John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra at the BBC Proms, the Royal Albert Hall, 9 August 2019: The Complete Concert of The Warner Bros Story Including “The Sea Hawk”

Well, John, this isn’t a Joan Crawford movie so there’s no gold cigarette case but as I’m still in love with you and want to give you nice things, I’ll give you my honest appraisals, which is something I’ve been doing all along anyway (I hope you’ll agree) and not throwing myself into the Atlantic Ocean for your sake. So let’s do this organized, going down the numbers in the program one by one because, as you recall, I used to work at ASCAP:

JW-Prom-29 (1)


The entire 2019 BBC Proms concert “The Warner Bros Story” with the The John Wilson Orchestra is available here


  • “We’re In the Money” (from Gold Diggers of 1933) / Harry Warren, Al Dubin Count on you to include the lyrics in pig Latin.
  • “The Desert Song” (from the 1953 film) / Sigmund Romberg, Oscar Hammerstein II Meh. I think the only reason you worked this in is because Kim Criswell’s singing a Romberg song in your 5 January concert in Stockholm, “Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise”, which is a hot, HOT number. In fact I can’t believe you’re going to stand on the same stage when she sings that song and not get incinerated. But that’s just you I guess.
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (suite; from the 1948 film) / Max Steiner God, I forgot how repetitive Max Steiner can be when he’s not cribbing from Herman Hupfeld.
  • The Old Man and the Sea (suite, 1st movement; from the 1958 film) / Dmitri Tiomkin One movement, mercifully short.
  • “Seventy-Six Trombones” (YT) (from The Music Man, 1962)  / Meredith Willson I lost a bet to Mister Grumble that you would never, never, EVER do this number, ever. (Because, you know, it’s so OBVIOUS.) But…yeah, it was okay. No Andre Rieu though.
  • “Blues in the Night” (from Blues In the Night, 1941) / Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer A low-voiced woman should sing this. Preferably a woman who’s been there.
  • Auntie Mame (main title; from the 1958 film) / Bronislav Kaper You know, I’d forgotten how much I like this sweet waltz.
  • “Gotta Have Me Go with You” (YT) (from A Star is Born, 1954) / Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin See below.
  • “The Man That Got Away” (from A Star is Born, 1954) / Harold Arlen, Ira Gershwin [in an obvious nod to the movie’s latest remake] Of all your singers, Louise Dearman is the only one who could’ve carried these two numbers in this room particularly, and whatever luck or good judgment (and I’m nuts about you dear, but I’m never completely confident about your judgment in these matters) brought her there I’m glad.
  • “Get Me to the Church On Time” (from My Fair Lady, 1962) / Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner A little harkening back to your 2012 Proms triumph, eh?
  • 25-MINUTE INTERVAL Proms Plus Talk: a discussion of some of the great film scores being played tonight [Hah! In a pig’s eye] with Matthew Sweet, David Benedict and Pamela Hutchinson
  • Gypsy (overture; from the 1962 film) / Jule Styne, arr Ramin and Ginzler I still have the clip of you conducting this at the 2012 Proms (the other one). This one is sooo much hotter.
  • Now, Voyager (suite; from the 1942 film) / Max Steiner UPDATE: John, I’m afraid I really didn’t give this number a fair hearing the first time 2 years ago so I’m going to listen to it again. But you know, the truth is I almost missed the fact that YOU wrote this arrangement because the Mountview kids down on the floor were leading a cheer [@1:05:00] and it was hard to hear that old dear chatting about you with Katie D. When I do write something about this number it’ll be over in the posting “On Conductor John Wilson’s Orchestral Arrangement of ‘Now, Voyager’ at the BBC Proms 2019 and The First Porn Movie I Ever Did, 3”.
  • “The Deadwood Stage” (from Calamity Jane, 1953) / Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster [a Doris Day tribute] O-kay! A FULL number from a musical, complete with chorus—this is the very thing that made your name. All is forgiven.
  • “It’s Magic” (from Romance On the High Seas [correction, BBC: “On”, not “In”], 1948) / Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn [again, a Doris Day tribute] What in the name of heaven possessed whoever decided to include the worst song Jule Styne ever wrote? Redeemable only—only—if Bugs Bunny (YT) sings it.
  • A Streetcar Named Desire (main title; from the 1951 film) / Alex North Oh, you’re going to have fun with this one when you have to give sexy program notes to the audience from the podium, like you did in Brighton.
  • If Ever I Would Leave You” (from Camelot, 1967) / Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner Sure. Okay. Ladies need swoony time.
  • “The Days of Wine and Roses” (YT) (from the 1962 film) Henry Mancini arr Nelson Riddle, Johnny Mercer Nelson Riddle!? You used the freakin’ Nelson Riddle arrangement?? What are you trying to do, send love signals to Seth MacFarlane?
  • “Tomorrow” (from The Constant Nymph) / Erich Wolfgang Korngold You had this and your Prince Charming from Cendrillon, Kate Lindsey, up your sleeve! What a nice surprise.
  • ENCORE “I Could Have Danced All Night” (from My Fair Lady, 1962) / Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner Every soprano in the world wants to hear this song done right. She passes.
  • ENCORE “Harry’s Wondrous World” (from the Harry Potter series of films, 2002-2012) It’s unavoidable, you’re going to do John Williams somewhere. And I know the BBCCO had the scores in their basement because you conducted this with them back in 2007.

