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.

John Wilson Proms.jpeg
Apollo smiles on you, John. I have it on good authority.

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 posts 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 whenever I’m in love with a musician I pay attention to the music. (This has happened only once before in my life, actually.) Truth to tell, 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 (ditto); 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”, “a guru(!!!)”, “charismatic”, “legendary” or, God help us, as proclaimed by Brass Bands Monthly, a “conducting icon” (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

john-wilson-rosza-2-copy.jpeg

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 at the Royal Festival Hall in 2009 and Ruddigore in 2010 (my favorite G&S, as “Basingstoke” was the safeword my boyfriend and I used during bondage games); creditably (I’m sure) conducted a concert performance of Trial by Jury with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, spring 2019
  • Classical Repertoire – Special affinity for Rachmaninoff. Has recorded so far 3 albums in a set of Copland, which doesn’t interest me right now. 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+ (John’s count) 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 (he’s a 1994 alumnus)/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 dance/swing 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…

Part One above or here.

For John Wilson, Conductor: Marlene Dietrich Sings “Happy Birthday, Johnny” from The Song of Songs, Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian (1933)

25 May, 2019. This afternoon someone in Glyndebourne will be cutting my beloved John Wilson’s cake into tiny little slices, and so I wish them all well at the gathering.

The Song of Songs
La Dietrich inspires a handsome young English orchestra conductor to artistic heights with her transfiguring and deeply sexual love in this erotically frank pre-Code movie from Paramount.

If only you understood dirty German, my bonny…

PS—A special shout-out to my old boss, Rouben Mamoulian, who once told me, “Love with style, but also with a little sadness for the suffering involved.”

 

On Conductor John Wilson’s Full Dress and the First Porn Movie I Ever Did

Just so you don’t go on thinking this is some kind of fanblog (it’s not, because I’m not a fan*, just crazy in love with the bloke) I thought I’d spend a posting to tell you all how I got my first gig in pictures…

John Wilson.jpegImmaculate white full dress shirt with detachable wing collar, white dickey, white bow tie, white waistcoat, studs, cufflinks, and a spare tailcoat in the dressing room—my bonny lad is set

This happened in San Francisco—in the 70s a paradise for the sexually adventurous—and coming after the time I worked as Rouben Mamoulian‘s amanuensis, which was after the time I posed nude for a blind sculptor in St-Paul-de-Vence, which was after the time I danced topless in a mob-run bar in Red Hook, which was after the time I was the night solfeggist at ASCAP

So anyway. One lovely summer evening about six weeks after I hit the city I went with a (legit) actress friend to a house party up on Potrero Hill, mostly because she enticed me with the information that the party would be featuring a hot tub. (Am such a sucker for hot tubs.) Well, at the party there was this cute but obvious older guy from London (trimmed ginger beard, open shirt, bead bracelet—no one goes California like the English) named Peter, who owned the house and who invited me seulement for a session of coke+quaaludes and a nice soak later, after all the other guests have left. Then he gave me his card. (This was the first time a man ever gave me his business card before we had sex, but it wouldn’t be the last)…

[to be continued, fixing dinner now]

*No, really, I’m in love with John but he plows through Gershwin like a bull moose and treats Bernstein like Bernstein’s Saruman and he’s Frodo. How could any red-blooded American woman countenance such effrontery to her national pride?**

**He does, however, conduct Elgar and Vaughan Williams like an angel.

John Wilson Conducts Jules Massenet’s Comic Opera Cendrillion at Glyndebourne, 8 June – 2 August 2019

My name is John Wilson [so says my bonny] and I’m going to be conducting Cendrillion at the Glynebourne Festival 2019. It has elements of comic opera, it has ardent love music, solos, duets, and this element of fantasy which runs through the whole thing, a fairy tale which he conjures up expertly in the score. It’s instantly attractive music, and the reason I said I would do this piece is when I first heard it I was struck with just how high the level of invention is all the way through. It may not be done very often but I think it’s one of his best pieces, I really do [fades]. Everyone knows the story of Cinderella and I think his orchestral palette and his harmonic and melodic palette really conjured up very clearly—you can think of isolated parts of the ballet and the Fairy Godmother’s music which are full of that kind of glittering fantasy… Really gorgeous inspired music! And of course I love all the pulling it all together. I love the fact that in an opera, let’s say you have a staging problem or you have a sort of question hanging over of how you should, you should represent something on stage. The answers nearly always is [sic] to be found in the score. But he was [sic] a great masterpiece. There will be a sforzando chord or an inflection in the vocal writing which will give you the kind of…the dramatic point*, and it’s great to be a part of something which is so organic where everything affects the other. The influences of Wagner, Tchaikovsky aren’t very far away, there are lots of glowing melodies there that really, really stir you. I really can’t wait to get started on it.”

