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
The Queen of Heaven smiles upon 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, pores like craters, 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; 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 tenderness, gratitude, annoyance, and lust. The tenderness I understand: I’ve spent enough time in Hollywood to understand the position he’s in… As far as gratitude, read “The Trolley Song: BBC Proms 2009″. 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 he’s a musician I pay attention to the music. 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 Golden Hollywood & 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 sizeable. 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”, “a conducting icon” or, God help us, as proclaimed by the BBC, “the nation’s favorite” (!!!). But his musicianship at times is kiiind of brilliant.

Part 2 “His Limits” here or below.

* Update 10 August 2019: I’ve just read up on what it is about him, and now I’ve got science to back me up. It’s John’s fault.


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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:

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 1 “Dopamine” here or above.


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Give a Girl a Break (MGM, 1952): The Movie That Clinches My 3-Degrees Connection to English Conductor John Wilson

From Simona Wing to Gerard Damiano to Helen Wood to Andre Previn to John Wilson—Cantara’s three degrees from her beloved conductor.

Julie Andrews, Jon Cypher in Cinderella 1957Give a Girl a Break (trailer here) is a US 1953 musical comedy film starring Debbie Reynolds and the dance team of Marge and Gower Champion. Helen Wood, Richard Anderson, Kurt Kaszner and a young Bob Fosse have featured roles. At only 88 minutes, Give a Girl a Break shows residual elements of the big project it started out to be, with a passable score by Burton Lane and Ira Gershwin, direction by Stanley Donen, and musical direction by Andre Previn.


Degree rule: You have to’ve personally worked with the person in the next degree. I worked with Damiano in his 1981 porn classic Beyond Your Wildest Dreams; Damiano wrote and directed 1972’s Deep Throat, which Helen Wood (as Dolly Sharp) was in; Helen Wood co-starred in the musical Give a Girl a Break, on which the musical director was Andre Previn; Previn worked on the 2012 Proms My Fair Lady with my beloved John Wilson.

Above Marge, Debbie and Helen: The overture to the 2012 Proms My Fair Lady, with John conducting The John Wilson Orchestra in his own arrangement of Andre Previn’s orchestration of the film score.


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Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at Wilton’s Music Hall, 2020: An Opera on Film, Conducted by John Wilson

AVAILABLE 30 JAN 21: Opera Glassworks’s TURN OF THE SCREW streamcast at Marquee.tv.


From The Stage, 20 Nov 2020:

Of the following, who did Marlon Brando not act with: Vivien Leigh, Ava Gardner or Thora Hird?

He changed representations of male sexuality smouldering opposite Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire; he must have done something with screen goddess Gardner; so, naturally, you’d be guessing the odd woman out is Hird—and you’d be wrong.

Yes, Brando really did make a film with the late, great Hird and, even more astonishingly for Brando, typically cast for raw sex appeal, the source material was by Henry James. It was Michael Winner’s little-remembered 1971 film The Nightcomers, both prequel and sequel to The Turn of the Screw, James’ 1898 novella of repression and desire. Hird played reproving housekeeper Mrs Grose, Brando was malevolent Quint, having sex with Stephanie Beacham’s Miss Jessel.

In 1961, director Jack Cardiff made the story into the shiveringly suggestive, black-and-white masterpiece (I don’t use that term lightly) The Innocents. And seven years earlier, composer Benjamin Britten and librettist Myfanwy Piper released the dangers of the extraordinarily ambivalent tale into a taut and creepy chamber opera.

And a new production of that by Opera Glassworks, conducted by John Wilson at London’s Wilton’s Music Hall, was three days from opening when the first lockdown hit.

“We were poleaxed,” director Selina Cadell says. To shore up their investment of time, work and £160,000 from donors, Cadell and producer Eliza Thompson managed to rebook the cast of six singers and 13 musicians for a run in October. But as weeks of lockdown turned into months, it looked like the project would be scuppered. At which point, they rethought it for film.

With the perfectly captured, decayed grandeur of its main, high-vaulted space dating back to 1859, the thrillingly atmospheric Wilton’s translates perfectly into the chilly, remote country house and garden in which the ghostly actions occur. Designer Tom Piper, who, among other things, memorably covered the Tower of London with poppies, seized the opportunity to make the entire building a film set.

Cadell has been training singers as actors at the National Opera Studio for years and is a strong believer in singers delivering truthful, nuanced performances rather than old-fashioned, “stand-and-deliver” emoting. But opera tends to work fast on scant rehearsal, which militates against the kind of subtlety required for film acting. But here, her cast had already been working in an intimate space in immense detail for five-and-a-half weeks – ideal for film.

