Update On Conductor John Wilson’s 2020 Gigs: Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (March); Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4 in Santiago (April); and Massenet’s “Meditation” (Chandos, February)

I once did a paper on the novella this opera’s based on, The Turn of the Screw, back in grad school. Something about the whole thrust of the story having to do with, ultimately, Henry James’s weird revulsion to/fear of sexuality—any 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. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of textual interpretation OperaGlass Works, who’re engaging John Wilson for late March 2020, go with.

Luckily my English born-and-bred John has nothing to do with the story (really, James’s story is a creepy creepy story) on stage. He’ll be conducting members of his very own Sinfonia of London in the pit of Screw and this, mes amis, is a big deal, because this will be 1) the Sinfonia’s first public appearance since John (re)formed it a year ago, so it’s a chance for their fans to hear them in person; and 2) they get to play the music of Benjamin Britten together.


UPDATED: On 3 December 2020 BBC4 Radio will be streamcasting John Wilson and Opera Glassworks. From the BBC webpage:

The conductor John Wilson made his name restoring the historical scores of great Hollywood musicals. With the John Wilson Orchestra, he has been a fixture at the Proms for over a decade.

In March this year, he was at Wilton’s Music Hall in London, rehearsing Benjamin Britten’s Turn of The Screw for Opera Glassworks, when lockdown happened. All the tickets had been sold, the costumes were ready, the set was in place and the curtain about to go up. Then the production came to a crashing halt.

There was too much to lose, and this programme tells the story of how, months later, the opera was re-conceived, re-imagined and rescheduled under the new restrictions we are all learning to live in. John Wilson, along with the producers, decided to turn the staged performance into a film. Wilton’s is the perfect Victorian venue for this unsettling and ambiguous ghost story about the corruption of innocence.

In October, the singers came together again, only this time also with a film crew.

Covid restrictions meant the singers and musicians had to be recorded separately and in the most unorthodox ways. We follow John as he brings his meticulous and inspired vision of Britten’s opera to a new audience and a new format. We hear, day by day, what it was like being on set, how John worked in this ‘topsy turvey’ world as he described it, giving the singers the flexibility to interpret the opera and then later conducting the musicians having to fit round their recorded performances.

‘I do believe in making music for the joy of it,’ John says, ‘and we’re experiencing heightened levels of appreciation at the moment because it’s been taken away from us.’


AVAILABLE 30 JAN 21: Opera Glassworks’s TURN OF THE SCREW streamcast at Marquee.tv.


CANCELLED: During Easter Week, the holiest week of the year for observing Catholics, John will be in Santiago, Chile conducting a me-tic-ulously chosen student orchestra, culminating in a concert on Easter Sunday consisting of the always-favorite Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 3.

John Wilson, December 2020NOTES for John’s new CD Escales (Chandos, Feb 2020) can be found here.


RECORDED: Lastly, re “Meditation” above, that short symphonic intermezzo between the scenes in Act 2 in the opera Thaïs (1893) by Jules Massenet, which my beloved John conducts on his February 2020 album from Chandos (10th cut) and in which Andrew Haveron performs his violin solo like an angel:

Everybody, go away. I’m taking this to a private place.


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My Beloved John Wilson Conducts the London Symphony Orchestra in Barber, Weill, Gershwin, and Copland at the Barbican, 21 Jan 2021

This date was set about 10 months ago, just before the current pandemic took hold, and it looks like this program, entitled “Letters from America”, will be John’s first public performance of 2021. In April 2019 John conducted Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto with the same soloist as in this concert, James Ehnes; and last February he conducted Barber’s Essay No. 1 (part of the melodic basis of King Crimson’s first hit). This concert features Barber’s Overture to The School for Scandal.

This concert also includes a piece arranged by Robert Russell Bennett (“Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess: A Symphonic Picture”) and Aaron Copland’s “Symphonic Ode”, which don’t interest me.

However, Kurt Weill’s Violin Concerto (1924) is a revelation and a joy. “I am working on a concerto for violin and wind orchestra that I hope to finish within two or three weeks,” Weill wrote of this composition. “The work is inspired by the idea—one never carried out before—of juxtaposing a single violin with a chorus of winds.” The accompaniment includes percussion and string basses, in addition to woodwinds and brass. Below is Weill’s concerto played by the LSO.


UPDATE The entire program has been changed. Go to my more recent posting to see what’s new.


John Wilson at the Sage 2011Above this 2011 picture of John at The Sage I’m using instead of his hairy 2020 one, which works better in that later posting: Weill’s concerto played by the LSO with Hermann Scherchen conducting


Except for my At the End of the Year postings, this will be the last original one concerning my beloved John Wilson until 2021. Those of you who know exactly where we reside in the US will understand when I say there’s been a lot of scary racial conflict going on here, which has now escalated to a degree that I now worry not only for own my safety, but for Mister Grumble’s (who as you might know is 74 and blind). So I may have my hands full for awhile. (Anyone who cares to, message me on FB and I’ll tell you all about it.)


