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

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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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My Beloved John Wilson Appointed to the Henry Wood Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and Conducts the RAMSO in Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht” (1899) at Snape Maltings, 6 June 2021

O sieh, wie klar das Weltall schimmert! / Es ist ein Glanz um alles her / Du treibst mit mir auf kaltem Meer / doch eine eigne Wärme flimmert von Dir in mich von mir in Dich… ~Richard Dehmel

Look, how brightly the universe shines! / Splendour falls on everything around / you are voyaging with me on a cold sea / but there is the glow of an inner warmth from you in me / from me in you…

John InterviewAbove my beloved: Leopold Stokowski conducts the 1943, final and most popular composer’s edit of the string orchestra version of this exquisite one-movement sextet based on Richard Dehmel’s poem. (The 1924 version was conducted by Edward Clark of the BBC in Newcastle.) Find the Hollywood String Quartet’s version here.


I adore John and his O at the BBC Proms. Honest I do. All that thrill and spectacle. That fetching full dress. And a third of the numbers he’s plucked from The Great American Songbook no one could do better. But last January 2020 I got my wish when my bonny conducted a program of Dean, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky at London’s Royal Academy of Music and for the very first time I got to watch him work entirely as a conductor rather than a showman. (The cover of JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR is himself preparing for the 4th movement of the RAM’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique”. The magazine picture above is from the 23 October concert at RAM.)

It was not a revelation, I knew John was going to be wonderful and the orchestra was going to be wonderful. I’d heard the “Mars” part of Holst’s The Planets that he conducted in Leeds with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (see John above wearing the bright blue NYOGB hoodie) and was impressed with its energy. RAM trumpet Rebecca Toal (heard in Brett Dean’s “Komarov’s Fall”) had this to say about my dear one:

John is particularly generous with his energy and he’s so committed. I think I’ve done one project with him before, and both times he’s just thrown himself into the projects. It’s so nice to have people come in from the outside and completely splash their energy everywhere and leave you feeling on a high and motivated, even after they’ve left.”

And I think this young player has hit it. John [more later; going out now to celebrate Bloomsday with Mister Grumble]


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Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: The Room at the Inn Scene in Queen Christina (MGM, 1933) Just for My Beloved Conductor, John Wilson

“I have been memorizing this room. In the future, in my memory, I shall live a great deal in this room.”

Garbo ChristinaFind this scene on my YT channel here and apologies for the quality of the vid but it was the best available. Underscoring is by the esteemed 1st music director at MGM, Herbert Stothart. Stothart’s adorable “Donkey Serenade” is featured in The MGM Jubilee Overture, written in 1954 by 2nd music director Johnny Green and restored to the repertoire by my bonny. I’m moving to your rhythm, John.



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My First Music: Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem for My Brilliant English Conductor John Wilson on His 49th Birthday

25 May No sharing the spotlight with my dad for your coincidental birthdays this year, John, fire of my loins. And as promised in my posting three weeks ago, “A NYC Memory to Celebrate the 3rd Anniversary of Falling in Love with Conductor John Wilson; Plus the BBCSO Doing Elgar’s Bach Fantasia; and Theatre of Blood (United Artists, 1973) Complete”, here’s that Britten piece.

War RequiemEd Lyon tenor, Benjamin Appl baritone, and Susanne Bernhard soprano are the soloists. The Choir of Hanover and the Liverpool Cathedral Choir round out the voices. Orchestra is the NDR Radiophilharmonie, Andrew Manze is the conductor. 2018. Above: War Requiem, written in 1962 by Benjamin Britten.


I sang in the chorus of War Requiem around the time you were going on 1. It was the last concert of the Minnesota Orchestra’s ’72-73 season; guest conductor was Kurt Adler of the Metropolitan Opera. (Don’t remember the soloists.) It was the greatest musical experience of my life. I know the Decca recording is out there somewhere, but the broadcast above from Radio Hanover is the closest I’ve found to the feeling I got being in the middle of all that gorgeous sound…

Which brings me to address yet another one of those sundry feelings I have about you, and have had about you, lo these several years: besides tenderness, gratitude, annoyance, and raging lust, just a trace of envy that you ascend to such an exquisite sonic plane so often…

But the envy goes when you bring it on home to us, which you always do. And then I’m filled with the pure joy of loving you.


