I enjoy the crossover appeal of Leonard Bernstein’s Suite from West Side Story. A popular musical within a classical structure, this piece can be equally appreciated by both the classical aficionado and the typical non-classical music listener. I’m always concerned with bringing new listeners to classical music; we have to use creative methods to achieve this goal.
The piece itself is only moderately difficult. However, finding the right moments to pause and breathe musically was an initial challenge. In studying this piece, I learned that silence is as important as sound in music performance. It’s important to savor and hold onto the dramatic pauses, giving the audience a chance to react to the prior musical passage. Mastering the art of silence in music lends an undeniable power to any performance.
To others who are interested in learning this piece, I would recommend gaining an understanding of the context. Somewhere is a sad love song between two lovers who clearly know their relationship is doomed, but still want to hold onto the illusion and dreams of future happiness. Become the music you are playing—tie it to something in your life. If your interpretation isn’t directly personal, it won’t connect with audiences.
However, when playing in an ensemble, I feel it’s important to compromise and listen to your partner’s feedback. Soloists can be very introspective, which can lead to a certain self-centered playing style. I try to resist these musical urges when collaborating within an ensemble capacity.
The piano is in a mostly supporting role during this piece; this requires the ability to remain in the background, since the violin takes center stage. This supporting role is not typical to a solo pianist, and requires musical collaboration that helps me listen to much more than my own instrument. I work easily with Sarah since her playing is powerful and sincere. We outlined our goals for this piece, what we expected from ourselves and each other.
The experience of performing the Suite from West Side Story helped me grow as an ensemble musician, and I now better understand the importance of nuance—music is more than just playing seven notes.