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Rouben Mamoulian’s Golden Boy (Columbia, 1939) and the Look of Love for My Darling John Wilson, Conductor

Barbara Stanwyck was 32 and a box-office star when Paramount contract player William Holden, 21, was personally cast by director Rouben Mamoulian as the lead in his film based on Clifford Odets’s Broadway melodrama of art vs fleeting fame and riches, Golden Boy. Holden was nervous, awkward, and about to be replaced when something about the young player touched Stanwyck’s heart. She took him in hand, coached him personally and kept him from distractions (like studio publicity)… 

Thity-nine years later, at the Oscars Holden had this to say to the world:

Holden, Stanwyck (Golden Boy, 1939)Above Holden and Stanwyck: There are only a few genuine moments in the history of the televised Academy Awards. This is one of them.


The entire film Golden Boy is available on my YT Channel here



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A Quick Shout-Out to #JohnWilsonConductor Regarding St Crispin’s Day, 2020

This past Daylight Savings (UK) weekend there was a sizeable rise in the number of visits to my blog, “I’ll Be Dead Before You Break My Heart”, and I attribute this directly to the kindness of some person/s in letting my beloved John Wilson know about that perfect screenshot of him at the Royal Academy of Music. Visitor #1 from the UK was particularly intriguing. Visitor #1 may have started clicking on my postings as early as Friday night, and was almost certainly the same person who came back for more the next night, Saturday, returning for three more hours on Sunday morning. What was most gratifying is that Visitor #1 actually seems to have taken the time to read my postings, especially my more thoughtful ones, the ones where I talk about John and his work in the Classical Repertoire. (Visitor #1 almost certainly was the one who also downloaded my memoir of the nutty Gyllenhaals, which was doubly gratifying.) Whether or not Visitor #1 is the #1 Reader I’ve yearned to capture for 2 1/2 years, I’m stoked, and I intend to go on writing, and writing better, for John’s sake—but also for The Old Man, Mamoulian’s sake, who once told me, “Love with style, but also with a little sadness for the suffering involved.“

John Wilson and Rouben Mamoulian


Going Hollywood, Grieving for a Lost Star, “Stereophonic Sound” by Cole Porter, and Two Degrees of Separation from My Beloved English Conductor, John Wilson

It actually would hurt me, John Wilson my beloved, if you ever believed I think of you the way MacFarlane thinks of you—as more or less part of his gig rather than as who you are, which is to say John Wilson. Something I’d like to throttle him for but’ll probably go on watching the pre-2013 Family Guy anyway. Nothing personal against your chum.

John WIlson with MacFarlane

No, I lie, it’s personal.

About ten, no, eleven years ago the best friend of the son of my (now ex-) friend died unexpectedly in New York, and it was a shock to everyone. My own son, who was the same age, was a big, big fan of his—more than a fan, in fact, he practically worshipped this young actor—and was in tears that day. I texted my friend and we shared our shock and grief. Daniel Day-Lewis stopped an interview, sobbing, “I didn’t know him, I have a strong impression I would have liked him very much…and so looked forward to the work he would do in the future.” I’d so like to have witnessed this young man’s progress on screen and stage through the years myself. He was the new Brando—better than Brando, in fact, as he not only acted and directed but wrote as well. And he wasn’t even thirty. He was handsome and vigorous, he had a beautiful speaking voice. He was the most committed actor I’d seen on screen since Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces.

So there he was dead in NY. On the streets of Beverly Hills, some roving celebrity reporter from one of the gossip shows was out and about getting sound bits for his show, and came across Rob Lowe and MacFarlane. After some genial exchange of bullshit the rover blurted, Did you hear the news from New York? and without a pause went right into giving them the news. Lowe dropped his mask, truly stunned for a moment, and turned human, while MacFarlane drawled almost offhandedly, “We-ell, this is disconcerting…” And at that moment I started to genuinely dislike the calculating little creep. MacFarlane’s an almost supernaturally gifted dealmaker, Stewie’s a pretty inspired animated character, and the guy seems to have a genuine fondness for the old styles…but that just isn’t enough for my scorecard. If you could say that there’s such a thing as a Seth MacFarlane Tolerance Level, mine’s pretty low I guess.

Anyway, I’m less ironical and more earnest than one would assume at first. And I tend to take things like that hard. Not exactly an asset around here.

