So, My Beloved John Wilson, When Are You Going to Conduct Vaughan Williams’s 6th? (Answer Below!!!)

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 2019), then I suppose you’ll go on tour with The JWO for the holiday season (UPDATE 27 JULY 2019: NO, THEY’RE NOT!) . 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)

* I was right! My bonny’s performing Vaughan Williams’s 6th in Nottingham on 15 January 2020 with the BBC Philharmonic (in a program that includes “In the Fen Country”, also by Vaughan Williams).

Roger NorringtonNorrington 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…)

Bradley Creswick, Leader of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, Discusses Vaughan Williams’s “The Lark Ascending”

Royal Northern Sinfonia Leader Bradley Creswick
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 my 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 Tyneside lad conducting this exquisite piece:

The Lark Ascending
Made in Britain, album
Ralph Vaughan Williams, composer
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
John Wilson, conductor
Avie Records, 2011

 

Ralph Vaughan Williams Conducts His Symphony No. 5, 1952

Ralph Vaughan WIlliams.jpg

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.

A London Symphony by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Played by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Conducted by John Wilson 1

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

A London Symphony by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Played by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Conducted by John Wilson 2

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.

The Warner Bros Story: John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra Play the Royal Albert Hall One Last(?) Time, BBC Proms 9 August 2019

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 informed and reasoned observations, 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 Sea Hawk (overture; from the 1940 film) / Erich Korngold My favorite Korngold and a good rendition, but nowhere a “keeper” compared to my thrilling RCA recording conducted by Charles Gerhardt, your old Hollywood advisor and mentor.
  • “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 this 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” (from The Music Man, 1962)  / Meredith Willson You shmendrick! I lost a bet to Mister Grumble that you would never, never, EVER do this number, ever. (Because, you know, it’s so freakin OBVIOUS.) But…yeah, it was okay. You’re 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” (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 a 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? Plus you still had the scores in your closet.
  • 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 Oh baby oh baby, seconds. I still have the clip of you conducting this at the 2012 Proms (the other one). Bet you didn’t shimmy like you did last time. Instead at the end I heard you toying with your audience the way the Grateful Dead used to do at Winterland. Mama approves.
  • Now, Voyager (suite; from the 1942 film) / Max Steiner Steiner, a vastly overrated but popular hack (I still adore Casablanca), does not translate well to the concert stage. Not great for you John, since you’ll be doing him several times next year.
  • “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, dear.
  • “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 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” (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, 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.

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

BBC Radio 2 visits the BBC Proms as the John Wilson Orchestra and special guests recall the musical history of the classic film studio, Warner Brothers. Available on streaming until 5 October 2019.

On Conductor John Wilson’s Full Dress and the First Porn Movie I Ever Did, Part 1

Years ago there was a story in a Stephen King collection called “Full Dress“, which was about a formal tailcoat that turns its wearer into an insane monster. Eventually it gets worn by a struggling young conductor, and the usual King bloodletting evolves (“It’s not you, it’s the coat!!!” shrieks the pretty soprano, right before Tillotson plunges his baton into her neck).

For some reason that came into to my mind. But just so you don’t go on thinking this is some kind of fanblog (really, 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.

John Wilson.jpegImmaculate 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 only the second time a man ever gave me his business card before we had sex, and it wouldn’t be the last)…

Part 2 here or below.

*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.

John Wilson, Conductor Wishes the Royal Northern Sinfonia a Happy 60th Birthday, 3 December 2018

John Wilson and Royal Northern Sinfonia

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.

End of the Year 2018 While I Still Have John Wilson, Conductor in My Head

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.

John Wilson 2.jpeg
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 own country and 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 “Get Happy” or “The Trolley Song” or “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” 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 need to find The Angel of the North.

An Evening of Eric Coates, Played by the BBC Philharmonic and Conducted by John Wilson, Salford, 8 January 2019

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.

John Wilson Vaughan Williams 2nd
At his best: John conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 2 (“London”), Birmingham, 2014.