Taken at the upstairs hall at The Sage, the Royal Northern Sinfonia’s permanent home in Gateshead, on the south side of the river from Newcastle. That’s the Tyne and the Tyne Bridge out the window.
Royal Northern Sinfonia is a British chamber orchestra, founded in Newcastle upon Tyne and currently based in Gateshead. For the first 46 years of its history, the orchestra gave the bulk of its concerts at the Newcastle City Hall. Since 2004, the orchestra has been resident at The Sage, Gateshead. In June 2013 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title “Royal” on the orchestra, formally naming it the Royal Northern Sinfonia.
This is the group John Wilson wished a happy birthday to, and it’s a truly worthwhile one: The RNS has an outstanding record in community outreach in the northeast of England. It’s pleasing to think that bonny John had a childhood filled with such musical memories—makes me recall Northrop Auditorium and the Minneapolis Symphony, now the Minnesota Orchestra. (Will tell all about my Vietnam War-era music school/protest days sometime.)
The vid above doesn’t have the entire Vaughan Williams, so here’s my lovely lad conducting this exquisite piece:
Made in Britain (2011)
“The Lark Ascending”
Ralph Vaughan Williams, Composer
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
John Wilson, Conductor
I see your master plan, John. You did Symphonies 1 and 2 last year; this year you’re doing 3, 4, and 5 (but not in that order). And considering the rest of the year you’re going to be busying yourself with Massenet, then the Proms (two shows Friday, 9 August!), then I suppose you’ll go on tour with The JWO for the holiday season. So…I’m figuring sometime early next year for no. 6, right? If not early next year, sometime next year…?
Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 6 in E Minor
Sir Roger Norrington, Conductor
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (1997)
Norrington is the conductor who believes in using no vibrato. “Wobble” he calls it.
And what about 7, 8 and 9? Are we going to hear them next year, or the year after? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s Vaughan Williams’s Symphony no. 6 I’m really after. What a strange piece of music. Even without comparing it to Symphonies 1 through 5, it’s still a strange piece, though intriguing enough for me to want to listen to again and possibly again. (And of course I am eager to hear you, flame of my heart. What a wondrous thing you’ll make of it…)
This recording was made off-air by a sound engineer using state-of-the-art recording equipment for the time that used rare and expensive long-playing acetate disks. The symphony was first performed in June 1943 (at the height of the blitz) but this recording captures a later performance in September 1952. There are four movements: Preludio 0:00 Scherzo 11:40 Romanza 16:40 Passacaglia 26:42.
My beloved John Wilson conducted this symphony with the Royal Northern Sinfonia at The Sage in his home town of Gateshead in March 2019.
Embedding this clip here so I can watch it whenever I start to forget why I’m in love with him. This is part of my bonny’s demo reel filmed by his management and shows off his performance style very nicely. At the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, 23 January 2014.
John, I’m sorry about the whole nose thing. You are, actually, the angel glow that lights a star / the dearest things I know are what you are…
More from that performance reel from 2014. Said the Irish Times: “Wilson sustains a narrative sweep based not on notions that the music creates pictures of London, but on the inherent musical qualities of its vivid contrasts.”
No…it’s my bonny’s Sehnsucht.
Just so you don’t go on thinking this is some kind of fanblog (it’s not, because I’m not a fan*, just crazy in love with the bloke) I thought I’d spend a posting to tell you all how I got my first gig in pictures…
Immaculate white full dress shirt with detachable wing collar, white dickey, white bow tie, white waistcoat, studs, cufflinks, striped trousers, and a spare tailcoat in the dressing room—my bonny lad is set
This happened in San Francisco—in the 70s a paradise for the sexually adventurous—and coming after the time I worked as Rouben Mamoulian‘s amanuensis, which was after the time I posed nude for a blind sculptor in St-Paul-de-Vence, which was after the time I danced topless in a mob-run bar in Red Hook, which was after the time I was the night solfeggist at ASCAP…
So anyway. One lovely summer evening about six weeks after I hit the city I went with a (legit) actress friend to a house party up on Potrero Hill, mostly because she enticed me with the information that the party would be featuring a hot tub. (Am such a pushover for hot tubs.) Well, at the party there was this cute but obvious older guy from London (trimmed ginger beard, open shirt, bead bracelet—no one goes California like the English) named Peter, who owned the house and who invited me seulement for a session of coke+quaaludes and a nice soak later, after all the other guests have left. Then he gave me his card. (This was the first time a man ever gave me his business card before we had sex, but it wouldn’t be the last)…
Part 2 here.
