Cantara, 1980

The producer of my last movie took this on his patio near the jacuzzi. Sorry, but he kept the nude shots.

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The Story So Far, with Conductor John Wilson

Cantara, former ASCAP solfeggist and 70s porn actress turned screenplay writer, has fallen hopelessly in love with a man at the other end of the world, an English, middle-ranking orchestra conductor—who plays, on the side, Golden Age of Hollywood music and The Great American Songbook—by the name of John Wilson.

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Not because he’s a fellow creator (he doesn’t create, but reconstructs, orchestrates and arranges the music of others)—not because of his looks (he’s peaky, scrawny, blinky; his gray-green eyes lack luster; he’s got a facial tic, lousy posture, enormous feet, the limbs of a stick insect and the hands of a hod carrier; his nose is an equilateral triangle; his famous cleft chin, supposedly his best feature, always looks slightly askew; his ultra-short mousy hair can’t conceal the fact he’s already going gray; his jawline is going a wee bit soft and pasta goes right to his chops; he sweats like a stevedore on the podium; and for the past few years he’s taken to wearing geek glasses)—and certainly not for his intellect (his fatuous pronouncement about the needlessness of lyrics in The Great American Songbook makes me want to smack the back of his head like the whippersnapper he is and send him home with a note).

So what is it about him? I’ve only been aware of his existence since 30 April and in love with him since 4 May, 2018; since then my feelings have been an insane mixture of sympathy, gratitude, annoyance, and lust. The sympathy I can understand: I’m at the height of my maturity, he’s at the beginning of his… As far as gratitude, read my post below about “The Trolley Song”. Even the raging lust I get.

But whenever John gets himself in the way of the music it drives me nuts. It’s crystal clear to me the times he does this because I’m in love with him, dammit, and because when I’m in love with a musician I pay acute attention to the music. Truth to tell though, the only times John really gets himself in the way are when he’s conducting his own hand-picked group which is dedicated mostly to music from The Great American Songbook, and cannily named The John Wilson Orchestra.

Whether he gets himself in the way indeliberately or on purpose I cannot entirely tell, but I’m starting to. With a little patience he isn’t that hard to read, my bonny John Wilson. After countless times listening to his recordings and broadcasts; pouring over his interviews; watching him conduct (in video clips, mainly from the annual BBC Proms); watching him conduct other orchestras besides his own—from material taken at random from 2007 to the present—and, MOST IMPORTANT, learning to separate the showman from the musician, I’m starting to understand his type of intelligence and his musical capability, which is actually pretty sizable. His ear (the way he hears things, not his purported perfect pitch) is intriguing and his industriousness is admirable. I am definitely not buying into the PR excess—he is not “a superstar”, “charismatic” or, God help us, “legendary” (at 46!?). But his musicianship at times is kiiind of brilliant.

Part Two below or here.

The Story So Far; Or, Conductor John Wilson—His Limits

Anyroad, like a good Dr Watson I have compiled a list:

JOHN WILSON – HIS LIMITS

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Knowledge of/affinity for/talent with:

  • English Light Music – Affinity natural; knowledge vast; repopularized Angela Morley, Malcolm Arnold, Arnold Bax, Edward Elgar, Edward German, Eric Coates, Robert Farnum, Hubert Parry, etc etc etc; recorded over a dozen albums of English light music with Naxos, Chandos etc; wrote arrangement of Fantasia on British Sea Songs for Last Night At the Proms, 2003
  • English Light Music, Gilbert & Sullivan Division – Creditably conducted Yeoman of the Guard in 2009 and Ruddigore in 2010 (my favorite G&S, as “Basingstoke” was the safeword my boyfriend and I used during bondage games); slated to conduct Trial by Jury spring 2019
  • Classical Repertoire – Special affinity for Rachmaninoff. Has recorded so far 3 albums in a set of Copland, which doesn’t interest me. Creditably conducted Beethoven’s Pastoral as well as Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with the RTE Orchestra in Dublin. But Mahler. Yeh, I’d like John to eventually work up to Mahler’s 2nd (which TONALLY is up his alley). Only by the time he does get to it years and years from now I’ll probably be dead…
  • Classical Repertoire, English Romantics Division – Creditably conducted Walton, Delius, Britten; deep affinity for Ralph Vaughan Williams (it’s that Sehnsucht, baby)
  • Opera – Creditably conducted Madame Butterfly for the 2016 Glyndebourne tour; creditably conducted Porgy and Bess fall 2018 at the English National Opera; slated to conduct Massenet’s La Cendrillon at Glyndebourne 8 June – 2 August,  2019
  • Film Music – Creditably conducted “British Film Music” for the 2007 Proms; transcribed by ear complete MGM “lost” movie musical scores including The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me In St Louis and Singin’ In the Rain, resulting in 350+ pieces of programmable material (for the Proms, for example)—many of which are now of course part of The John Wilson Orchestra repertoire—while the complete scores are now available to orchestras worldwide for symphonic and live-to-screen concerts
  • Big Band/Big Swing – In his early 20s John cut his teeth on this type of music, starting with his stints conducting his Royal College/Royal Academy colleagues in the afternoon tea dance at London’s famed-for-its-tea-dances hotels, the Grosvenor House and Royal Park (Times music critic Clive Davis gave the young students a “golden”—John’s word—review), plus The Boatyard, a trendy restaurant in Essex; recorded 8 albums for Vocalion; nominated for Grammy 2005 for the soundtrack of the biopic Beyond the Sea (which is really the first time I heard The JWO but didn’t know it)
  • Jazz – John has absolutely no idea what jazz is, yet recorded a thoroughly awful and dishonest album entitled Orchestral Jazz
  • Broadway and the Great American Songbook – DON’T get me started here. I’m blogging about this below.

