Tanglewood to host live-to-picture BSO performance of ‘West Side Story’

In live-to-picture productions, orchestras perform an entire movie score in real time as the film unspools. If a conductor gets out of sync with the moving picture, the show ends in catastrophe.

Lenox — Selections from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” appear routinely on the concert programs of orchestras large and small. For example, the “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” is one of the most commonly performed orchestral pieces in the world. But live-to-picture performances of the entire Oscar-winning score are another matter altogether. They are rare because they are difficult and expensive to produce and nearly impossible to conduct. The Boston Symphony Orchestra gave its first live-to-picture performance of “West Side Story” in July 2013 and repeated the feat in February 2014. They’ll do it again at Tanglewood on Saturday, July 28.

In live-to-picture productions, orchestras perform an entire movie score in real time as the film unspools. (Vocals, dialogue and effects are isolated from the original music track.) If a conductor gets out of sync with the moving picture, the show ends in catastrophe. It’s a daredevil act that few conductors in the world are willing to perform. Foremost among these intrepid experts is film composer and conductor David Newman, who will direct the BSO on July 28. Newman has composed the scores of more than 110 films, and he understands synchronization technology as well as anyone alive. (His father, Alfred Newman, practically invented it, which is why it is still called the “Newman System.”) But keeping a 100-piece orchestra in sync with a movie is, even for David Newman, “very difficult,” and he still gets nervous before a show.

The new LED video screens facing the lawn from the back of the Shed are truly game changers. Bright enough to be seen clearly in broad daylight (e.g., on Sunday afternoons), these new screens make all the difference in the world to listeners sitting on the lawn. Film music performances (not to mention regular concerts) at Tanglewood will never be the same.