She and Thompson have taken the opportunity to experiment. “We weren’t interested in live capture,” says Thompson. “But we didn’t want the fact that it was intended to be a stage production to be lost.”

That has influenced not just their approach with singers and a working method with camera-director Dominic Best across the six-day shoot, but also with the individual players forming John Wilson’s orchestra.

“Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t have all the musicians there together,” says Thompson. “So with the auditorium becoming a Suffolk reed bed, we’ve planted them throughout the film. As the story progresses, it becomes more anarchic.”

Cadell and Thompson have capitalised on the opera’s unique construction, individual scenes interspersed with an instrumental theme and 15 variations, to enhance the work’s filmic, non-linear nature.

They shun the idea of “a concept”, but they’re using the variations, in which usually little or nothing happens on stage except a scene change, to explore the heightened atmosphere. Indeed, how the ghosts haunt the house, and pull the audience in, is the cinematic story they’re attempting to tell.

The performance, still in the edit prior to being distributed via arts channel Marquee TV, is an equally impressive advance born out of Covid necessity. The vocals were filmed live, with the singers using microphones but without the orchestra. Instead, using monitors, John Wilson conducted them against live keyboards. Once the singers’ tracks were laid down, the orchestra was recorded to fit the singers’ interpretations, which is how it should be.

As ‘What I Did During Covid Time Out’, this is seriously impressive. The result, as yet unseen, promises to be exciting. “There is possibly a new language out there,” says Cadell, “a cross-fertilisation between opera, theatre and film.” It certainly sounds like the beginning of something. ~David Benedict


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Claire Teal, Sarah Fox, Caroline O’Connor and Charles Castronovo at the 2011 BBC Proms with My Beloved John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra

There were some particularly strong singers in the BBC Proms concert at the Royal Albert back in 2011 I take pleasure in remembering, on this gray Monday two days before The Inauguration. On va voir. “Serenade” from The Student Prince was one of my mother’s favorite numbers, she just thrilled to it, especially when Mario Lanza was singing. “Can’t Help Singing” was in my Deanna Durbin Songbook when I was a teenager. “The Man That Got Away” was sung at my friend’s funeral—the friend who left me all his Andre Previn records—by his grieving lover. And then there’s “Secret Love”.

John you schmendrick, we all witnessed this nifty bit of scene building. But I already knew anyway, that’s where your true love lies now and forever.


COMPLETE downloadable audio of the BBC Proms 2011 concert John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra “Hooray for Hollywood” here / complete video on YT here.



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My Darling John Wilson Conducts The John Wilson Orchestra in a Semi-Staged Concert of My Fair Lady at the Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms, 14 July 2012

Completely bummed out that John’s 21 January concert with the LSO at the Barbican was completely canceled, so here’s my bonny lad at the 2012 BBC Proms with his eponymous orchestra in a really classy semi-staged concert of the complete 1956 Broadway musical, My Fair Lady, book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe; orchestration (for the movie score) by Andre Previn, orchestration enhancement by John Wilson. Cast: Anthony Andrews, James Fleet, Alun Armstrong, Julian Ovenden etc, and as Eliza, Annalene Beechey.



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Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: Love Me Tonight (Paramount, 1932) Just for My Beloved Conductor John Wilson

That snooty critic fart Andrew Sarris once mock-praised my old boss Rouben Mamoulian for his early cinema innovations that never quite caught on. Hah! When’s the last time you were so proud of your old boss’s work you wanted to make sure the world never forgot it? So—here’s the most audacious musical film sequence ever directed, which magically links up the movie’s two singing stars Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald:

“Isn’t It Romantic?”
from Love Me Tonight
Rouben Mamoulian, director
Nat Finston, music director-arranger
Songs by Rodgers & Hart

Isn't It Romantic.jpgAbove the music master and Ruritanian soldiers: Ella Fitzgerald sings this Richard Rodgers+Lorenz Hart perennial, which was scaled down from its operetta length for inclusion in The Great American Songbook.

And if you’re still in doubt about Mamoulian’s genius, check out this opening scene which I uploaded especially for my bonny John Wilson for the beat:

“City Wakes”
from Love Me Tonight
Rouben Mamoulian, director
Nat Finston, music director-arranger

If I had seen Love Me Tonight before I went to work for The Old Man I would’ve been more patient with him. But I was only 23.


The entire film Love Me Tonight is available on my YT channel here.



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At the End of the Year 2020: An Open Letter to My Beloved Conductor John Wilson from His Sentimental American; Complete John+JWO BBC Proms 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2017; Plus Some Lady Porn

Happy 2021, my darling Local Low Fell Lad Made Good. I just tried getting on your management’s website for you (johnwilsonconductordotcom) to check for your January gigs when I was sent to the sinister Your connection is not private page, which perturbs me a bit as it sounds like the server might’ve been hacked.