All the rest is just Cantara trying to sort out where bonny John fits into her inner life. Which as it turns out is in every nook, every cranny…

John Wilson Conducts Oklahoma at the 2017 BBC Proms, Rouben Mamoulian Howls In Protest from His Grave, Part 1

…and this time I’m siding with The Old Man. But I’m writing this for you, John.

Richard Rodgers Piano

Let me start off with a little story. It’s a true story, and it’s one of the reasons I’m here doing this thing right now.

(I mean, the rest of you didn’t really think this entire blog was just about bonny John Wilson, did you?)

But bear with me a moment. I have to go back in my memory to forty, forty-one years ago, to that sad shabby house up on Schuyler Road in Beverly Hills which I’m not really rarin’ to do, but here goes.

It was a late morning about six weeks into my work assignment and The Old Man hadn’t arisen yet, so there I was in the salon with nothing to do except quietly wait for his appearance and his orders for the day (which letters to answer, which bills to pay, which people to call, etc) before getting down to the primary purpose of my being there, which was, in the agency’s words, “to assist Mr Mamoulian in the writing of his memoirs”. None of that memoir writing actually did transpire in the nearly nine months I was with him—other things did—but let’s not jump ahead. Unsupervised, I was forbidden to handle/read books from his voluminous library, but you know what? He never expressly told me not to play the piano, that big black shiny intriguing baby grand in the middle of the room, and I couldn’t resist. Could you?

There wasn’t a sound coming from any part of the house, although I could faintly hear Henry the daily handyman moving his wheelbarrow out in the yard. I’d had enough of examining in painstaking detail the boring watercolors and Russian icons on the wall. I sat down on the bench.

Sense memory kicking in… At that point it was the closest I had gotten to this humongous piece of furniture. I remember the smooth feel of the wood as I ran my fingers on it, gently lifting up the fall board to get to the keys. The piano was a Steinway. That is, I remember it as a Steinway, because I don’t remember it not being a Steinway. I put the fingers of my right hand down in place and began, ever so softly, to tap out the first tune that came into my mind, which happened to be the waltz from Carousel. Eight bars in I thought I heard a rustle from the back of the house and stopped cold, put the fall board down and stood up.

This was the first time my eye was caught by something on the right side of the music rack, some sort of writing actually carved into the wood of the music shelf that lay flat in the cabinet of the piano. It was in cursive—and it was a name:

Richard Rodgers

It still gives me goosebumps to remember (like remembering what it was like to handle a saint’s bones): sitting on the same bench Rodgers sat on, putting my fingers on the same keys… When The Old Man finally did get up an hour later, I was sitting back at my desk in his alcove-cum-office, pretending to read one of the cheap Hollywood magazines I brought to pass the time, although my mind was still on the bars I’d played and where the bars were going musically, and I think I was humming. I must’ve been humming. Because as he came into the alcove I heard Mamoulian exclaim, “Hey! That’s from Carousel!”

I looked up. Caught! I was about to apologize when he spoke again, this time it seemed almost wistfully. “You know, I directed that.”

I said softly, as if it were an apology, “I know.”

At that moment our relationship started to take a different turn.

Part Two here or below. [Going out for a beer now, catching up later…]

A Rodgers & Hammerstein Moment: The Gang at Cheers Sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to Their Despondent Pregnant Barmaid

Season 1, episode 15. 1982. Said Donna Bowman of the A.V. Club: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” [in the episode] took me totally aback. I can’t think of very many sitcom moments that hit that exact tone. I kept waiting for the punchline, and there’s no doubt that we’re intended to smile at the parade of patrons mumbling along under Diane’s leadership, but Carla’s reception of the gesture transforms it into the sincere expression of support that was intended. When we see her continue up the stairs, the camera following her through the window, it’s a moment that reassures the audience in a very specific way. We know Carla’s children’s welfare is actually really important, the moment says. Carla’s, too. These people are trying to do a good thing. We’re going to let them do it. You can imagine a million jokes that would undercut that message for the sake of a laugh. But they don’t come. It’s like a Good Housekeeping seal of approval for our emotions: “Invest with confidence.”

cheers sings you'll never walk alone

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “Overture di Ballo”: John Wilson Conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, 2011

And you thought I’d forgotten who this blog is all about, didn’t you?

Overtura [Sullivan’s made-up word] di Ballo”  is a concert work first conducted by Sullivan himself in 1870 in Birmingham, a year before he began his collaboration with WS Gilbert. It opened a program of British Light Music given in London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2011 by the BBC Symphony and conducted by John. The piece itself is passable, but the real delight is in watching my bonny enjoy himself starting at 10:48.

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Antoni Mendezona Sings “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” from the Opera Noli Me Tangere

Music by Felipe de Leon, libretto by Guillermo Tolentino. Noli Me Tangere is based on Dr. Jose Rizal’s 1887 classic novel of the same name. It follows the story of Juan Crisóstomo Ibarra y Magsalin, who returns home to the Philippines after pursuing scholarly studies in Europe. He plans to open a school and marry his sweetheart, Maria Clara (where we get the name of the dress I’d love to make and wear again), but Padre Damaso, arch-enemy of the Ibarras, sets out to thwart Crisostomo’s plans, creating the dramatic—and very operatic—storyline of forbidden love, betrayal, and revenge. “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” is one of the great soprano mad scenes in opera.

Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa from Noli Me Tangere (Felipe De Leon)

From the 2011 University of the Philippines production. Info on Cebuana coloratura Mendezona can be found at her website here.