Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was, and still is, a tremendous presence at Tanglewood. He was a Conducting Fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center’s Class of 1940 (its first) and returned to teach and perform virtually every summer for the rest of his life. His 1957 musical West Side Story and its 1961 film adaptation likewise loom large in the American imagination. Thomas Wilkins leads the Pops in the number “America,” a debate among the show’s Puerto Rican roles about the plusses and minuses of New York City versus San Juan.
A mysterious and sultry introduction leads to the familiar rhythm at the heart of the song. The rhythm, which, like the rest of the music, takes cues from various genres of Latin music, gets its irresistible forward motion from the alternation of measures of 6/8 and 3/4: DA-da-da DA-da-da | DA DA DA.