Sorry for my shaky handwriting but while listening to this I had a fantasy that gave me the giggles: John being interviewed by my favorite ohne palones—prime purveyors of the gay-gypsy-theatrical patois called polari—Julian and Sandy. Played of course by the inimitable Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams on Round the Horne. (This more-than-usual musical episode of Kenneth Horne’s 1967 radio show also includes Rambling Syd Rumpo, the Fraser Hayes 4 singing off-key not on purpose, and the screamingly funny takeoff skit, “Young Horne with a Man”.)
Now John, John, Glorious John, I know that you know, and I know that you know that I know, that my long-distance lovemaking to you is being observed by a few; not many, just a few. So this rundown is for them, love:
Here are the main points I took away from this podcast: “What I do try to do as a conductor is carry my sound around with me… It’s almost—I don’t really feel comfortable talking about because you know music is basically a doing thing and not a talking thing… My deepest musical creed is wrapped up with how an orchestra sounds…” Which pretty much confirms what I’ve suspected these two years about him.
John, light of my life, fire of my loins, I respect your process.
Here’s another new film clip on my YT page, a mashup of Steve’s one and only featured film appearance (in the movie Crashing, written and directed by Gary Walkow, 2007) and the Swingle Singers rendition of Mozart’s Turkish March. Last time I looked, this vid made it into Funny Or Die.
John’s pop fans in Britain have nothing to worry about—all the goodness of The John Wilson Orchestra (1994-2019) is now squeezed into his new/old/new group, the Sinfonia of London in their brand-new “Hollywood’s Greatest Hits” tour. Thank Kennedy Street Productions, who brought Barry Manilow and Gladys Knight to UK’s shores, for this shrewd spectacular run aimed at the 2023 Holiday Season. Now we’ll hear the rest of the movie music John’s been transcribing all these years.
More info to come as I find it. I understand since 2 December 2022 tickets have been flying off the box office shelves.
JOHANNES BRAHMS Variations on a Theme of Josef Haydn “The Philharmonia 75th anniversary CD box set contains some really thrilling performances from a dazzling array of soloists and conductors—Karajan, Giulini, Klemperer, Kletzki and Cantelli among them—but the ones I’m most fascinated by are the concerts Toscanini gave with the orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in 1952 which provide a wonderful snapshot of the Philharmonia Orchestra live on stage in its first decade.” / John’s right on this one, can’t do better than Arturo Toscanini at the RFH in ’52 with the Philharmonia
MAURICE RAVEL Daphnis et Chloe Suite no 2 “Once it became apparent that we would all be spending our days at home, I decided to embark on a project I had been putting off for years:correcting all of the many thousands of errors in Ravel’s masterpiece, Daphnis et Chloe. I soon became thoroughly absorbed in this rather epic task and ended up completing a brand new edition of the whole ballet which I will be recording next year. Here’s the peerless Charles Munch conducting the Second Suite.” / Listen, you. If you can do better than Charles Dutoit (Montreal, 2005—the FULL 56 minutes, with CHORUS) I’ll plotz. (No matter what, you’ll always be number one with me, that won’t change.)
EDWARD ELGAR The Dream of Gerontius “I’ve been making my way through all 109 discs of the new Warner Classics Barbirolli box set—a conductor whose work I come back to time and time again. There’s a fervour and intensity to his music making that is utterly compelling and this legendary performance of Elgar’s greatest work has, for me, no equal.” / Elgar, a devout Roman Catholic, was something of a religious mystic and this is evident in his much of his work, no more so than in this looong, stately but yummy setting to Cardinal Newman’s musing on death and redemption
TEDDY WILSON Don’t Blame Me by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields “I love, love, love Teddy Wilson’s piano playing—I’ve had his solo piano discs on a loop for days…” / Nah. If you want to hear one of the greatest swing* pianists ever at his best, here he is doing “I Got Rhythm” by the Gershwin brothers
KEELY SMITH Cocktails for Two by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow “Songs—in all their guises(!!!)**—have always been at the centre of my musical life. The great American songwriters from the first half of the last century gave us so many treasures and I’d never want to be without them. Last week my trombonist friend, Andy Wood, reminded me just how great Keely Smith is.” / When I was a little tiny teeny girl, I thought listening to Keely Smith singing this lush Charles Trenet-Albert Beach songbook standard “I Wish You Love” on the radio was like walking through an enchanted forest
*I am astonished that John actually, correctly, described Teddy Wilson as a Swing musician rather than put him into the catchall Jazz bag, which I’d have expected him to do, considering who was his teacher. His teacher was Richard Rodney Bennett. My teacher (at CUNY) was YUSEF LATEEF (download his 1957 album Jazz Mood here in full).
