Cantara, 1980

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

Cantara, 1980.jpg

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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.

John Wilson 2013

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; 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 end of middle age, he’s at the beginning… As far as gratitude, read my post below about Conrad Salinger. 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 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; and 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.

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

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, etc
  • 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, Respighi, Copland (besides “Fanfare” who cares?) etc. Creditably conducted Beethoven’s Pastoral with the RTE in Dublin. Will follow my beloved in years to come to see if/how he does with Schoenberg (who was the most discussed composer when I was in music school), Szymanowski, Scriabin, Shostakovich, etc etc etc
  • 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 at Glyndebourne in 2016; creditably conducted Porgy and Bess fall 2018 at the English National Opera
  • 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 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 the afternoon tea dance at London’s famed-for-its-tea-dances hotels, the Grosvenor and Royal Park(?) 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 going to be blogging about this.

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…

On the Waterfront Suite by Leonard Bernstein, Conducted by Bernstein, from the Elia Kazan Film of the Same Name

My beloved John Wilson is in Oslo right now, rehearsing the Oslo Philharmonic for his last all-Bernstein program of the Bernstein Centenary Year. Cunningly, it’s set to be performed on American Thanksgiving weekend—Thursday the 22nd and Friday the 23rd of this week. Wonder how many Americans in Norway will attend. Most of the program consists of songs from the shows West Side Story, Peter Pan, Trouble In Tahiti, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, with the only other straight orchestral pieces being the Overture to Candide and “Dance at the Gym” from WSS.

On the Waterfront.jpg

From MovieMusicUK: “To quickly establish his score Bernstein created a memorable main theme, his Dignity Theme, which is tied to Malloy’s developmental arc in the film, his journey from darkness, into the light. The theme opens the film upon a solo French horn nobile, which is joined flute and then kindred muted trumpets. The Violence Theme serves as Johnny Friendly and his gang’s identity. It is hard-edged, percussive, powered by fortissimo chords and antagonistic syncopated rhythms. The Love Theme speaks to Terry and Edie’s love. It is achingly tender, and hopeful, carried by solo woodwinds and harp, and when taken up by strings it is sublime The Pain Theme is anguished in its articulation and carried by a dirty solo alto saxophone. The Brothers Theme is a transmuted variant of the Pain Theme, carried by strings dolorosa, emblematic of the estrangement between Terry and Charley, which eventual crystalizes in a crucible of pain as Charlie turns on Terry and threatens him at gunpoint. The Riot Theme is powered by a grating string ostinato—sharp chords and is kindred to the Pain Theme through its inversion of horns and woodwinds.”

Sir Malcolm Arnold Conducts Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic in Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, 1969

This is absolutely weird, but Mister Grumble, who’s of an age and knows everything about English Progressive Rock, had no idea this piece existed. (He attributes it to having been distracted at the time of the 1969 concert, getting out of the US Army as he did, after spending 13 months overseas.) So when I played the live recording for him for the first time on Sunday he went to the moon.

The Concerto for Group and Orchestra was composed Jon Lord, lyrics by Ian Gillan. It was first performed by Deep Purple and the RPO conducted by Malcolm Arnold on 24 September; the record came out that December. The performance at the Royal Albert Hall was the first ever combination of rock music and a complete orchestra and paved the way for other rock/orchestra performances.

Malcolm Arnold and Deep Purple.jpg

John Wilson with Top Tips for Becoming a Conductor (I Swear, That’s the Title of This Vid)

This interview with my bonny was put out into cyberland on the BBC Scottish Symphony Facebook page about a year ago, I know not why. Still, I couldn’t resist the temptation to transcribe it verbatim, in its entirety:

John: “I think a lo’ of the successful relationships between the conductor and orchestra are founded on mutual need, so find a group that really needs you, whatever level that is, whether it be a community orchestra, a community choir, an amateur orchestra, a brass band, a musical theater group, and bring what professional skills you have to them so that you can feed off each other. And all that time, never stop studying scores. You know, that’s the single most useful piece of advice to give to any conductor, is learn your scores. Practice your technique and learn your scores. Learning to read a score is really crucial, learning all the transpositions and being able to look at a score and immediately know what that’s meant to sound like, so that when things aren’t right, your ear picks them up and you can correct things quickly and efficiently. Which is another useful skill for a conductor to have, your ears sharpened to the extent that, that you’re able to solve problems. Your early years should be spent learning, you know, learning what it is that you need to do as a conductor… Get in as much practical experience as you can. I did, sort of, at least a decade’s worth of conducting before I dared to stand in front of a professional orchestra, which was the single most terrifying experience of my life.

