Back in October, on extremely short notice, my brilliant bonny John Wilson substitute-conducted the state-run radio orchestra of Ireland, RTE, in a program of Brahms’s Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, Robert Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor, and Dvořák’s quite listenable Symphony No. 8 in G major.
Pinch-hitting for a sick colleague in Glasgow a month later, John conducted Brahms’s Haydn Variations, as well as Dvořák’s crowd-pleasing Symphonic Variations.
But it’s John’s performance of Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings that really made me sit up. Written by Benjamin Britten for his live-in sweetie Peter Pears—who sang it in 1943—Serenade, with its unlikely musical combination, is a remarkably rich work, just the kind of music that John should be working with at this point in his career. Of course he conducted it splendidly in Glasgow.
BBC Radio 3 is streaming the program for the next couple of weeks; find it here.
I was twelve when The Forsyte Saga (all 26 episodes available here) was first shown on American TV and I thought it was the coolest series ever.* It was about a large, rich and, though unconnected, influential family living in late-capitalistic England circa 1879, who keep getting into pretty heated conflicts with each other—which at the bottom are really about, more or less, the value of art and the inner life vs commerce—all the while being beautifully attired and beautifully well-spoken. Hearing this royal fanfare from “Halcyon Days” that opened the show was enough to get me all excited with anticipation on a Sunday night, but it wasn’t until last year around May when I finally discovered the composer of the piece, Eric Coates, plus the rest of this ravishing movement, when I fell in love with conductor John Wilson and developed a raging need to get close to the music he’s close to.
Soames, The Man of Property, Noted Art Collector, and about as Mr Wrong as you can get, mistook his wife for a soulless mannequin and, in novelist John Galsworthy’s sardonic words, “asserted his marital rights and acted like a man” in this scene, in which the BBC made shocking good use of Nyree Dawn Porter’s lovely embonpoint.
*In fact it got me to read the entire cycle of nine novels the series was based on; finished them when I was thirteen. Dinny Cherrell’s my favorite character.
20 November. On this day in 1999, 20 years ago, at 6AM, my bonny John Wilson made his first appearance on BBC radio when the morning show played his 1997 recording for Chandos of “The Tempter”, a theatrical music piece by the nearly forgotten, once wildly popular, Welsh-English composer Sir Edward German (1862 – 1936), whose reputation John in his career has done a lot to restore. No, really. I’m into theatrical music so I should have known about this chap years ago, not just about Arthur Sullivan. So thank you, John, for Edward German. (I think you do a nifty Nell Gwyn Overture too.)
John was 25 when he conducted this, and even then showed his flair for dynamic, theatrical pieces.
That snooty critic fart Andrew Sarris once mock-praised my old boss Rouben Mamoulian for his early cinema innovations that never quite caught on. But for me this scene in Love Me Tonight (1932) is memorable—never seen a filmed musical number take the straight-into-the-camera point of view for first the singer then singee. It’s just adorable, and I don’t think any other director has done this.
That’s the 1932 Victor recording above of Chevalier singing “Mimi”, with the Paramount Studio Orchestra conducted by Nat Finston.
The flick Holly Does Hollywood is fictional, of course, a fictional movie in the world of a real movie called Body Double, which was conceived and executed by the man who in an ideal world would be king of Hollywood, Brian De Palma.
De Palma’s affectionately knowing, utterly non-patronizing visit to pornland is a bit of a fantasy, of course. No flick I ever did or saw had a budget big enough to afford a mirror ball, let alone an MGM-sized dance floor (though Damiano’s later movies came close). But scale aside, De Palma understood the thing that kept nearly all of us, cast and crew, jazzed while we were being pushed to get out product, and that is: When you are making a porn movie, you are making a movie.
Now, every so often I’d remember this. I’d be in the middle of a take, and like a klieg wash switching on I’d suddenly become very aware of everything around me: the lights, the mikes, the crew, the director, the luxuriously gorgeous surroundings (half my films were done in those sumptuous private homes in Marin County), the smooth-skinned, sweet-smelling people touching me, the amused audience (most of the homeowners would hang around watching us film)—and the realization would thrill me so perceptibly I would be open to the moment and I’d like to think it showed up in my performance.
Which is the same jazzed-up open-to-the-momentness I thought I saw in John Wilsonone evening when I was trawling online for classic show tunes and stumbled onto my bonny in a 2012 BBC-TV clip, commanding the podium in the middle of the Royal Albert, surrounded by an orchestra of eighty and an audience of 6,000, conducting a hot piece of Jule Styne and shimmying like a brazen hussy. And when I say shimmying like a brazen hussy, understand: I’m the brazen hussy he was shimmying like. I fell in love with him because I recognized him. I got his number. Or so it felt like…
Featured in Holly Does Hollywood is the Liverpool group Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who made their initial splash in 1984 (dig it) with the best stroke song ever written, “Relax”. Of course it was banned by the BBC.
I don’t mean to read a lot into this, maybe he did have a migraine or a toothache. (If so, he soldiered on magnificently.) More probably he’s thinking differently (that is, more “seriously”) about things nowadays. Eight years have passed between those two appearances, after all, and I’m sure he’s gone through scads of internal changes during that time and some interesting decisions we’ll all find out about, sooner or later. It’d be sad if it’s John himself who thinks it’s now “unseemly” for him to shimmy in public anymore (I’m way not the only one to have noticed his gorgeous limey shimmy); but it’d be a sadder thing if John’s taking the nudge-nudge hints and advice of others to heart.