The producer of my last movie took this on his patio near the jacuzzi. Sorry, but he kept the nude shots.
The producer of my last movie took this on his patio near the jacuzzi. Sorry, but he kept the nude shots.
If this were a Joan Crawford movie, she’d have given him the damn gold cigarette case by now.
[Portrait by Sasha Gusov]
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.
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.
Anyroad, like a good Dr Watson I have compiled a list:
JOHN WILSON – HIS LIMITS
Knowledge of/affinity for/talent with:
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…
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.
After all these years I’m still so steamed at Steve I forget how beautiful his movie and how achingly beautiful the music is.
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).
“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.”
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.”
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…
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…”
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.
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.
Look at that punim. Du bist a gut zonneleh, Yonni.
For those who are familiar with the score, the very opening will seem slower. It is clear from Gershwin’s metronome markings and from the articulations in the orchestral parts that he intended the opening to be moderately fast (marked ‘Risoluto e Ben Marcato’ in the composer’s hand), exposing its inner syncopation and then accelerating. ‘Summertime’ is faster than we are accustomed. It is not a sad song, after all, and ‘A Woman is a Sometime Thing’ is slower. In fact, these two ‘lullabies’ by the mother and the father of their nameless child, are at the same metronome marking. In other words, Gershwin wanted to link the daddy and the mommy to each other by the speed of their music, even if their words and styles are quite (humorously) different.” On Porgy & Bess ©John Mauceri
Anthony Tommasini in his New York Times review of the English National Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess described my bonny as the “excellent John Wilson, who led a performance that had sweep, shape and vitality, as well as rarer qualities: precision and restraint”. Here’s our John from this past summer rehearsing “Summertime“. Performances of ENO’s Porgy and Bess run to 17 November.