CSO: On The Waterfront

(Film with Live Orchestra)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

David Newman, conductor

Friday, August 9, 2019
4:30 PM
Donor Gates Open
5:00 PM
Public Gates Open
8:00 PM
Concert Starts

Tickets: $90 / $35
Lawn: $25

Note: Ravinia allows popcorn, theater candy, and Pavilion drink cups into the Pavilion for all four movie nights.


Bernstein:      Score to On The Waterfront

Program Notes

  • Even though Leonard Bernstein’s music has underscored several movies, most notably the 1961 Oscar winner West Side Story, the only music he wrote expressly for film is featured in Elia Kazan’s classic crime drama On the Waterfront.(Bernstein did not participate in the adaptation of West Side Story from stage to screen musical.)
  • Elements of Leonard Bernstein’s landmark music for West Side Story can be heard in On the Waterfront, especially in the gritty dissonance and irregular rhythms of the brawl scene that foreshadow the “Rumble” music of the Sharks and the Jets squaring off with switchblades.
  • It took some convincing to get Leonard Bernstein to agree to create his first film score. An East Coast “outsider” to Hollywood brass, Bernstein was nonetheless sought out to be a “name brand” for the independently produced film. After being convinced to watch an early cut of the film with director Elia Kazan, Bernstein recalled, he felt “a surge of excitement” with Marlon Brando’s performance and was “swept by my enthusiasm into accepting.”


  • Leonard Bernstein’s “outsider” status with Hollywood—when his musical On the Town was adapted for film in 1949, much of his original music didn’t make the cut—perhaps accounts for his score for On the Waterfront receiving a nomination for an Oscar but not winning. Half a century on, none of the other nominees that same year remain as memorable.
  • Just over a year after On the Waterfront appeared in theaters in 1954, Leonard Bernstein premiered a 20-minute symphonic suite from the film score, sagely giving his music life after the screen in an age before home video (VHS was introduced in 1976). This was unusual for film music at the time, but was perhaps a natural thought for the stage-minded Bernstein; both past and contemporary stage composers often fashioned concert-hall suites of their music, such as Sergei Prokofiev’s three symphonic suites from his ballet Romeo and Juliet. (Lucerne Symphony music director James Gaffigan selected his own suite from these excerpts for the orchestra’s August 20 concert.)
  • Leonard Bernstein never created another film score (not even collaborating on the later film version of West Side Story) because he disliked surrendering creative control of the music to the film editors. When the tonight’s live-orchestra presentation was being created, the producers (including tonight’s conductor, David Newman) had to painstakingly adapt Bernstein’s original score—what he wrote and recorded with the studio orchestra was not what was heard in the final cut of the movie, with some passages being artificially quieted or completely eliminated.
  • On the Waterfront, which won eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay, was inspired by the New York Sun’s Pulitzer Prize–winning exposé of the criminal culture of New York dockworkers as well as a real-life whistleblower who testified to the Waterfront Commission.
  • Marlon Brando was also originally reluctant to work on On the Waterfront, despite having collaborated with director Elia Kazan on both the stage and screen versions of A Streetcar Named Desire, which solidified his career and earned him his first Oscar nomination. The producers eventually won him over, and Brando turned in his first Oscar-winning performance (as well as many memorable lines).

Park Details

Complete film shown on Pavilion and lawn video screens




As a special homage to the legend himself, Ravinia will host a Marlon Brando impersonation contest prior to the performance. Prizes include special Brando merchandise and a 2020 admit-two season lawn pass. Last-minute entrants will be accepted at the Information Booth in the main plaza inside the west gate.

The contest will take place starting at 7 p.m. in front of the giant video screen on Ravinia’s North Lawn.


Concert Information

Complete film shown on Pavilion and lawn video screens

On the Waterfront
©2019 CTMG


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