*No, really, I’m in love with John but he plows through Gershwin like a bull moose and treats Bernstein like Bernstein’s Saruman and he’s Frodo. How could any red-blooded American woman countenance such effrontery to her national pride?**
**He does, however, conduct Elgar and Vaughan Williams like an angel.
Oh John honey. You’re a sweetheart to do this when you’ve barely unpacked.
John conducted Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony no. 5 in D major with the Royal Northern Sinfonia at The Sage in his home town of Gateshead 1 March 2019.
I’m still finding it mighty strange that my bonny has a birthday landing on exactly the same day as my father’s—the 25th of May, which would make him a Gemini—but somehow it starts to make sense: There’s John of the BBC Orchestra and Eric Coates and Vaughan Williams and the tra-la-boomy-boom that makes up English music; and then there’s John of the big-shouldered swaggering sweating bombastic vibrant American tune book. One (when he plays it well) makes me want to cook him a nice lamb stew with pearl onions swimming in the rich gravy; the other (again, when he plays it well, which is almost always) makes me want to—well, I was in the business, you know, use your imagination.
Local Low Fell Lad Makes Good
Only don’t be too sure which is which. Like I said, John almost always plays the music of his country and his heritage well, with a deep feeling that’s irresistible; whereas when he works out the great American tunes it turns out more often to be hit-and-miss, with many many many more misses than hits.
But oh! When he does hit! When bonny John and his orchestra play “The Trolley Song” or “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” or “Get Happy” or the MGM Jubilee Overture—or the absolute best of the lot, “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue“—it’s freakin heaven, and I’m not the only one to say this. Subtlety is not this lad’s forte when it comes to the American popular repertoire. But when John goes big, bright, busy and loud when the number actually calls for it, screams out for it, it’s so damn satisfying when he does it and does it brilliantly that I want to—how can I put this?—do something for my darling in gratitude…make him a nice meal…fatten him up a little… (Ess, kind, ess!)
For right now, though, I’ll settle for a natter on a quiet afternoon, which is why I thought of the Metropole before karaoke time. You know, John, when you get up to Gateshead again. I’ve never seen the Angel of the North.
After he finishes his JWO At the Movies gig touring the isle with his eponymous orchestra, cracking waaay off-the-beam jokes between numbers about sexual mores in Now, Voyager (Glasgow’s The Herald deems his whippersnapper remarks “camp wit”!) and playing Fred Astaire’s ballet number from The Band Wagon in order to pay tribute to Gene Kelly(!), my bonny gets back to business in Salford performing and recording a program of Eric Coates: The Merrymakers Overture; The Jester at the Wedding Suite, “Dancing Night”; Ballad for Strings; “I Heard You Singing” from 2 Symphonic Rhapsodies; and for the last number, London Everyday Suite (and you know what that means! It means “Knightsbridge”!! That farkochta earworm I can’t get out of my head!!!) Now for goodness’ sakes John, just play the music and ditch the fatuous pronouncements and the wisecracking. You’re at your best when you’re a musician and not some cheap showman.
At his best: John conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 2 (“London”), Birmingham, 2014.
Margaret Lockwood is a dying pianist, Stewart Granger is an RAF pilot going blind in this wartime romance from Gainsborough Pictures.
Legendary pianist, anti-fascist activist and muse to Arnold Bax, Ralph Vaughan Williams and others Harriet Cohen at the piano here. “Cornish Rhapsody” was written by Hubert Bath (who also wrote, for all you English sports fans, “Out of the Blue” for the BBC5 Sports Report).