Mikaela Bennett, Louise Dearman, Kate Lindsey, Matt Ford, singers. Maida Vale Singers, chorus. Christopher Dee, choral director. Petroc Trelawny, presenter (afternoon show).

By the way, John, glad you shaved this year. Will catch up with you in Nottingham with Vaughan Williams


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JB Priestley’s The Good Companions in 1933 with John Gielgud and Jessie Matthews; in 1974 with Judi Dench; in 2000 at the Eureka Theatre, SF; and in 2009 Conducted by My Beloved John Wilson

From MusicalCriticism.com, 2009: As part of the celebrations for Johnny Mercer’s centenary, the BBC Concert Orchestra mounted two semi-staged performances of his final stage musical, The Good Companions, at the Watford Colosseum in Hertfordshire. Conductor John Wilson—who led the phenomenally popular MGM Prom this August, as well as a fantastic concert performance of My Fair Lady in Gateshead in July—came together with an experienced cast that included Liz Robertson, Ian Talbot and Annalene Beechey to perform the show, which was first staged in London in 1974. The results could not have been more entertaining.

Above Inigo, Susie Dean and Miss Trant: Judi Dench, from the 1974 West End production, sings “Darkest Before Dawn”.


The Good Companions is based on JB Priestley’s most popular novel—indeed the work that solidified his reputation. It tells the tale of an upper-middle class woman who—quite against the advice of her relatives—decides to use her newfound wealth to fund a group of strolling players whose director has run off with all the money; escape is a strong theme of the show. One can see why the backstage musical flavour of the novel must have appealed to the book and song writers.

The libretto for the West End show was adapted by Ronald Harwood, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Pianist. Composer Andre Previn, former Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, wrote the music for the Gene Kelly film It’s Always Fair Weather and conducted the films Gigi and My Fair Lady. Lyricist Mercer received nineteen Academy Award nominations and was the lyricist of dozens of American standards including “Moon River” and “The Days of Wine and Roses”.

In short, the piece is an underrated little gem (the original cast album starring Judi Dench, John Mills and Marti Webb was briefly available but is now a rarity), and in conductor John Wilson’s taut performance all the nuances came through. It seems the project has been a labour of love for him: the original full orchestral score was lost after being simplified for amateur productions, and although some of the original performing parts were eventually discovered by Caroline Underwood of the Warner/Chappell music publishers, Wilson has had to restore parts of the score for which no material survived. He has rendered the work of Angela Morley and Herb Spencer, the orchestrators of the original production, extremely sympathetically, and led the performance with verve.

With the Maida Vale Singers covering a range of smaller roles and raising the roof in the ensemble numbers, and the BBC Concert Orchestra playing at their exquisite best, this was a superb evening. One hopes the same team will explore more classic musicals in the future, but in the meantime the Radio 3 broadcast on 16 November at 7pm is not to be missed. ~Dominic McHugh


An excerpt from the musical film The Good Companions with Jessie Matthews and John Gielgud is available on my YT channel here.



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John Wilson Interview (with Music!) at the BBC Studios in Salford, 12 November 2018

“I think I’ve done my last batch of film music,” says bonny John. Interview starts at 9:50. (Update 5 March 2019: Damn, the Beeb yanked this podcast! Will replace the link if they ever bring it back. To make up for it below are some downloadables.)

Included with the interview in their entirety: Met soprano Joyce DiDonato sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (Rodgers & Hammerstein); the famous barn-raising dance in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Gene de Paul, Alexander Courage), and “I Got Rhythm” (George and Ira Gershwin), all played in that ineluctable John Wilson Orchestra way.

War RequiemAbove bloodily hardworking John: Kim Criswell, the Maida Vale Singers and The John Wilson Orchestra tear into the Gershwin brothers’ “I Got Rhythm”.


From a 15 June 2016 article in The Sydney Morning Herald:

It’s rare, if ever, to hear a kind word said about James T Aubrey, the ruthless former CBS executive hired in 1969 to turn around the stuttering fortunes of the MGM movie studio. In a four-year reign he slashed staff numbers, cancelled many projects and sold off the company’s archive in a sale that, famously, included Judy Garland’s iconic ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.

“They had no intrinsic value,” was Aubrey’s icy comment at the time.

And along with that brutal act, incredibly, he also ordered the destruction of many of the film scores in the company’s archive, trashing music from legendary films including The Wizard of Oz, High Society and Singin’ In the Rain.

These gems might have been lost forever were it not for the passion and dedication of English conductor John Wilson, who for the past 15 years has dedicated much of his time to re-creating them.