“I had a friend who was organizing concerts in London and had a concert series and I was invited to conduct… And I worked with the BBC, actually with the Concert Orchestra, as an arranger, and they asked me to conduct one of their recording sessions, a couple of CDs [John’s first 2 recordings, both of Eric Coates, which were released when he was 25 and 26], and so they showed faith in me, and I was grateful for the opportunity… And I guess I was interested in areas of music that didn’t have many champions, so I got a bit of a head start on that front… Um, and happily I’ve never stopped working since. Now the only challenge (laughs) is to keep on working (word fades).

John Wilson 2013

“But there are lots of different routes into becoming a conductor. As Barbirolli said, ‘Conductors are born and not made.’ So if you want to do it badly enough I think you’ll get through.”

“La Valse” by Maurice Ravel, Played by the Orchestre National de France, Conducted by Leonard Bernstein

I haven’t got the date for this concert but Bernstein’s hair is silvery so I’ll guess it’s from the late 80s.

Ravel described his work:

Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished. The clouds gradually scatter: one sees at letter A an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo letter B. Set in an imperial court, about 1855.”

Bernstein La Valse.jpg

Bonny John conducted this very piece about two weeks ago at his old school, the Royal College of Music, and spoke about Ravel (as well as Ralph Vaughan Williams) in this podcast. He said “La Valse” is about social disintegration. O-kay…

Thanks to Mark Doran for pointing me to his posting comparing Ravel’s piano score of “La Valse” to his, Ravel’s, own orchestration. Part 2 to follow…

Porgy and Bess at the English National Opera, Conducted by John Wilson, Fall 2018

In a podcast interview for the English National Opera, this is what my bonny had to say:

“There are very few pieces I can say I’ve been waiting all my life to conduct, and this is one of them. In my, kind of, college years or whenever that was, I got the Simon Rat’le LP and I kind of wore out the groove of those records and had to buy ‘em on CD…”

Of course it’s known for the hit tunes that have been extracted from it, but it’s much more than that… And I would even say that the most interesting music in the opera is the ariosos, the small pieces which link everything together and the incidental music… It’s really very ambitious… It’s George Gershwin at his most inventive, and as Gershwin was arguably the greatest tunesmith of the twentieth century, you’re looking at melodic material from the very very top drawer…”

ENO Porgy and Bess

Said The Spectator: “The thrill of musical recognition as the curtain rises on an unfamiliar world is replaced by astonishment at the dramatic instinct that allows Gershwin to expend a melody like that before his story has even started, in the certain knowledge that what follows can, and absolutely will, live up to what for any composer other than Gershwin would be a once-in-a-lifetime inspiration…

“Director James Robinson has grasped two essentials: firstly, that with an opera which is still far from being a repertoire piece, it doesn’t pay to muck about with the setting and spirit…

“Or perhaps it’s just the generosity and compassion of Gershwin’s score, and the alternating dazzle and tenderness of the ENO orchestra under John Wilson.

All that energy, all that style and all that loving but unobtrusive care for the music’s inner voices merely served what Wilson has always insisted is his overriding artistic goal: to find a sound that lets the music speak.

Porgy and Bess at the London Coliseum, produced by the English National Opera, closes with a matinee on the 17th.

Tunesmith. Sheesh.

Conductor John Wilson’s First Appearance in the Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms, 2007(?)

Whether it was in 2007 or 2008, it would turn out that bonny John’s very first time on the podium in the Albert Hall was (at age 35 or 36) conducting the 50-piece BBC Concert Orchestra in Sir William Walton’s score from the unseemly gorgeous war picture Battle of Britain. “Battle in the Air” is spirited, ravishing and very dramatic. I saw the film first run in Minneapolis, then again in London and then again in, of all places, Patras, Greece, but it’s the music I remember most.

John Wilson Battle 2

Look at that punim. Du bist a gut zonneleh, Yonni.