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My Beloved Conductor John Wilson and His Hottest Recordings for Chandos, Plus a Few of His Signature Tunes Recorded with The John Wilson Orchestra

Recorded for the Chandos label:

Recorded with The John Wilson Orchestra:



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Vincent Price Makes Love to Coral Browne in Theatre of Blood (1973)

In an earlier posting (“A NYC Memory to Celebrate the 3rd Anniversary of Falling in Love with Conductor John Wilson; Plus the BBCSO Doing Elgar’s Bach Fantasia; and Theatre of Blood, United Artists, 1973 Complete”) I mentioned TofB, which came out the summer I moved to Greenwich Village. Recently I discovered a new bio of Vincent Price entitled Vincent Price: The British Connection (Telos, 2020) where, to my delight, Gateshead-based author Mark Iveson reveals the torrid affair between Price and the noted Australian-born actress, Coral Browne:


The entire film Theatre of Blood with Vincent Price, Diana Rigg, Coral Browne, Robert Morley, and a cast of British stalwarts, is available on YT here.


Theatre of BloodAbove Diana Rigg, Coral Browne and Vincent Price: Michael J Lewis’s excellent, elegant opening music for Theatre of Blood.


Price’s infatuation intensified, regarding Coral as “the Great Barrier Reef—beautiful, exotic and dangerous. I was like a bird dog!”

“I remember he electrocuted me on my birthday,” Browne recalled when she performed her death scene with Price. Ironically her acting isn’t very good in this scene because she doesn’t look even remotely terrified of her murderer. Instead, she prefers gazing into his eyes instead of screaming in fear.

After the day’s filming, Price once again approached Diana Rigg for advice. “I said to Diana, ‘I understand it’s Ms Browne’s birthday. What could I get her?’ And Diana said, ‘Well, you know what she wants. You!” 

And from then on,” added Rigg, “they never looked back. I think they fell into bed and I think it was a wildly sexual relationship. Incredibly sexual. I remember Coral saying that they worked out their combined ages were 120-something, and when you saw these absolutely shagged out people on the set, it was really quite funny. And that was the start of it.”


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My Beloved Conductor John Wilson’s Lockdown Listening List: Keely Smith, Teddy Wilson, Walton, Elgar, Brahms, Ireland, Debussy, Peter Ackroyd; Plus Yusef Lateef

From the London-based Philharmonia’s website, July 2020: my beloved John Wilson’s public musical choices. Audio downloads in red.

*I am astonished that John actually, correctly, described Teddy Wilson as a Swing musician rather than put him into the catchall Jazz bag, which I’d have expected him to do, considering who was his teacher. His teacher was Richard Rodney Bennett. My teacher (at CUNY) was YUSEF LATEEF (download his 1957 album Jazz Mood here in full).

**John, are you conflating song with melody, or what? Another reason I’m dying to have a chat with you



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A NYC Memory to Celebrate the 3rd Anniversary of Falling in Love with Conductor John Wilson; Plus the BBCSO Doing Elgar’s Bach Fantasia; and Theatre of Blood (United Artists, 1973)