**John, are you conflating song with melody, or what? Only asking as a humble member of your audience.
Above: Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no 2 in C minor, op 18 played by Eileen Joyce with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf conducting, from the soundtrack of the 1945 film Brief Encounter. John you cad, you’re playing with my heart again.
Today, Easter, I found this work by an esteemed composition teacher of your alma mater, the Royal College of Music, the same day I also spotted the perfect illo to go with this Scotch-English ballad. I am dedicating it to you, John, because the lyrics make me shiver.
Reign of Guilds is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) now in its trial run as of February 2023. Above: The heartbreaking choral Adagio from “The Trees So High” by early 20th century English composer Patrick Hadley (1899-1973). Swiss-born Matthias Bamert conducts the Philharmonia.
The trees they grow high,
the leaves they do grow green
Many is the time my true love I've seen
Many an hour I have watched him all alone
but he's daily growing.
Father, dear father,
you've done me great wrong
You have married me to a boy who is too young
I'm twice twelve and he is but fourteen
but he's daily growing.
Daughter, dear daughter,
I've done you no wrong
I have married you to a great lord's son
He'll be a man for you when I am dead and gone
but he's daily growing.
Father, dear father, if you see fit
We'll send him to college for another year yet
I'll tie blue ribbons all around his head
To let the maidens know that he's married.
One day I was looking o'er my father's castle wall
I spied all the boys a-playing at the ball
My own true love was the flower of them all
He's young, but he's daily growing.
And so early in the morning
at the dawning of the day
They went out into the hayfield
to have some sport and play;
And what they did there,
she never would declare
But she never more complained of his growing.
At the age of fourteen, he was a married man
At the age of fifteen, the father of a son
At the age of sixteen, his grave it was green
Have gone, to be wasted in battle.
And death had put an end to his growing.
I'll buy my love some flannel
and I will make a shroud
With every stitch I put in it,
the tears they will pour down
With every stitch I put in it,
how the tears will flow
Cruel fate has put an end to his growing.
Apo Whang-Od, a 106-year-old tattoo artist from the Philippines, is now the oldest Vogue cover model. Whang-Od is considered her country’s oldest mambabatok — or traditional Kalinga tattooist. (Kalinga being one of the tribes in the middle of the big island, Luzon.) Her tattoos use an age-old hand-tapping technique, which she perfected as a teenager using just a bamboo stick, a thorn from a pomelo tree, water and coal. Her work is now internationally known, and she told Vogue Philippines she’s training her granddaughters in this stunning and meaningful art form.
Encouraged by Maestro Mauceri, I now look for the musical influences on games composers, hence my “Coplandesque” remark on FB about Michael Giacchino’s Medal of Honor theme below. Listen to my beloved and desired English conductor John Wilson helm the BBC Philharmonic in Copland works every freakin’ American knows: “Fanfare for the Common Man” (commission, 1942) and the “Simple Gifts” part of the ballet Appalachian Spring. And just for good measure! “Hoedown” from the ballet Billy the Kid ’cause I enjoy a good steak.
