West Side Story

March 21, 2020 | 8:00 PM | 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.




“Music and life do not separate” says saxophone virtuoso James Carter, “my elders have taught me that music is a culture and a way of life.”

Detroit native Carter shared his childhood home with five musically inclined siblings in “a house filled with all manner of sounds, from The Beatles to Funk and Hendrix.”

The Jazz influence came from Carter’s mother who “brought the voices of greats like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald into my life.”It was his mother who in 1980 took young Carter to see the Count Basie Orchestra at the Detroit Music Hall, where the big-band sound made a lasting impression, but it was a World Saxophone Quartet concert two years later that would set music as a path for life. “To watch four saxophonists individually and collectively, literally shred the stage” recalls Carter, “it sparked a furnaceinside of me that won’t quit to this day.”

At the tender age of seventeen the young prodigy shared a stage with the great Wynton Marsalis and at 23, released his landmark debut album JC On the Set, hailed by many as the arrival of a new Jazz master. Over the decades that followed, Carter has cemented his reputation as one of this generation’s most charismatic and versatile soloists, boasting collaborations with Lester Bowie, Julius Hemphill, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kathleen Battle, Frank Lowe & Saxemble, the world Saxophone Quartet and Wynton Marsalis among other Jazz greats.

2019 sees Carter release his eighteenth original recording, marking the Jazz master’s debut as a band leader for Blue Note records. Captured live at the 2018 Newport Jazz festival, the celebrated James Carter Organ Trio: Live From Newport Jazz, pays homage to the legendary Django Reinhardt and is a return of sorts to the 2000 Chasin’ the Gypsyalbum where Carter first paid tribute to the swing-guitar icon for whom he carries great affection.

Honing his craft to a jaw-dropping technical level, Carter is the master of a family of saxophones, flute and clarinet. His is a powerhouse virtuosity likened by composer Roberto Sierra to the great Paganini. It was in fact this astounding instrumental flexibility, coupled with an eclectic body of recordings that inspired the Spanish maestro to write the celebrated Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra for the 31 year old. Written expressly for Carter and mixing Jazz, Latin and classical elements, the work showcases the multi instrumentalist’s outstanding technical virtuosity whilst allowing him “the freedom to improvise.”

The four-movement piece sees Carter take center stage throughout, executing swift instrument transitions between Tenor and Soprano and employing a full gamut of musical expression, from furiously-fast Coltrane like tempo to a quiet ballad. 

The concerto premiered in 2002 with Neeme Järvi conducting the Detroit Symphony to three sold out performances, followed by four additional sold-out shows a year later. Carter went on to perform the concerto to captivated audiences worldwide earning critical praise and meriting standing ovations. Notable performances include the 2016 Leipzig MDR, Berlin Rundfunk the same year with Kristjan Järvi conducting, and 2019 when he collaborated with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Wilkins conducting.

The concerto’s unfading charm carries Carter into 2020 and the Tanglewood Music Festival where he will perform Sierra’s piece with the iconic Boston Symphony, conducted by Ken David-Masur.

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