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Jonathan Tunick Unveils Grand Orchestration of Sondheim's 'A Little Night Music'

Jonathan Tunick Unveils Grand Orchestration of Sondheim's 'A Little Night Music'

At the climax of Stephen Sondheim's “A Little Night Music,” the orchestra reaches what Sondheim called its Max Steiner moment, evoking the great scores of “Casablanca” or “Gone with the Wind.” During a pivotal scene, Désirée and Fredrik, former lovers on the verge of losing their happiness, meet and kiss as the orchestra swells to a stirring reprise of “Send in the Clowns.”

Jonathan Tunick’s new orchestration premiered Thursday at David Geffen Hall with the 53-piece St. Luke’s Orchestra. Strings and winds soared, supported by rich, staggered chords and flourishing counterpoint, creating a moment fit for both film and opera.

Since Sondheim’s death in 2021, there has been a resurgence of large-scale revivals of his works. “Sweeney Todd” returned to Broadway with Tunick’s original orchestration, and “Follies” opened at Carnegie Hall with a similarly sized ensemble. Thursday’s version of “A Little Night Music” featured nearly double the size of the original orchestra.

Tunick, who first worked with Sondheim on 1970’s “Company,” seamlessly transformed Sondheim’s piano and vocal performances into rich orchestral arrangements. Tunick’s mastery has earned him EGOT status, winning an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and numerous Tonys, including a recent one for “Merrily We Roll Along.”

While some musicals thrive on smaller ensembles, “A Little Night Music” thrives on grandeur. Sondheim's intricate, rich score was enhanced by Tunick's orchestration, which brought out the music's complexity and clarity. New additions, such as the restoration of “Silly People,” further enrich the score.

The performance, though sumptuous in presentation, seemed under-rehearsed. With stars like Susan Graham and Cynthia Erivo, the cast showed potential for improvement in future performances. Conducted by Marc Bruni, the concert adaptation moved quickly, focusing on simplicity and small gestures. However, the slow tempos often held back the lively score, which needs to run free.

Despite mixed confidence from the orchestra and cast, the performance highlighted the potential for “A Little Night Music” to find a suitable home, deserving a place in the repertoire with the resources to thrive.

By Ronda Pickman

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