A NYC Memory to Celebrate the 3rd Anniversary of Falling in Love with Conductor John Wilson; Plus the BBCSO Doing Elgar’s Bach Fantasia; and Theatre of Blood (United Artists, 1973) Complete

John, light of my life, fire of my loins, for today’s anniversary I’m giving you a very special memory that involves Dick Cavett, Robert Morley, Howard Johnson’s—and someone I get a mischievous thrill imagining you might actually have met in your wanderings among the glitterati of international show business. In three weeks when your birthday pops up, I’ll give you Benjamin Britten.

In one of my old postings (“On Conductor John Wilson’s Full Dress and The First Porn Movie I Ever Did, 1”) I said something about a certain hot tub party being only the second time a man ever gave me his business card before we had sex… Well, this was the first. It happened one evening in July, 1973. I was 18. I had just gotten that job as night solfeggist at ASCAP only a couple of weeks earlier, which is in itself a very interesting story I’ll have to tell you one of these days. Only now let’s get back to me walking down Broadway from 63rd. I loved walking home to the Village after work on a summer evening, when all of midtown was still buzzy with life and good times. After the night shift, some of my fellow solfeggists would go across the street to O’Neal’s Balloon to drink with the fancy Lincoln Center crowd (here’s my own favorite table showing up in Annie Hall), but I got a bigger kick being below 54th with all the theater people. On this particular evening I was approaching 46th…and right there on the corner of 46th stood a really good-looking guy, tall and blond and nicely dressed, who seemed to be scoping out one by one all the passers-by. For some reason he lit upon me. He got my attention. Then he asked me if I knew where a good jazz club could be found, the way you might ask any passer-by about a mailbox or the way to the Empire State Building… I told him I was new in town. Then he suggested we (“we”!) buy a newspaper and sit down somewhere and check the listings together. Oh, I was game. My first New York adventure! We went across the street to Howard Johnson’s where he bought me a hamburger and told me about himself. He told me he was an agent. He’d just put his client on the plane that day—his client having just been on The Dick Cavett Show promoting his new film, a comedy-horror flick that’s now a classic—and he himself was going back to London in the morning. He told me his client’s name, which I recognized at once, and then he gave me his card, which I kept for years until I gave it to an actor friend who said he was “looking for a UK rep”… Then he asked me about myself, all the nice polite questions a man’ll ask you beforehand… But we also talked about show business, shows, show music. I told him I liked Man of La Mancha. Having found no jazz clubs worth going to that night, we left HoJo’s and walked over to 5th Avenue, where we strolled back to his hotel room at the St Regis. I was ready for anything, expecting nothing. Even when he pulled the line, “Let’s get out of these hot clothes, shall we?” with that gorgeous limey accent of his, I still wasn’t sure we were on the road to making it…until we started making it. At that point we hadn’t even kissed. But oh, how he made up for it! I wasn’t a virgin, but here was the first man I ever slept with who actually knew how to take his time pleasuring a woman. By the time I was under him, gazing down at the back of his incredibly sexy legs, an electric shock went through me, and for the first time in my life, I orgasmed. So that’s the story of my first New York hookup. We parted in the morning, wishing each other well, and I even made it back to the boarding house in time for breakfast. A perfect sexual encounter with a happy ending.

I’m telling you this, John, because what Michael Linnit made me feel that night is nothing compared to how you made me feel when you conducted Elgar’s Bach Fantasia in Sydney three years ago. I’m not kidding. I had just fallen in love with you when I saw you shimmy to a Jule Styne tune in some video… But this time (it was about 2 weeks later) there was only you and the music on the radio. I’m not even crazy about Elgar, I was waiting for your Prokofiev. But I was so keyed up—for the past couple of weeks I had been vibrating with love for you—that when a certain chord was played in the Elgar, a wave rolled through me, it was just so yummy… But that wasn’t all. As I lay there gasping, a little voice in my head went, You fool! Don’t you remember who’s there? And so I came again, this orgasm coming over me like a wave meant to drown…and I reached for you and knocked the lamp off the night table.

