West Side Story

March 21, 2020 | Michigan Theater

Behind the Music

Don’t let the mysterious shimmer that opens this concert and Diana Syrse’s Colección de Readlidades deceive you–this program packs a remarkably vivacious punch. As the texture broadens the rhythms of Mexico are revealed as the backbone to this gripping piece. To Puerto Rico we go next with Roberto Sierra’s Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra as the A2SO is joined by saxophonist and Detroit native, James Carter. A virtuosic blend of jazz, classical, and Latin styles come together alive with the spirt of improvisation for this furiously colorful concerto. The energy continues with Arturo Márquez Danzón No. 2. Growing from the foundational rhythm of the clave, Márquez pays his respects to the Cuban danzón tradition. Our evening celebrating the impact of Latin American culture on classical music comes to a dramatic close with the timeless story of love and loss and Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.


DIANA SYRSE Colección de Realidades

SIERRA Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra 

MÁRQUEZ Danzón No. 2

BERNSTEIN Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

James Carter, saxophones
Timothy Muffitt, guest conductor

Diana Syrse’s Colección de Realidades explores the realities of thousands of photographs each telling a unique story from the past.


“You have to be totally comfortable wherever,” Carter says. “I feel that music equals life, that’s the way my teacher always taught me. You just can’t go through life and experience it fully with a set of blinders on. I think there’s tremendous beauty in cross-pollinations of music and influences.” 

In many ways, weaving together divergent impulses is at the heart of Carter’s music. Like the late tenor sax titan Ben Webster, he’s given to furious, high-velocity solos, but is just as likely to wax sentimental, using his big, bruising tone to tenderly caress a comely melody. In 2000, he released two albums simultaneously that amounted to an anti-manifesto, a proclamation that everything is fair game.

On Chasin’ the Gypsy, a voluptuous, lyrical session partly inspired by the timeless collaboration between Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, he assembled a thrilling group with violinist Regina Carter and Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, for a project born out of some sound check jamming with Lubambo and Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista during a tour with Kathleen Battle. The groove-laden Layin’ in the Cut, featuring James Blood Ulmer’s former rhythm section with electric bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer Grant Calvin Weston, combines harmolodic freedom with a deep reservoir of funk, and developed out of a project inspired by another legendary guitarist, Jimi Hendrix.

He reinvented the organ combo (with 2005’s Out of Nowhere and again in 2009 with John Medeski on Heaven and Earth), explored the music of alt-rock band Pavement (on 2005’s Gold Sounds), and paid loving tribute to Billie Holiday (on 2003’s Gardenias for Lady Day). Taken in context, Carter’s creative rendezvous with composer, Roberto Sierra, with the Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra made perfect sense.

Now Carter presents us with James Carter’s Elektrik Outlet, a new configuration within which he has found a new groove to explore. Shifting his sax into a keen array of electronics and pedals just might be the perfect “outlet” for Carter to tap into that “frustrated guitarist” that he often describes himself to be. An excellent selection of tunes from Eddie Harris, Gene Ammons, Al Jarreau, Stevie Wonder, Minnie Ripperton and others provides impetus for Carter’s Elektrik Outlet to sizzle, slide, and pop. Adding energy to the group are fellow Detroit artists, Gerard Gibbs on electronic keyboards, Ralphe Armstrong on electric bass and Alex White on drums.

More information at jamescarterlive.com

Fast Facts


"Old World" Meets "New World"

Leonard Bernstein was long on a mission in search of a genuine form of American musical theater. His development as a composer was becoming noticeably more polished in the years leading up to 1957, the year West Side Story hit Broadway by storm. This pivotal work displayed Bernstein’s ability to take “Old World” techniques, such as the use of leitmotifs, and fuse them with the “New World” styles and timbres of Jazz and Latin music.

More Than Meets The Ear

The familiarly rich strike of the clave is a stalwart in Afro-Cuban music. The simplicity of the instrument and its sound is deceiving as the five-stroke clave plays a crucial role in organizing time in musical styles such as mambo, salsa, rumba, son, and many more. The five-stroke clave is organized in a “forward rhythm” (three strokes followed by two) or a “reverse rhythm” (two strokes followed by three). When translated from Spanish, “clave” means “keystone” or “key” which reveals the importance it holds in this musical tradition. 


By The Numbers

Strokes of the clave

Scenes on display from West Side Story in the "Symphonic Dances"

Musicians in Your A2SO


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