In one of my old postings (“On Conductor John Wilson’s Full Dress and The First Porn Movie I Ever Did, 1”) I said something about a certain hot tub party being only the second time a man ever gave me his business card before we had sex… Well, this was the first. It happened one evening in July, 1973. I was 18. I had just gotten that job as night solfeggist at ASCAP only a couple of weeks earlier, which is in itself a very interesting story I’ll have to tell you one of these days. Only now let’s get back to me walking down Broadway from 63rd. I loved walking home to the Village after work on a summer evening, when all of midtown was still buzzy with life and good times. After the night shift, some of my fellow solfeggists would go across the street to O’Neal’s Balloon to drink with the fancy Lincoln Center crowd (here’s my own favorite table showing up in Annie Hall), but I got a bigger kick being below 54th with all the theater people. On this particular evening I was approaching 46th…and right there on the corner of 46th stood a really good-looking guy, tall and blond and nicely dressed, who seemed to be scoping out one by one all the passers-by. For some reason he lit upon me. He got my attention. Then he asked me if I knew where a good jazz club could be found, the way you might ask any passer-by about a mailbox or the way to the Empire State Building… I told him I was new in town. Then he suggested we (“we”!) buy a newspaper and sit down somewhere and check the listings together. Oh, I was game. My first New York adventure! We went across the street to Howard Johnson’s where he bought me a hamburger and told me about himself. He told me he was an agent. He’d just put his client on the plane that day—his client having just been on The Dick Cavett Show promoting his new film, a comedy-horror flick that’s now a classic—and he himself was going back to London in the morning. He told me his client’s name, which I recognized at once, and then he gave me his card, which I kept for years until I gave it to an actor friend who said he was “looking for a UK rep”… Then he asked me about myself, all the nice polite questions a man’ll ask you beforehand… But we also talked about show business, shows, show music. I told him I liked Man of La Mancha. Having found no jazz clubs worth going to that night, we left HoJo’s and walked over to 5th Avenue, where we strolled back to his hotel room at the St Regis. I was ready for anything, expecting nothing. Even when he pulled the line, “Let’s get out of these hot clothes, shall we?” with that gorgeous limey accent of his, I still wasn’t sure we were on the road to making it…until we started making it. At that point we hadn’t even kissed. But oh, how he made up for it! I wasn’t a virgin, but here was the first man I ever slept with who actually knew how to take his time pleasuring a woman. By the time I was under him, gazing down at the back of his incredibly sexy legs, an electric shock went through me, and for the first time in my life, I orgasmed. So that’s the story of my first New York hookup. We parted in the morning, wishing each other well, and I even made it back to the boarding house in time for breakfast. A perfect sexual encounter with a happy ending.

I’m telling you this, John, because what Michael Linnit made me feel that night is nothing compared to how you made me feel when you conducted Elgar’s Bach Fantasia in Sydney three years ago. I’m not kidding. I had just fallen in love with you when I saw you shimmy to a Jule Styne tune in some video… But this time (it was about 2 weeks later) there was only you and the music on the radio. I’m not even crazy about Elgar, I was waiting for your Prokofiev. But I was so keyed up—for the past couple of weeks I had been vibrating with love for you—that when a certain chord was played in the Elgar, a wave rolled through me, it was just so yummy… But that wasn’t all. As I lay there gasping, a little voice in my head went, You fool! Don’t you remember who’s there? And so I came again, this orgasm coming over me like a wave meant to drown…and I reached for you and knocked the lamp off the night table.

If we ever do meet up at the Metropole in Gateshead, my love, I’ll tell you about the other times (Vaughan Williams, Richard Rodgers). But I wanted to let you know now how much you’ve meant to me, how much you still mean, even when you’re not wearing the white tie.

And like I said, for your birthday I’ll do Britten for you. Now I’ve got to go be with Mister Grumble and make dinner. Bosnian Cabbage Stew tonight.

howard-johnsonsAbove 46th and Broadway c 1972, a year before I hit town (note the marquees for Bock+Harnick’s The Rothschilds and the No, No Nanette revival): Elgar’s Bach Fantasia played by the BBCSO under Leonard Slatkin. And here’s the score.



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Maria Ewing Gives Richard Strauss’s Salome the Full Monty and Sings “Bali Ha’i” Exotically with The JWO, Just for My Beloved English Conductor, John Wilson

There are 3 naked ladies in this blog. This is one of them*.

“I’m not given to displays of emotion, but when Maria and I met up again [to record the R+H album] we had tears in our eyes. She’s so exotic!” enthused my bonny conductor about this Detroit-born soprano. “I love her—as a person!” Yes, John. I’d love to hear more.