[Sorry, have to go be with Mister Grumble for a while. More later, promise.]

[2 Jan 2021 14:20] Later. I’m back, dear. Glad to see that fixed, for now. Mister Grumble and I had a date to listen to what I just found on YT: the 1978 NYE Grateful Dead concert from The Closing of Winterland—you know, the one where [legendary band manager] Bill Graham glides down to the stage on a giant lit joint (as I described it to my blind angel which he recognized at once)—and really, it was a great night, or so the Mister tells me. The Mister is the one who turned me on to The Dead, back at our old commune in San Francisco.

But here I go rambling on about American things when I’m sure what you really want to hear is how you made out in 2020. Well honey, as you know, you did fine with your recordings on the Chandos label: Your 2 Korngolds, the symphony and the violin concerto, your Respighi, and the French dudes. I’m sorry you couldn’t conduct Tchaikovsky in Chile (sharing the same time zone with you would have been pretty cosmic), but you did “save” The Turn of the Screw at Wilton’s Music Hall, and that’s très chic.

Here is what I took away from you in 2020 (besides that perfect screenshot and your gracing me with your attention on St Crispin’s Day and the aforementioned recordings):

And speaking of the Proms, pardon me, my love, while I do some Fan Service for your fans :

[making dinner now, Bavarian-style pork chops with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes; I’ll come back to wrap this up as soon as I can, promise]

[6 Jan 2021 14:21] Okay, now that I’ve served all your wonderful fans around the world, let me have my say.

The BBC Proms 2017 semi-staged production of Oklahoma! pissed off 3 people I care about even though one of them is dead: Mister Grumble, a proud Oklahoman, who hated to see this nuanced Sooner tale turn into some weird English panto; original 1943 director Rouben Mamoulian, who even though dead howled in his grave at your dismissive use of his name in promos, oh, and for perpetuating a “mistruth” about him and his artistic relationship with Agnes de Mille; and me for two things: one, your use of the Robert Russell Bennett orchestration (which was never meant to play to a room the size of the Albert) instead of the film orchestration (by Bennett+Courage+Sendry+Deutsch) which, if I remember rightly, you actually used in your 2010 show for the last number, “Oklahoma!”, and it was gorgeous; and two—Marcus Brigstocke as Ali Hakim!!!??? Who the hell at the BBC was responsible for that whitewashing? And why didn’t the UK press call the Beeb on it? (I mean, if you’re all going to be hoity-toity over Maria in West Side Story…) Now, I can lay the former at your door but maybe not the latter, as the Beeb seems to have gone off its rocker on its own… But c’mon.

But let that pass. What really impresses me about my lust for you is that it started me on the road to thinking about The Old Man again. And actually, really, I should thank you for that. Mamoulian ought to be remembered—not for being a cranky old has-been, but for having directed some classic pictures and classic stage musicals like, you know, Oklahoma! I knew him. Our minds matched. That there was some weird man-woman friction going on between us toward the end makes no difference. It fries me how little regard he gets nowadays, even in the film buff world. So, ultimately, there’s no rancor on my part toward you re Mister M. (As a matter of fact, I think I’ll work out all my mental stuff about Mamoulian in a mystery one of these days.)

But now my love, here’s the last item and I hope I can finish it before I have to go in to make dinner.

Okay. Here’s the connection between you and Mamoulian, and it has nothing to do with you as a musician. It has to do with that damn full dress of yours.

[nope, stumbling around to finish this; maybe La Dietrich can help me out…]

RAMAbove John conducting the 2017 BBC Proms in sweat-soaked silk shirt: The Allegro from Tchaikovsky’s 6th played by the RAM student orchestra conducted by the man I’ve fallen in love with.


*Actually, 5 that evening, but this is the first one was the one that made me want to find more things that featured you. The others: a fragment of you doing “Laura” in Birmingham; then with the JWO the MGM Overture in Leeds; the third was of you doing a bit of Vaughan Williams’s 2nd, again with the CBSO. The 5th was Friday Night Is Music Night from 2005. When you played Captain Kangaroo you made me completely yours.


UPDATE 11 JAN 21: JOHN! JOHN! HERE’S MY ANSWER, VIA STEVIE NICKS…



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My Ever-Beloved John Wilson and the LSO at the Barbican 21 January, 2021: The New Program

Back last February, the London Symphony Orchestra booked John for a concert of Barber, Weill and Russell Bennett. Now it looks like they’ve completely changed their program—no soloist, smaller group, shorter works. Here they are:


UPDATE 1/10/21 CANCELLED. Check the LSO website for more info.


