In an earlier post I mentioned that, since May a couple years ago, I’ve been reading books by orchestra conductors on conducting, in order to better glimpse into the unfamiliar heart and mind of my beloved John Wilson. That classic tome written by Richard Wagner was far out, of course, and going back to some of Leonard Bernstein‘s early writings was deeply nostalgic.
But it was my treatment of a book my bonny conductor had on his public Facebook Likes list that done me in—a thin, and thinly humorous, volume written by a coeval of John’s who let out his dirigental insecurities in a tirade of snark that I answered in kind in a long, 4-star Amazon review that I thought was hilarious, which it was, although apparently only to me. I did this to get John’s attention. I got it. John did not like what I wrote. Hence, he learned how to spell my name ab-so-lute-ly correctly.
Now, Mark Wigglesworth has a 30-year career conducting a number of the great operas and a number of the great symphony cycles, to much acclaim. If there is one thing that John’s friend’s book made evident, in its perverted way, it’s the importance of a conductor being holistically grounded, and Wigglesworth is, as we used to say in the 70s, a grounded guy. Not surprising for someone who has Alan Watts on his bookshelf; and since the English-born psychedelic Zen guru of San Francisco is one of my guiding lights too, it was a deep pleasure to read The Silent Musician, Wigglesworth’s musings on his inner/outer artistic journey as a conductor. Wigglesworth, from Sussex, is an acclaimed interpreter of Gustav Mahler as well as Wagner, two creative heavyweights who positively require those who would approach their work to have had a fair look first into their own personal psychological-spiritual makeup. Consider Daniel Barenboim—one artist on the world stage I respect the hell out of—and his own moral / philosophical / logistical grapplings with the Architect of Bayreuth (download his “Wagner and Ideology” here and let me just say, if Barenboim figured it out I’m satisfied).
Speaking of Wagner, a few years ago Wigglesworth conducted the overture to a Wagner opera I’ll bet you’ve never heard of: Das Liebesverbot, or, The Ban on Love. I only know about this one because I took the mandatory survey course at music school at the university and never ran into it again till now. So this is the first and only thing I’ve ever heard from this opera:
Or will ever hear, ever again. Just a bit…Mediterranean, wouldn’t you say?
But what amazes me more is the libretto, because Wagner—get this—chose for his source material the scuzziest, meanest sex comedy ever written, which is, of course, Measure by Measure by William Shakespeare. Yes, at the end hypocrisy is vanquished and everyone gets laid, but eeeeuuwww…
Now, think on the twenty-three year psychological-spiritual journey from Das Liebesverbot to this:
I’m sorry, but when I hear that tune I want to see John’s dear face.
The rest of you, behold Hedy Lamarr and Aribert Mog in Ecstasy (Elektafilm, 1933).
- “The Story So Far, with Conductor John Wilson”
- “The Story So Far; Or, Conductor John Wilson—His Limits”