Lawrence Dillon@Sequenza21.com

"There are no two points so distant from one another that they cannot be connected by a single straight line -- and an infinite number of curves."

Composer Lawrence Dillon has produced an extensive body of work, from brief solo pieces to a full-length opera. Three disks of his music are due out in 2010 on the Bridge, Albany and Naxos labels. In the past year, he has had commissions from the Emerson String Quartet, the Cassatt String Quartet, the Mansfield Symphony, the Boise Philharmonic, the Salt Lake City Symphony, the Ravinia Festival, the Daedalus String Quartet, the Kenan Institute for the Arts, the University of Utah and the Idyllwild Symphony Orchestra.

Although he lost 50% of his hearing in a childhood illness, Dillon began composing as soon as he started piano lessons at the age of seven. In 1985, he became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate at The Juilliard School, and was shortly thereafter appointed to the Juilliard faculty. Dillon is now Composer in Residence at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he has served as Music Director of the Contemporary Ensemble, Assistant Dean of Performance, and Interim Dean of the School of Music. He was the Featured American Composer in the February 2006 issue of Chamber Music magazine.


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Monday, May 07, 2007
West Side Story

In 1956 and 1957, My Fair Lady, Candide and The Music Man all debuted on Broadway. Thatís an impressive group of works, but the most interesting premiere from that two-year period, in my mind, is that of West Side Story. Re-imagining Juliet as a young Hispanic immigrant and her balcony as a rusty, midtown fire escape was a brilliant stroke; bringing it all to life with a score that one-upped Broadway conventions from every perspective took a one-of-a-kind confluence of remarkable minds.

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of West Side Storyís debut and thereís been surprisingly little fanfare. Surprisingly little except here, that is: the North Carolina School of the Arts has mounted a production of the musical thatís running for the next two weeks, as well as symposia featuring author Arthur Laurents, orchestrator Sid Ramin, and actors Carol Lawrence and Michael Callin, who created the roles of Maria and Riff fifty years ago.

Famously punishing for the performers, West Side Story asks them to portray characters loosely based on Shakespeare, dance Jerome Robbinsís athletic choreography, and sing Bernsteinís trademark tritones and polyrhythms to Sondheimís tongue-twisting lyrics.

The orchestration is radical, considering the genre, with, among other things, five percussionists. The rhythmic profile is like nothing else previously heard on the Broadway stage.

My experience with West Side Story, until this week, was just with the film and the cast album. Seeing it live is a completely different story: Robbinsís choreography coupled with Bernsteinís music have a visceral power on the stage thatís flattened out in the film. The tenuous line that separates youthful, testosterone-driven horseplay from searing violence is captured unforgettably. I'd always known it was a good show, but I had never fully realized how good.

This production is directed by Gerald Freedman, who was the assistant director for the original production fifty years ago. The music director is Bernstein protťgťe John Mauceri. Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original script, has made some adjustments for this production -- script edits he says he has long contemplated. The budget was in the hundreds of thousands, which translates to an enormous amount when one considers that none of the participants were paid. Itís a fine production, by any standards. But donít take my word for it Ė hereís the review.

The North Carolina School of the Arts production of West Side Story opened on May 3; itís running here through May 13, after which it will pick up and move to Ravinia in June.

photo of college junior Jenna Fakhoury as Anita courtesy of the Winston-Salem Journal.