Under new guidelines, there are fewer available seats in the Barbican Hall, set as single tickets or in groups of twos, threes and fours. You can only sit in the same seating cluster as someone from your own household (or support bubble) and we ask you to not swap seats so we can maintain a safe distance between you and other groups. Tickets must be booked online in advance. Two performances: 3.30pm & 6.30pm.

The performances are expected to last 1 hour. There will be no interval. The performances take the place of the concert originally scheduled at 7.30pm on Thursday 21 January. Tickets here.


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My First Music: In Praise of My First Record Stash—6 Great American Songbook Songs Co-written by Billy Rose (1899-1966)

I got my first record collection when I was 3 1/2. We had just moved into a little bungalow in Northeast Minneapolis and the previous owners had left a stack of old, old 45s and 78s—Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, Nelson Eddy, Rudy Vallee etc etc. which my mother, God bless her, let me keep for myself to play on my kiddie record player! This, mes amis, was my first true introduction to The Great American Songbook. But wasn’t until I started working at ASCAP (at 18) where I had to learn the names of the melody and lyric writers the name “Billy Rose” came popping up (year is date of recording):

Rudy Vallee Would You Like to Take a WalkAbove: Would You Like to Take a Walk? by Harry Warren, Mort Dixon, and Billy Rose, sung by Rudy Vallee.


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On BBC Radio4 Front Row, 21 August 2019: Conductor John Wilson and Biographer Brendan Carroll on Korngold

An excerpt from John’s comments:

Front Row: What’s so enthralling to you about the music of Erich Korngold?

John: It’s very much his own style… You hear two seconds of music and immediately you know it’s by Korngold because by the way he was 13 or 14 he had a fully developed late-Romantic Austro-German style and, you know, had it not been for the Nazis and the Second World War he would have continued to develop his operatic skills, his symphonic skills, and he would now be as established as Richard Strauss…

John and the Sinfonia of London Do KorngoldAbove John, Andrew Haveron, John Mills, and other members of the Sinfonia of London: Front Row Interviews John Wilson at the top half.


Front Row: What made you choose the particular pieces [for the Chandos recording] that you did?

John: I think the Symphony, Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp, is the last great Austro-German romantic symphony and…it was written 1947 to 52, it took 5 years, and…I think it was the piece that Korngold spent, lavished the most time on. I think it was the piece that he felt was he felt he really had to write because it was a labor of love… And you know, he couldn’t get a satisfactory performance out of it during his lifetime because he was considered old hat…and in 1972 I think it was, it was discovered in the Munich orchestra’s library and the first recording performance given… And I just felt that the time had come for a revised sort of conception of this symphony of Korngold’s.

I Moderato
II Scherzo Allegro
III Adagio Lento
IV Allegro Finale

NOTES for Korngold: Symphony in F (Chandos, 2019) can be found here.



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Cantara Christopher as Simona Wing in the Porn Classic, Beyond Your Wildest Dreams (1981, Gerard Damiano director), Just for the Man I Love, BBC Conductor John Wilson

Yesterday, Thanksgiving, a fan (thanks, Brian!) sent me a screenshot from one of my later movies, Beyond Your Wildest Dreams.

I’m looking at you, John Wilson.

Simona Wing in In Your Wildest DreamsAbove Dream Girl #1: Donna Summer’s disco hit “Hot Stuff”. Just like in The Full Monty.


Lead in this feature was a fascinating woman named Juliet Anderson, a classroom teacher who, in early middle age (39), started in porn and quickly became a star due to her talent in enthusiastic penilingism, plus she photographed well doing it. I was a little more delicate going about it but I think no less effective as a wiggly little lovedoll. Fan Brian likens this pose to the one in “Cantara, 1973” except in 1973 I was 18 and this flick was shot 8 years later on a proper set.


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JFK and Red Dwarf, Season 7, Episode 1 (BBC2, 1997): “Tikka to Ride”; Plus the Red Dwarf Theme by Howard Goodall

On this 25 November, the 57th anniversary of the funeral of our own murdered-in-broad-daylight John Fitzgerald Kennedy, nothing moves me as much as the handful of scenes (here on my YT channel) where RD’s time-traveling spaceship crew—Kryten the android, Rimmer the Hologram, Cat the evolved cat, and Dave Lister the last human in the universe—unite with a disgraced JFK to right a timeline gone wrong and restore our 35th president’s shining legacy to history. That’s American actor Michael J Shannon playing Kennedy / The Shooter on the Grassy Knoll. Red Dwarf Above Robert Llewellyn, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Craig Charles and Michael J Shannon as Kennedy /  The Shooter on the Grassy Knoll: The Red Dwarf theme by Howard Goodall, who also wrote the score to The Gathering Storm (2002), which was orchestrated, at age 30, by my beloved John Wilson.
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