If we ever do meet up at the Metropole in Gateshead, my love, I’ll tell you about the other times (Vaughan Williams, Richard Rodgers). But I wanted to let you know now how much you’ve meant to me, how much you still mean, even when you’re not wearing the white tie.

And like I said, for your birthday I’ll do Britten for you. Now I’ve got to go be with Mister Grumble and make dinner. Bosnian Cabbage Stew tonight.

howard-johnsonsAbove 46th and Broadway c 1972, a year before I hit town (note the marquees for Bock+Harnick’s The Rothschilds and the No, No Nanette revival): Elgar’s Bach Fantasia played by the BBCSO under Leonard Slatkin. And here’s the score.



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Maria Ewing Gives Richard Strauss’s Salome the Full Monty and Sings “Bali Ha’i” Exotically with The JWO, Just for My Beloved English Conductor, John Wilson

There are 3 naked ladies in this blog. This is one of them*.

“I’m not given to displays of emotion, but when Maria and I met up again [to record the R+H album] we had tears in our eyes. She’s so exotic!” enthused my bonny conductor about this Detroit-born soprano. “I love her—as a person!” Yes, John. I’d love to hear more.

Maria Ewing in SalomeAbove proudly nude Salome in the 1991 Covent Garden production of Richard Strauss’s 1905 opera directed by Ewing’s husband at the time, Sir Peter Hall: “Bali Ha’i” sung by soprano Maria Ewing in the compilation Rodgers & Hammerstein At the Movies, with The John Wilson Orchestra, conducted by John Wilson (Warners, 2011).


About the DVD recording of Salome, says Toronto blogger John Gilks in Opera Ramblings: “The production is really pretty conventional. There are lots of greens, greys and blue. It’s quite dark and the set is stagey and conventional. Almost all the visual interest revolves around Ewing’s Salome though Michael Devlin’s scantily clad and palely made up Jochanaan is quite arresting too. Narraboth (Robin Legate) is an unremarkable actor and Herod (Kenneth Riegel) and Herodias (Gillian Knight) look uncomfortably like a couple of drag queens. The latter though does manage a pretty effective hissy fit. For the sound reasons mentioned above it’s hard to be sure whether the rather insipid vocal performances by Devlin and Leggate are really their faults. There’s also no change in acoustic when Jochanaan is singing from the cistern which is odd. Riegel and Knight do better at projecting themselves beyond the orchestra and turn in OK performances. The recording, directed by Derek Bailey, is about what one would expect from a 1992 BBC TV broadcast***. The picture quality is acceptable but not great 4:3 with hard coded English subtitles. Sound, as mentioned, is barely adequate. There are no extras and no documentation. This is probably worth having a look at as a record of an iconic performance by Ewing but I can’t imagine anyone would choose it as the definitive Salome.”

*Yup, here’s another exotic nude, just for my beloved John Wilson.**

**And yet another, if you look under the phrase “chewing on my behind”.

***John would have been 20 when this showed up on the telly.



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My Ever Beloved John Wilson and the LSO at St Luke’s in Islington, 11 March 2021: The New, New Program

Back last February 2020, the London Symphony Orchestra booked John for a 21 January 2021 concert of Barber, Weill and Russell Bennett. Then that changed.

It looked like the LSO came up with a completely different program—no soloist, smaller group, shorter works: George Gershwin’s “Lullaby”; Henri Dutilleux’s “Le loup”; and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Partita for Orchestra (here played by the BBCCO, with my beloved John conducting the work of his special mentor).

Then that changed. On the 10th of January this year the LSO completely canceled John’s concert.

Then on 8 April the LSO released on Marquee.tv a freebie fundraiser video concert with a couple of selections from the two earlier planned programs, plus Maurice Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales”, as well as Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess, A Symphonic Picture” arranged by Robert Russell Bennett and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Partita for Orchestra.

The LSO Bennett-Gershwin-Ravel concert is available to watch in full FREE for a week starting 8 April 2021.