Maria Ewing in SalomeAbove proudly nude Salome in the 1991 Covent Garden production of Richard Strauss’s 1905 opera directed by Ewing’s husband at the time, Sir Peter Hall: “Bali Ha’i” sung by soprano Maria Ewing in the compilation Rodgers & Hammerstein At the Movies, with The John Wilson Orchestra, conducted by John Wilson (Warners, 2011).


About the DVD recording of Salome, says Toronto blogger John Gilks in Opera Ramblings: “The production is really pretty conventional. There are lots of greens, greys and blue. It’s quite dark and the set is stagey and conventional. Almost all the visual interest revolves around Ewing’s Salome though Michael Devlin’s scantily clad and palely made up Jochanaan is quite arresting too. Narraboth (Robin Legate) is an unremarkable actor and Herod (Kenneth Riegel) and Herodias (Gillian Knight) look uncomfortably like a couple of drag queens. The latter though does manage a pretty effective hissy fit. For the sound reasons mentioned above it’s hard to be sure whether the rather insipid vocal performances by Devlin and Leggate are really their faults. There’s also no change in acoustic when Jochanaan is singing from the cistern which is odd. Riegel and Knight do better at projecting themselves beyond the orchestra and turn in OK performances. The recording, directed by Derek Bailey, is about what one would expect from a 1992 BBC TV broadcast***. The picture quality is acceptable but not great 4:3 with hard coded English subtitles. Sound, as mentioned, is barely adequate. There are no extras and no documentation. This is probably worth having a look at as a record of an iconic performance by Ewing but I can’t imagine anyone would choose it as the definitive Salome.”

*Yup, here’s another exotic nude, just for my beloved John Wilson.**

**And yet another, if you look under the phrase “chewing on my behind”.

***John would have been 20 when this showed up on the telly.



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My Ever Beloved John Wilson and the LSO at St Luke’s in Islington, 11 March 2021: The New, New Program

Back last February 2020, the London Symphony Orchestra booked John for a 21 January 2021 concert of Barber, Weill and Russell Bennett. Then that changed.

It looked like the LSO came up with a completely different program—no soloist, smaller group, shorter works: George Gershwin’s “Lullaby”; Henri Dutilleux’s “Le loup”; and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Partita for Orchestra (here played by the BBCCO, with my beloved John conducting the work of his special mentor).

Then that changed. On the 10th of January this year the LSO completely canceled John’s concert.

Then on 8 April the LSO released on Marquee.tv a freebie fundraiser video concert with a couple of selections from the two earlier planned programs, plus Maurice Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales”, as well as Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess, A Symphonic Picture” arranged by Robert Russell Bennett and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Partita for Orchestra.

The LSO Bennett-Gershwin-Ravel concert is available to watch in full FREE for a week starting 8 April 2021.

Hard sell from the LSO website: “John Wilson takes his personal favourites by Gershwin, Ravel and Richard Rodney Bennett, and presents them in glorious sonic Technicolor. Everyone knows that no-one—but no-one—conducts Gershwin with more verve and style than John Wilson. But today he gets even more personal, with joyous, multicoloured showpieces by two composers close to his heart: Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, and Richard Rodney Bennett’s brilliant Partita. For some, Rodney Bennett was the composer who did Four Weddings and a Funeral; for others, he was one of the finest jazz pianists of our time. But for Wilson, he was a friend, an inspiration, and ‘an absolute master’. This should be a treat.”



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By Grabthar’s Hammer: The Soundtrack Suites from Star Trek IV (Paramount, 1986) by Leonard Rosenman; and Galaxy Quest (Dreamworks, 1999) by Yet Another Newman, David

To my mind, these are the two movie scores which best convey the whole Star Trek ethos: the jaunty energy of military adventure + the thrilling, life-changing mix of wonder and belief… A very 1960s spirit and I doubt we’ll ever be able to return to it, but anyway. Leonard Roseman, incidentally, was a pupil of Schoenberg.

Galaxy QuestAbove Missi Pyle, Tony Shalhoub, Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Ted Rees, Sigourney Weaver, Sam Rockwell, and Darryl Mitchell: Galaxy Quest Soundtrack Suite played by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

Soundtrack Suite
from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Leonard Roseman, composer


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