ the score.

        The music also includes Steven Sondheim’s original lyrics, some of which were censored for the original film…perhaps those will be restored or modified for this version as Sondheim is still alive.

    • Felipe says:

      Bernstein’s score was originally conceived for a small Broadway pit ensemble and later re-orchestrated for the big screen multi-Oscar 1960 film. Maestro Newman is a superb Choir por the task.

    • anon says:

      Agree. Didn’t Bernstein conduct (his own) full score in his recording with Te Kanawa et al?

      • Peter says:

        He did, but that it was of the original scoring for a Broadway pit orchestra albeit with a few additional strings to beef up the sound.

      • Nick2 says:

        He did indeed conduct the video “The Making of West Side Story” with Te Kanawa, Carreras and Troyanos in the mid-1980s. The orchestra in the studio looks slightly larger than a 1950s pit band but it is exactly what Bernstein wanted and sounds amazing. It is certainly nothing like a full orchestra – only 2 cellos as far as I can see. If that scoring in that video with the composer conducting was definitive, why would any arrangement now be necessary?

        • anon says:

          I agree, with dolby stereo surround sound, or whatever is the latest technology (I know, I’m dating myself), it really doesn’t matter if a cinema score is played by a full orchestra or not.

          I mean:

          1) the sound effects of any action film is loud enough, and it’s just made on some synthesizer.

          2) unless the arranger intends to add more instrumentation à la Ravel orchestrating Mussorgsky… but clearly Bernstein knew what he was doing…

          • Nick2 says:

            I respectfully disagree. The essence of Bernstein’s score is its clarity and gritty, raw emotion. The lushness of a full orchestra might suit some of the songs, but for the most part it is out of place. The full orchestral arrangement of the Symphonic Dances works in the concert hall. Personally I don’t believe it does when allied to the work being staged.

          • Art Frank says:

            The original orchestrations were by Hershey Kay and they are f…in perfect! They work – are exciting and VERY Broadwayish. I have conducted the show with the reduced 10 piece orchestration many times, and the full orchestration once. It needs no revision.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      Bernstein wasn’t particularly thrilled with the score for the Robert Wise film. He felt the orchestration was too “Hollywood”, even though it was done by friends Sid Ramen and Irwin Kostal. The Broadway version is dated and too small. I can think of a better arranger than Newman and I can sure think of a more appropriate conductor – how about a Bernstein protoge, like Marin Alsop who has turned out some superb Bernstein recordings.

    • Kerri Green says:

      Only old farts hated Hook. Young people prefer it over the old version.

  • The View from America says:

    Oh, joy.

  • Felipe says:

    Bernstein’s score was originally conceived for a small Broadway pit ensemble and later re-orchestrated for the big screen multi-Oscar 1960 film. Maestro Newman is a superb Choice por the task. (Corrected text)

  • Caravaggio says:

    Bernstein’s score needs no help. If Dudamel had a bone in him other than opportunistic he would step in and declare no-go to a rearranged score. But of course no. They will end up diluting the whole thing into a Disneyfied, dumb gumbo.

  • MacroV says:

    So will they record it with the LA Philharmonic or go over to London to save money?

    • anon says:

      Caracas. With the Simon Bolivar Orchestra.

      (With all seriousness, the situation is tragic there, the NYT ha an article saying the economic collapse there is worse than the collapse of the Soviet Union, of Cuba… And it’s all avoidable.)

      Anyway, Spielberg can afford the LA Phil. And he’s pushing the American angle.

      But if Spielberg is really pushing the American angle, he ought to be engaging an American conductor. Dudamel is not Puerto Rican.

      As far as I know, Dudamel is a naturalized Spaniard, not even bothering to be naturalized American.


      • Tamino says:

        Of course Dudamel is an American. He is just not a US citizen.
        And if that mattered anything anyway, considering it’s about Bernstein’s music, someone with 100% Russian Jewish ancestry.
        “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

        • anon says:

          I know you want to be politically chic, that everyone from South and North Americas are “Americans”, but that’s just not how people self-identify. A Venezuelan does not go around saying “yo soy americano” anymore than Justin Trudeau says “je suis américain”.

          And of course all Americans are “100% (some foreign) ancestry” if you trace it far enough, but if you think Bernstein did not fully think of himself as an American born and bred, just like Saul Bellow in every sentence that flows through The Adventures of Augie March, you don’t know Bernstein or any American.

  • luciano tanto says:

    “Bernardo” Dudamel…

  • muslit says:

    I don’t know about Dudamel ruining the new film version of West Side Story, but Spielberg could. By far the best thing of the 1961 version was the choreography/direction of Jerome Robbins. Updating is nice, but touch this, and the project is doomed. If Robbins had continued as director (Robert Wise took over), West Side Story might have been an interesting film.

  • Joel says:

    Bernstein did not orchestrate West Side Story; Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal did. There were 7 violins and 4 cellos (the end of “Maria” is an 11 way divisi). By today’s Broadway standards, a Mahler-sized group. No violas for the simple reason that that they would have had to use the house musician at the Winter Garden Theater – a weak violist.
    The “pit band” may have been small-ISH but “A Boy Like That” starts with a quartet of 3 bass clarinets and bassoon. Find that in a full orchestra. “I Feel Pretty” has a piccolo TRIO.
    Most of you folks don’t know the score at all.
    And let’s not forget the “Symphonic Dances” which Bernstein recorded.
    So I would not worry about a larger orchestration – IF – it is done well.
    If every there was a musician into fresh ideas, it was L.B.

    • Nick2 says:

      I have read that the original Broadway pit band had 31 musicians which included 5 on percussion. That’s a sizeable ensemble compared to half that number which is much more usual today.

  • Mark (London) says:

    Nauseating this “gushing “ over Dudamel! Nothing special at all! Except he happens to be in LA

  • Steve Metcalf says:

    The original 1957 orchestrations for WSS were indeed brilliant but for the record they were done by the great (and still living) Sid Ramin, with assistance from Irwin Kostal.

  • Tichy says:

    Fun fact:
    John(ny) Williams plays the piano on the original recording of the soundtrack.
    Although he is 87 years old, it is kind of sad to see he seemingly won’t be a part of this. There is a connection, and Williams even was a friend of Bernstein and composed several tributes for him.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    I hope the new film keeps the same musical edits and cuts as the original film and not the original Broadway version. The original Broadway version had so many ineffective musical moments and awkward/weird lyrics that the film corrected and improved upon.

  • Adam Stern says:

    There is one musical “sin” in the original film that I hope is corrected in the remake. In the original, the actor portraying Ice sings “Cool” in B-flat minor, a whole-step lower than in the Broadway theater version. The 12-tone fugue subject (based on Beethoven’s “Große Fuge”) then enters starting on B-flat, but, eight tones in, suddenly switches to the key of the Broadway version (C minor), thus destroying the row. I rather suspect Mr. Spielberg doesn’t list adherence to dodecaphony among his greatest cinematic concerns, but it will be nice to finally have this redressed.

  • Outsider says:

    Bernstein’s “Mess” betrays his hand – catchy tunes in “West Side Story”, but Irwin Kostal was uncredited in his excellent work orchestrating those tunes.

  • Kerri Green says:

    Why is John Williams not doing this? He’s better than all of these people put together. I guess he doesn’t like remakes.