Somewhere in my blog (“My First Music: The Pure Joy of St Trinian’s and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness by Malcolm Arnold“) I wrote about particular chords and intervals that, to me, give music a particularly “English” sound—well, I’m coming around to understand that Copland, far from being a cheap minimalist, was actually one of the founders of the “American” sound (along with Joplin, Dvorak, Gershwin, Schoenberg and, of course, Copland’s pupil Bernstein). I’m so glad my bonny John “gets” it. His Copland almost makes up for his 2017 butchery of Oklahoma! at the Royal Albert. As for Copland’s influence, listen for it in certain tunes of Jerry Goldsmith and, as I said above, games composer Michael Giacchino.
So, Michael Levine, you tell me your chum Marin Alsop says “There’s finally a movie about a female conductor and she’s a sociopathic narcissist”? So freakin what? Tell her to tighten up her Adagietto.
Did she even see the film? I did. You know what I saw? Something NONE of you gwilo morons (“unidentified Asiatic country”—sheesh!) saw—the portrait of our revered Jose Rizal high on that wall. Even before I heard the Tagalog, I knew Lydia was finally in a good place.
The Spanish couldn’t break us. The Yanks couldn’t break us. The Japs couldn’t break us. The corporations will not break us.
YOUR WILLFUL IGNORANCE OF OUR EXISTENCE WILL NOT BREAK US.
So, now there’s a big movie that has—gasp!—Asians in it! My God, who are these people? Are they even human? Can we make some big money out of them?
I hope Everything does win Best Picture. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and all that.
Not that I don’t wish James Hong well. James Hong and I are both native-born Minneapolitans. My family used to eat at his family’s restaurant.
Whether Tár wins as best picture or not makes no difference at all to me. Lydia’s story is my own mental story and no one, ever in my life has ever seen that story or cared to understand that story. Any points I want to address about the movie I give to my own beloved conductor John Wilson as a gift of love and teshuvah and to no one else.
My husband is blind, we’re living in filth and poverty, I’ve been hospitalized twice for congestive heart failure and still have to do the grinding housework of two people—but I swear before Urduja, guardian warrior spirit of my father’s province, before I go out I’m bringing you gwilo morons to your knees.
Everyone is getting the 2022 movie Tár wrong, everyone. Except me and Martin Scorsese.
Which is okay, because if Scorsese, Todd Field and Lydia Tár inhabit the same artistic ecosphere as I do, I don’t feel so alone. In a world 99% made up of Maxes and Tony Tarrs, I don’t feel so much alone.
So John, lamplighter of my heart, in my ongoing quest to give you nice things, I’m going to list some elements—in sequence—in the movie you might find useful next time you cocktail chat with people…
In Part 1:
Playing to the New York Crowd
Kavanah and Teshuvah in the Kabala
That Fantastic Red Handbag
We All Know That Conductors Hate Sopranos
Lunch With Elliot
PLAYING TO THE NEW YORK CROWD
It’s Francesca texting Krista on the private flight from Berlin to NYC. It’s Krista who posits to F, you still love her then…
Francesca is a Yale School of Music grad, probably post-grad. No matter the impression she gives of powerless and invisibility, she is actually connected and quite probably brilliant—but these days ground down. I know the feeling. Hope you never, my love.
The song at the beginning is in Lydian mode. (But you got that, John.) When I was 11, I was captured by the Lydian mode in this popular jukebox tune, side B of NYC-based Left Banke’s hit single.
In the (mostly tech/assistance) credits, there are at least 2 real people who lent their names to characters in the story, Francesca Lentini and Sebastian Brix.
The New Yorker Festival in which Lydia is interviewed was held 7-9 October 2022. Been to a couple of these. They’re like Glyndebourne, only without the food.
Lydia’s hands are beautiful my love, but no more beautiful than yours.
The benefit concert for Zaatari would’ve been the 10th anniversary—ten freakin years!—of that crummy refugee camp.
