Porgy and Bess at the English National Opera, Conducted by John Wilson, Fall 2018

In a podcast interview for the English National Opera, this is what my bonny John Wilson, Conductor 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 Rattle 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…”

Porgy and Bess, Met 2019.jpgAbove: Nadine Benjamin sings “Summertime” in rehearsal. Poster above is actually from the fabulous 2019 Metropolitan Opera production of Porgy and Bess.


Tunesmith—sheesh.

And I miss the goat. Without the goat, there is no Porgy and Bess (2:31:25).

Thanks to LA producer/theatre & film critic Myron Meisel for his commiseration on the goat, and for his comments on Gershwin and my old boss, Porgy & Bess‘s original director (1935) Rouben Mamoulian, on Facebook, which I answered there.


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Two “Summertimes” from The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, One Conducted by John Wilson, 2018

…The other conducted by John Mauceri in 2006 with the Nashville Symphony & Chorus, in a production based (in part) on the original score markings of composer George Gershwin:

“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

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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.


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Rouben Mamoulian, George Gershwin and the Cast of Porgy and Bess: The Full 1942 Album

…being wildly applauded in this photo of opening night. Lest we forget, it was The Old Man who directed the very first production of P&B. (Oh, he never let me forget it.) That’s him behind Gershwin in the goggle glasses.

Porgy and Bess Mamoulian

Of Porgy and Bess’s premiere, composer-critic Virgil Thomson wrote: “Gershwin’s lack of understanding of all the major problems of form, of continuity, and of serious or direct expression is not surprising in view of the impurity of his musical sources and his frank acceptance of the same. The material is straight from the melting pot. At best it is a piquant but highly unsavory stirring-up together of Israel, Africa and the Gaelic Isles… I do not like fake folklore, nor bittersweet harmony, nor six-part choruses, nor fidgety accompaniments, nor gefilte-fish orchestration.” The 1934 production ran for 124 performances–for opera, a huge success, but by Broadway standards, a flop.


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Safewords in Sex Bondage Games; Plus My Beloved John Wilson Conducts the CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 1 December 2021 in a Matinee of Rachmaninoff and Korngold

Birmingham is lucky to have you, dear, even though this is the place where you made that cheerfully meathead remark about Leonard Bernstein‘s excellent wife Felicia (which bordered on anti-female and anti-semitic but hey, you got away with it with the Brummies)…

Anyroad. Here’s the program for this 2:15pm concert, which’ll probably be broadcast on the BBC:

The Rachmaninoff is the one that gets my attention. My bonny claims a special affinity with this mighty Russian, as is noted somewhere in that red link above.

Haydn Wood London Landmarks (Birmingham, John Wilson cond)I’ve decided that our safeword, John, should be Ant-n-Dec. And don’t worry, because/despite your movingly odd remarks about women (see my posting “Maria Ewing gives Richard Strauss’s Salome the Full Monty and Sings Bali Ha’i Exotically with the JWO, Just for My Beloved Conductor, John Wilson”) I still love you. Above: The “official” government (USSR) version, and a very good one, of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No 3 (1936).


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Stephen Sondheim, Earl Wrightson, and Irwin Kostal On American Musical Theatre, WCBS, 15 October 1961

In an episode of this television series (available on my YT channel here), originally broadcast exclusively in New York City, Sondheim speaks before a workshop of NYC high school students, discussing the genesis of such songs as “Small World”, “I Feel Pretty”, and “One Hand, One Heart,” which are performed by Martha Wright and Ralph Curtis.

This show also includes question and answer period with Irwin Kostal, arranger and conductor for West Side Story. Hosted by Earl Wrightson. Produced by Ned Cramer. Directed by Neal Finn.

  • Everything’s Coming Up Roses – The CBS Orchestra
  • Small World – Martha Wright
  • Maria – Ralph Curtis
  • I Feel Pretty – Martha Wright
  • Tonight (Balcony Scene) – Ralph Curtis and Martha Wright
  • One Hand, One Heart – Ralph Curtis and Martha Wright
  • Mambo – The CBS Orchestra
  • Cool (Fugue) – The CBS Orchestra
  • Everything’s Coming Up Roses (reprise) – The CBS Orchestra

Sondheim, Wrightson, KostalAbove: Lyricist-Composer Stephen Sondheim, Baritone/Host Earl Wrightson, Orchestrator-Conductor Irwin Kostal. Again, here’s the clip on YT that provides a rare glimpse into the creative life of Sondheim and Kostal.


Here’s an excerpt transcription:

Mr Kostal, what is the difference between an orchestrator and an arranger?

It refers specifically to what you find on the music. When a composer composes a piece of music, we hope that it’s a complete piece of music, and when a man like Mr Bernstein composes the music (short laugh) it is. So all you do, you just discuss with him what he’d like to hear, flutes, violins…and you follow exactly what is written on the paper. This is what I call orchestration. Now, I get to do very little of that kind of work…because nowadays composers don’t bother with too much detail…

Steve [Sondheim] here is the kind of man we need because he’s studying music, and believe me that is a rarity on Broadway, because most composers don’t… At one time in history, composers actually did their own orchestration. They had the time in those days…but also, they could do it. For instance, Victor Herbert was a tremendous orchestrator. On one television show I did recently I actually used Mr Herbert’s scores as he wrote them in 1916—I couldn’t do ‘em any better. He knew what he was doing. Kurt Weill was the last one to do this. George Gershwin never did it on Broadway, but he—after he became a successful songwriter—studied music and learned how to orchestrate so that by the time he did Porgy and Bess he was able to do a very good job on the orchestrations.

Now, in arranging—if the composer does not do his job properly, the orchestrator has to come in and finish the job for him. Now, you’d be surprised how many times I do Broadway shows where I get roughly a one-line melody, a lead sheet, and I have to add the bass line, the harmony, the chords, and if it goes on for four minutes or a routine I have to think of things for the flutes to play and the violins to play etcetera, and it becomes a hefty job and I really feel like I am a composer’s partner when I do this*… You know, the more you do of this sort of work, the less the composer likes it. Because he’s kind of mad at you because he didn’t do it himself, I think anyway. And it serves him right. He should do it himself. I think he should go to school himself and learn. We have too many lead sheets—sure, the melody is the most important thing in music, but too many of our composers have decided to write only the melody. They have separated melody from music. Now, the art of melody writing is not a separate art from music, it’s a part of music. And when they have written this top line and leave the rest to me, they’ve got to be dissatisfied because they didn’t do it themselves. Let them get down to their business and go to school and learn to write!

[*I wonder who’s he’s talking about. Shinbone Alley’s George Kleinsinger? Fiorello’s Jerry Bock? Surely not The Music Man’s Meredith Willson—Willson went to Juilliard.]


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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 (Updated September 2021)

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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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 memoir 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, which has aroused such a surprising fetish in me I’m exploring it in a private place.

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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