Now he has re-scored some 200 separate numbers from MGM musicals from the 1930s to the early ’60s purely by ear, a task he was driven to largely out of necessity—he loves the music and wanted his orchestra, the John Wilson Orchestra, to play it.

“I had to do it,” he says simply.

He’s also quite frank about the tedium of minutely reconstructing each part.
“First and foremost, I’m a conductor—it’s all I do really,” he says. “I don’t like writing music out but I have to. It’s a pain in the arse! It’s hours of toil.

“I do love hearing it back—I only do the numbers I think are really sensational—but sitting listening to four seconds of music on a loop for half an hour just to get one bass clarinet part—is that going to be anything other than just necessary?”

One might then expect Wilson to join the chorus of Aubrey critics but he is surprisingly generous towards the man who presented him with a lifetime’s work.

“It would be easy to say James Aubrey was a vandal but I think there were a lot of people around then who had no idea that this was worth keeping,” he says.

The pace at which the studio system turned out films left little time for those involved to consider their longer term significance.

“If you had said to anyone in the 1930s that what they were creating was art they would have laughed at you,” says Wilson. “It was entertainment designed to make a profit. Nobody was archively minded. A lot of the scores were an unfortunate casualty of that prevailing attitude. It would have been a case of, ‘Who wants a load of old crumbly pages’?”

Wilson’s passion for “good quality light music” sprang from listening to the TV and radio when he was growing up in Gateshead in the 1970s-80s.

After an extensive apprenticeship playing piano, arranging music and conducting for amateur dramatics, pantomimes and other productions he went on to study in London.

“By the time I arrived at the Royal College of Music at 18 I was fairly hands-on and practical,” he says. “There were never any divisions for me between David Raksin, Max Steiner and Erich Korngold and Strauss, Mozart and Brahms.”

Now he is working alongside his long-time friend and collaborator, Sydney Symphony Orchestra co-concertmaster Andrew Haveron, bringing his favourite light music to Sydney audiences.

Haveron has led the John Wilson Orchestra since its inception.

“Andrew knows how to play this music better than anyone on the planet. That’s a real game changer,” says Wilson.

On a program that also includes music from Citizen Kane, Gone With The Wind and Star Wars will be Erich Korngold’s music for 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn.

Wilson’s face lights up. “It is,” he says, “the greatest movie score that has ever been written. I never get past how impressive it is.”


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Conductor John Wilson’s First Appearance in the Royal Albert Hall, British Film Music, BBC Proms, 2007

My beloved John Wilson’s very first time on the podium in the Royal Albert was not with his eponymous orchestrathat was in 2009but, at age 35, conducting the 50-piece BBC Concert Orchestra in their program, “British Film Music” (entire program available here in 14 parts). First up is William Walton‘s* score from the unseemly gorgeous (all blue skies and puffy white clouds) 1969 war picture Battle of Britain. “Battle in the Air” (in part 1 @00:01:20) is spirited, ravishing and very dramatic. I saw the film first-run back home in Minneapolis, then again a few years later in London and then again in, of all places, Patras, Greece, but it’s the music I remember most.

John Wilson Battle.jpegYes love, that overtone did seem to go on forever, didn’t it?

Here’s the entire program:

  • Battle In the Air” from Battle of Britain (1969) / William Walton
  • Suite from Anna Karenina (1948) / Constant Lambert
  • Prelude from The 49th Parallel (1941) / Ralph Vaughan Williams
  • Waltz from Genevieve (1953) / Larry Adler
  • Theme from Lawrence of Arabia (1962) / Maurice Jarre
  • Suite from The Red Shoes (1948) / Brian Easdale
  • March from The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957) / Malcolm Arnold
  • Love Theme from Yanks (1979) / Richard Rodney Bennett
  • Medley from the Carry On film series (1958-1992) / Eric Rogers (arr Sutherland)
  • Overture from Much Ado About Nothing (1993) / Patrick Doyle
  • “Shakespeare In Love” from the film (1998) / Stephen Warbeck
  • Suite from Wilde (1997) / Debbie Wiseman
  • “Chicken Run” from the film (2000) / John Powell, Harry Gregson-Williams
  • “Shadowlands” from the film (1993) / George Fenton
  • “A Bridge Too Far” from the film (1977) / John Addison
  • “Harry’s Wondrous World” from the Harry Potter film series (2001-2011) / John Williams
  • March from The Dam Busters (1955) / Eric Coates

Cynthia Fleming, leader. Philip Achille, Cynthia Millar, soloists. Maida Vale Singers, chorus. Richard E Grant, host. Appearance by Sir Richard Attenborough.

** Because of his advanced age, Sir William Walton turned to friend Sir Malcolm Arnold for assistance with the orchestrations (which Arnold supplied, as well as writing additional cues). Harry Saltzman rejected the score, saying it wasn’t long enough. Ron Goodwin (who composed for Where Eagles Dare) wrote the replacement score, but Sir Laurence Olivier threatened to have his name removed in the credits if none of Walton’s original was used. For this reason, Walton’s original music for the “Battle In the Air” sequence was used in the climactic closing of the film.


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