Hard sell from the LSO website: “John Wilson takes his personal favourites by Gershwin, Ravel and Richard Rodney Bennett, and presents them in glorious sonic Technicolor. Everyone knows that no-one—but no-one—conducts Gershwin with more verve and style than John Wilson. But today he gets even more personal, with joyous, multicoloured showpieces by two composers close to his heart: Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, and Richard Rodney Bennett’s brilliant Partita. For some, Rodney Bennett was the composer who did Four Weddings and a Funeral; for others, he was one of the finest jazz pianists of our time. But for Wilson, he was a friend, an inspiration, and ‘an absolute master’. This should be a treat.”



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By Grabthar’s Hammer: The Soundtrack Suites from Star Trek IV (Paramount, 1986) by Leonard Rosenman; and Galaxy Quest (Dreamworks, 1999) by Yet Another Newman, David

To my mind, these are the two movie scores which best convey the whole Star Trek ethos: the jaunty energy of military adventure + the thrilling, life-changing mix of wonder and belief… A very 1960s spirit and I doubt we’ll ever be able to return to it, but anyway.

Galaxy QuestAbove Missi Pyle, Tony Shalhoub, Tim Allen, Alan Rickman, Ted Rees, Sigourney Weaver, Sam Rockwell, and Darryl Mitchell: Galaxy Quest Soundtrack Suite played by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

Soundtrack Suite
from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Leonard Roseman, composer


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Conductor John Wilson Among the Women of Glyndebourne’s Cendrillon by Jules Massenet, 2019

At the intermission talk with Cendrillon‘s director Fiona Dunn, my beloved John Wilson, mezzo Kate Lindsey, and soprano Danielle de Niese, the topic of debate was, What should Prince Charming look like in the 21st century?


AVAILABLE NOW: The Glyndebourne production of CENDRILLON streamcast at Marquee.tv


John Wilson Glyndebourne 1Above John making namaste at the premiere of Cendrillon at Glyndebourne, 2019: “Vous êtes mon prince charmant” from Act III of Massenet’s comic opera.


Says John to the lovelies (here pictured): “I think having Prince Charming as Massenet stipulated, it fits beautifully within the whole kind of sonic picture of the whole thing. It’s not a piece that you could say fits on one musical plane, it’s got lots of colors. It’s one of the most colorful pieces he ever wrote… When I said I was doing this piece to people, they would say, Oh yeah, that’s a nice light sort of sweet little piece. It’s not a sweet little piece, it’s a big piece, there’s always another layer to get to and there’s always more detail to explore, always more depth every time. It’s not lightweight…”


Plus My Review of Cendrillon at Glyndebourne; Or, I’m Only Here for the Shoes

Tell me of two operas more different in sexual tone than The Turn of the Screw (1954) and Massenet’s Cendrillon (1898) that my beloved John Wilson did within six months of each other, and I’ll faint. Not that story tone would mean anything to him, as you can read above…

Which is just as it should be. My beloved John wasn’t meant for [doing laundry now; more later]


EXTRA! The most John Wilsonish piece in Cendrillon.

“Marche des princesses”
from Cendrillon, Act IV
Jules Massenet, composer
Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Neville Marriner, conductor
Capriccio, 1997



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Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw with Peter Pears and the EOG, 1954; and at Wilton’s Music Hall, 2020, Filmed by Opera GlassWorks and Conducted by My Beloved John Wilson

AVAILABLE 30 JAN 21: Opera Glassworks’s filming of their fully-staged TURN OF THE SCREW streamcast at Marquee.tv


EXTRA! John speaks in this half-hour BBC4 radio show about the re-staging of Turn of the Screw at Wilton’s Music Hall, 2020


A new production of The Turn of the Screw from Opera Glassworks, conducted by John Wilson at London’s Wilton’s Music Hall, was three days from opening in March 2020 when the first lockdown hit.

Director Selina Cadell and producer Eliza Thompson managed to rebook the cast of six singers and 13 musicians (from John’s own orchestra, the Sinfonia of London) for a run in October. But as weeks of lockdown turned into months, it looked like the project would be scuppered.

At which point, they rethought it for film.

The stage director and producer took the opportunity to experiment. “We weren’t interested in live capture,” says Thompson. “But we didn’t want the fact that it was intended to be a stage production to be lost.”