Antonia Brico was a big deal in my Women’s Liberation group in the mid 70s. You know, women of achievement. Here’s a 2018 romantic biopic of Brico, entitled The Conductor. And here’s the 1974 documentary.
KAVANAH AND TESHUVAH IN THE KABALA
I first got interested in Jewish mystical thought when it kept popping up in Leonard Bernstein‘s writing. The more advanced ideas, I got into at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv. I had a crush on Neil Horowitz so I followed him to Israel, after having won a CUNY scholarship to go. We learned about Maimonides, the Kabala and how to read Hebrew. Then on the way home we did it in the washroom of the El Al.
Kavanah means intent, just like Lydia says. She expands on this, simply and forcefully, in the master class scene.
Teshuvah is another matter. Teshuvah is the more important, more complex idea and it arrives close to the end of the movie so I’ll explain it more fully at the right time. Teshuvah has to do with the inevitability of creation. So you want to stick around for that.
You know John, this stuff is taught at the yeshiva up in Bensham, a couple miles from your childhood neighborhood of Low Fell. I know about Gateshead Talmudical College because a stateless Jewish refugee (from Cuba, he escaped, they took away his citizenship) we knew in Quito, a brilliant scholar downstairs, applied to this school so I got to read all the brochures they sent him.
THAT FANTASTIC RED HANDBAG
This scene was so spot on I can’t believe a man wrote it. This is the first scene in the movie that made Scorsese start to sit up in his seat and believe again.
Field pulled out all his AFI grad stuff for this scene. Check out Whitney’s enormous rock as she flirts with Lydia. I’m engaged, but that’s no problem. They talk about Stravinsky. Lydia throws in a really, really esoteric Kabalistic reference that goes right past this pretty Smith alum.
Lydia points at Whitney’s handbag, which is luscious, and with a price tag of around US800-1200 I’d say. Now, this is where most women (and certain men) in the audience call out with awed recognition, You bitch! We know you’re angling for that bag! And you know that you’re gonna get it! Because you know that rich tramp is gonna call Bergdorf’s and have one sent to you “in token of our meeting” or other bullshit… But in the end, it’s just another cheap trophy you toss to Sharon…
And all the while Francesca is the background, texting.
WE ALL KNOW THAT CONDUCTORS HATE SOPRANOS
I grew up with the story in music school, probably false, that the legendary Otto Klemperer made Kirsten Flagstad cry in rehearsals, which I suppose was the beginning of my conviction that there exists a natural antipathy between vocal artists and orchestra conductors.
So when Francesca texts Krista a shot of Lydia’s digs at the Carlyle, dubbed the “Placido Domingo Suite” and K quips, she thinks she is being ironic, you wonder in passing what the deal is between conductor Lydia and tenor Domingo.
But that remark is actually meant to alert us to the recentness of Francesca’s and Krista’s relationship with Lydia. Later in the movie Lydia makes a disparaging remark about the excellent mezzo Samantha Hankey—who rode to prominence quickly in 2018 after winning prizes at Gyndebourne and Placido Domingo’s own star-making Operalia (which he also conducts, by the way)—that clarifies this.
Mostly Norman Lebrecht-type stuff but we get a few necessary pieces of information, for example the Accordion Fellowship doesn’t simply place fellows in residencies, it fosters (funds?) entrepreneurship. This will figure in the Krista part of the story.
Elliot is a banker/lawyer/amateur conductor with biiiig pretensions. Lydia doesn’t notice his predatory tendencies because he’s gotten her fat and complacent.
Lydia brings up Max Bruch to affirm her place in Elliot’s society.
That bit about Turing Machine (a math rock group) doing Chopin’s Piano Concerto #1 in Japan, conducted by (who we later see is a dodderer) Sebastian Brix rubato has to have gotten a laugh from somebody in the audience.
One last one! This is the first time in the movie an Asian is clearly and lengthily shown in the background. Well dressed, middle-aged Chinese lady. You think I don’t notice these things, do you? Gwilo mooks.