Actor/director Fiona Shaw’s production of Cendrillion makes its Glyndebourne Festival debut summer 2019, conducted by John Wilson, with Australian-American soprano Danielle de Niese in the title role. (Picture courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival 2019.)

Danielle de Niese, John Wilson.jpg
Later on in the year de Niese will be starring, with Kelsey Grammer, in the first West End staging of Man of La Mancha in fifty-three years, produced by the man who was the first to bring me to climax when I was 18.

*See below, “John Wilson Discourses Upon Leonard Bernstein at Birmingham Symphony Hall, 24 January 2018” and let’s have a one-pound argument please.

Letter to Leonard Bernstein from Felicia Montealegre, Late 1951

Newlywed Felicia Bernstein’s words moved me so much I have to share them with you. This was written around the time she had just married Bernstein and was still working in television:

Lenny and Felicia

Darling,

If I seemed sad as you drove away today it was not because I felt in any way deserted but because I was left alone to face myself and this whole bloody mess which is our “connubial” life. I’ve done a lot of thinking and have decided that it’s not such a mess after all.

First: we are not committed to a life sentence—nothing is really irrevocable, not even marriage (though I used to think so).

Second: you are a homosexual and may never change—you don’t admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain sexual pattern what can you do?

Third: I am willing to accept you as you are, without being a martyr or sacrificing myself on the L.B. altar. (I happen to love you very much—this may be a disease and if it is what better cure?) It may be difficult but no more so than the “status quo” which exists now—at the moment you are not yourself and this produces painful barriers and tensions for both of us—let’s try and see what happens if you are free to do as you like, but without guilt and confession, please!

As for me—once you are rid of tensions I’m sure my own will disappear. A companionship will grow which probably no one else may be able to offer you. The feelings you have for me will be clearer and easier to express—our marriage is not based on passion but on tenderness and mutual respect. Why not have them?

I know now too that I need to work. It is a very important part of me and I feel incomplete without it. I may want to do something about it soon. I am used to an active life, and then there is that old ego problem.

We may have gotten married too soon and yet we needed to get married and we’ve not made a mistake. It is good for us even if we suffer now and make each other miserable—we will both grow up some day and be strong and unafraid either together or apart—after all we are both more important as individuals that a “marriage” is.

In any case my dearest darling ape, let’s give it a whirl. There’ll be crisis (?) from time to time but that doesn’t scare me any more. And let’s relax in the knowledge that neither of us is perfect and forget about being HUSBAND AND WIFE in such strained capital letters, it’s not that awful!

There’s a lot else I’ve got to say but the pill has overpowered me. I’ll write again soon. My wish for the week is that you come back guiltless and happy.

F

from The Leonard Bernstein Letters
edited by Nigel Simeone
Yale University Press, 2013

My Bonny John Wilson and His Eponymous Orchestra to Present The Warner Brothers Story at the BBC Proms on 9 August 2019

From The JWO website 12 May, 2018: “John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra present The Warner Brothers Story, an evening of sumptuous Technicoloured scores from the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. Friday 9 August 2019 3.00pm & 7.30pm at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Tickets go on sale at 9am for Prom 29 and 30 on Saturday 11 May. Royal Albert Hall Box Office: 020 7589 8212.” I think they’re all sold out by now. “The evening show will be broadcast live on BBC Four TV, live on BBC Radio 3 and recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 2.” So there’s hope for me.

Bugs as Leopold.jpgLeopold! Leopold!

But “Technicolored”—sheesh. (Do you write your own copy, my love? I truly hope you don’t.) At any rate, here’s the program listed on my darling’s management’s website:

  • “Blues in the Night” / Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer
  • The Constant Nymph (excerpts) / Erich Korngold
  • The Sea Hawk / Erich Korngold
  • My Fair Lady (excerpts) / Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner
  • Camelot (excerpts) / Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner
  • A Streetcar Named Desire (excerpts) / Alex North
  • Now, Voyager(!!!) (excerpts) / Max Steiner
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (excerpts) / Max Steiner
  • Romance on the High Seas (excerpts) / Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn

Ah, Cahn, that altekocker. I rode up in an elevator with him and cartoonist Robert Clampett once and had nothing to say to him; at the time Cahn was siding with management and against us ASCAP solfeggists when we wanted to unionize. So I just stood there quietly, listening to the both of them natter on to each other about their respective accomplishments. “And I wrote that Jackie Gleason song!” exclaimed Cahn, while Clampett was adamantly proud of Tweety Bird, and rightly so.