This influenced not just their approach with singers and a working method with camera director Dominic Best across the 6-day shoot, but also with the individual players forming John Wilson’s orchestra.

With the perfectly captured, decayed grandeur of its main, high-vaulted space dating back to 1859, the thrillingly atmospheric, Victorian-era Wilton’s Music Hall translates perfectly into the chilly, remote country house and garden in which the ghostly actions occur. Designer Tom Piper seized the opportunity to make the entire building a film set.

“Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t have all the musicians there together,” says Thompson. “So with the auditorium completely filled, becoming a Suffolk reed bed, we’ve planted the musicians throughout the film. As the story progresses, it becomes more anarchic.”

Cadell and Thompson have capitalised on the opera’s unique construction, individual scenes interspersed with an instrumental theme and 15 variations, to enhance the work’s filmic, non-linear nature.

The performance, still in the edit prior to being distributed via arts channel Marquee TV, is an equally impressive advance born out of Covid necessity. The vocals were filmed live, with the singers using microphones but without the orchestra. Instead, using monitors, John Wilson conducted them against live keyboards. Once the singers’ tracks were laid down, the orchestra was recorded to fit the singers’ interpretations, which is how it should be. ~David Benedict, from The Stage, 20 Nov 2020

*Catch a glimpse of the man I love on the monitor at 00:33 or here at rehearsal.


The Turn of the Screw at Wilton's, 2020When I was back in grad school, I did a paper on the novella this opera is based on, The Turn of the Screw, my take being that the whole thrust of the story had to do with, at its core, author Henry James’s weird revulsion to/fear of sexualityany sexuality—gay, straight, bi, kinky, whatever… Which in my ignorant prejudice I took to be typical of all English men anytime, anywhere—until I remembered that James was born not just American but, like my son, a native New Yorker (used to take The Kid to the playground in Washington Square near James’s old house) and he turned out fine. So it was fascinating to hear and watch OperaGlass Works‘s no-emotional-holds-barred production with my brilliant, bonny conductor John Wilson at the musical helm. Above Opera GlassWorks’s filmed production at Wilton’s Music Hall (2020): Britten’s 1954 The Turn of the Screw, with a superior libretto by poet Myfanwy Piper. Singers: Jennifer Vyvyan, Peter Pears, Arda Mandikian, Joan Cross, Olive Dyer, and as the young and beautiful boy Miles, David Hemmings! The English Opera Group was conducted by the composer.



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Some Jukebox Tunes Heard at Downtown Beirut, Vazac Hall, the Blue & Gold, and the Holiday Lounge, East Village 1980s

Another weekend doddle while I continue to be late uploading John Wilson: An English Conductor. (Blame it on my annual respiratory episode. Feeling better now.)


Here’s a blast from the past. When The Kid was still in my belly, Mr Grumble and I managed to get the sublet on a 3-room apartment in the East Village, which we upgraded a few months later to a 4-room with renewable 2-year lease for $250 a month. Yes. Only two hundred and fifty smackers a month. Which means we could make it on theatrical gigs and more-than-occasional temp work, even after paying $60 a week to Maxine Wilkes, God bless her memory, for taking him every weekday, 7:30am – 6:00pm, to play/be fed/hang out with her other charges and the rest of her large brood in their enormous 8-room $110(!) a month apartment in the Campos Plaza project 3 blocks away. That project, I recall, had the cleanest, best-kept playground in the neighborhood (not stinky like the one in Tompkins Square Park, for example) and little one learned to walk, then run, in that yard. Was grateful to Our Lady every day to be able to bring the Bograt over to such a nice place—warm, messy, safe, and good-hearted.

Anyway, on the weekends we had him all to ourselves, and would take The Kid—Boggy, his name was then—around with us bar-hopping. Trendy Holiday Lounge on St Mark’s and Downtown Beirut on 2nd… Vazac Hall on Avenue B, which made an appearance on Edward Woodward’s TV show The Equalizer… And that other Polish bar over on 7th, the Blue & Gold. All with the greatest jukeboxes… [more later]


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Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella Starring Julie Andrews, CBS-TV 1957

We all need a visit from the Empress of Delight every so often. So—here she is in all her youthful splendor, about to be kissed by drop-dead handsome Jon Cypher.
Julie Andrews, Jon Cypher in Cinderella 1957Sorry about the speck, seems they never removed it from the original tape. Above Dame Julie and her Prince Charming: The entire audio of R+H’s 1957 original TV musical, Cinderella.
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Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony (1910): Sakari Oramo Conducts the BBCSO+Chorus+Voices, BBC Proms 2013; Plus Tyne Dogger Northeast 3 and My Beloved John Wilson on This Valentine’s Day, 2021

I had a dream about you a few days ago, John. It was very short. You were maybe 17, 18… You were standing on Tyne Bridge looking down at the river… It was a cool glassy day and the river was cool and glassy… And you were standing there, thinking and pondering that this was the finest sight there ever was… Then you turned your gaze eastward, toward the North Sea… But all you could see was a shimmery horizon, and maybe it was the sea, but it was calm as well and it made you think about how infinite and endless it was (you were only 17, after all)… And then after a few more seconds of pondering you turned to look at me and you said, ‘And that’s when I decided to love Vaughan Williams.’


A Sea Symphony by Ralph Vaughan Williams at the 2013 BBC Proms is available on YT here.


Happy Valentine’s Day, my foamy lad.

Above the maestro and the sea, Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Chorus, the BBC Youth Choir, and soloists Sally Matthews and Roderick Williams in Vaughan Williams’s Symphony no 1.

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Lovelace the Film, Or How to Give Penilingism a Bad Name and The First Porn Movie I Ever Did, 4

I only caught this flick on Prime because Peter was in it, and Peter’s the only Gyllenhaal I think I’d actually enjoy having a beer with even now. The last time we met in New York he had just done Jarhead. Maggie was six months pregnant and being fussed over by her mother, Stephen was in the men’s room on his Blackberry talking to his analyst, and Jake was skulking outside the restaurant—we were at Balthazar—wearing a hoodie and hiding in the shadows. It was that kind of family.

Peter Sarsgaard in LovelaceYes, teenage Cantara made out in early 70s Minneapolis with males who looked and dressed exactly like this. Peter Sarsgaard in Lovelace (2013).


One of the first things Peter did, after we were introduced and he gave first Mister Grumble then me a firm friendly handshake, was try to engage us in a conversation about Melungeons. “You know,” he told us mock-confidentially, “Elvis was a Melungeon.” I evinced surprise and interest—I’d never heard the term before, ever—and Peter obviously was about to launch into a carefully-considered patter about Melungeons, when Maggie came over to fetch him. He smiled at us a dazzling smile, excused himself and trotted off with her.

So for now, enough of Peter and on to the movie he was in: Lovelace, a 2013 indie based on the book Ordeal by Linda Boreman aka Linda Lovelace, which is chiefly about her experience making the influential porn classic Deep Throat (1972). As a movie it doesn’t play too badly; some hack wrote the script, but the same politically savvy gay filmmakers who produced/directed The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, Howl, The Celluloid Closet, etc evidently had a lot of artistic control over this project. So there’s quite a lot of fooling around with the narrative structure and other arty bullshit like that, but it’s not enough to hide the fact that there’s really no core idea or message. Not to mention there’s not a lot of entertainment value, either… Nope, in this package there’s absolutely nothing clever, insightful, sensitive, or aesthetically satisfying—all screen values, incidentally, which would NOT be out of place in a porn movie.

Peter was good, but Peter’s always good at playing soft-spoken villains. What really interested me was Hank Azaria’s portrayal of one of my directors, Gerard Damiano. A small role but well-executed. Mr Damiano himself was soft spoken, I remember, and very patient. His was the last word on the set. Everyone respected him. He also paid me a compliment I immediately put into my mental jewelry box, and there it’s stayed ever since…

Part 1 “Full Dress” here.
Part 2 “Zombie Love Slave” here.
Part 3 “Hot Tub” here.
Part 5 to come…


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