On another note:

“Stereophonic Sound”
Silk Stockings, MGM 1957
Janis Paige, Fred Astaire
Rouben Mamoulian, director
Andre Previn, music director

As I said in an earlier post, I’m three degrees away from my beloved John Wilson with one particular MGM musical, Give a Girl a Break, as the bridge. But! I’m only TWO degrees away from the man I love with this MGM musical, Silk Stockings—from me to Rouben Mamoulian to Andre Previn to John.

Silk Stockings was adapted from the 1955 stage musical of the same name, which itself was an adaptation of the film Ninotchka (MGM, 1939). It was directed by my old boss, Rouben Mamoulian, produced by Arthur Freed, and stars Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse (who wound up as Mamoulian’s neighbor on Schuyler Road). Musical director was Andre Previn. It was the last movie Mamoulian, aka The Old Man, ever did (at 60—he died at 90), and “Stereophonic Sound” is one of the numbers on John Wilson+Orchestra’s 2014 Cole Porter album. But watch the clip instead. Janis Paige is the focus in this number but Fred Astaire at 58 is still a joy.


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John Wilson Conducts the Royal Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra in Richard Strauss’s “Metamorphosen” and Gives Me a Perfect Screenshot, 23 October 2020

I don’t know what I’ve done to please the gods but this morning, somehow, I took a perfect screenshot of John conducting, while watching the (UK time) 7:30pm performance of the Royal Academy of Music (Finzi, Strauss). This I gladly release to the world. Only, people, if you let him know about this picture will you also let him know who took the shot?

John Wilson Conducting the RAM Oct 2020 Above perfectly rendered John: Herbert von Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Strauss’s “Metamorphosen” (1983).


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Venera Gimadieva Sings Salammbo’s Aria by Bernard Herrmann, Backed by The John Wilson Orchestra (BBC Proms, 2013)

Gimadieva made her UK debut at the Proms with John and the John Wilson Orchestra in their program Hollywood Rhapsody, which included pieces by my favorite screen composer Bernard Herrmann. I’ve been a fairly knowledgeable fan of Herrmann since my teen years, but somehow I never got around to hearing the entire aria until—yes! yes! are you getting bored hearing this again?—I fell in love totally and completely with English conductor John Wilson and craved to hear all the music that he is part of. To my delight, he backed this brilliant singer well.

I'd be jealous except she's such a wonderful singerAbove my bonny John making nicey-nice with a soprano for once: “O cruel!” (Salammbo’s aria) from the film Citizen Kane. Herrmann planned to write an entire opera based on this scandalous Flaubert novel but, daunted by the task, as Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff before him, never got around to it.


And for good measure, here’s Gimadieva doing Donizetti’s “O luce di quest anima” with The Hallé the way I’d like to have sounded in my last trimester jury at music school.


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Chanticleer Sings Gerald Finzi’s “My Spirit Sang All Day” Just for My Beloved John Wilson; Plus John’s Streamcast Conducting the RAMSO in Strauss, Finzi 23 October 2020

Hosted by the Royal Academy of Music, this concert of their Symphony Orchestra, conducted by my beloved John Wilson, will be broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube from the Duke’s Hall, Friday, 23 October 2020, 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time. A link to the stream will be available here on YT shortly before the performance.

The program:

“ChanticleerAbove the San Francisco-based all-male choral group, Chanticleer: Gerald Finzi’s tuneful setting of English physician-poet Robert Bridges’s love poem to his wife, Joy.

My spirit sang all day
O my joy.
Nothing my tongue could say,
Only my joy!
My heart an echo caught
O my joy,
And spake,
Tell me thy thought,
Hide not thy joy.
My eyes gan peer around,
O my joy,
What beauty hast thou found?
Shew us thy joy.
My jealous ears grew whist;
O my joy
Music from heaven is’t
Sent for our joy?
She also came and heard;
O my joy,
What, said she, is this word?
What is thy joy?
And I replied,
O see,
O my joy,
‘Tis thee, I cried,
’tis thee:
Thou art my joy.

~Robert Bridges (1844-1930)


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Lalo Schifrin’s Other Theme; Armenians in California; Black Actresses on 60s TV; a Seminal American Stage Work; and LA PI Beefcake

Mannix (1967-1975) was a long-running private-eye American TV show from the dynamo team of Geller-Link-Levinson. It was popular for several reasons, one being Mike Connors’s Hirsute Sex Appeal (here pictured); not to mention the show’s viscerally satisfying action scenes (Mister Beefcake gets beaten up a lot); its swingy, sexy theme composed by none other than Lalo “Mission: Impossible” Schifrin; and, not least, for Joe Mannix’s lovely secretary, Peggy Fair.

Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher) was a character very much in the tradition of capable cool-headed female helpmeets to the main investigator guy (think Della Street or Effie Perrine). In the mid-60s there was a bouquet of gorgeous black actresses in regular roles on prime time: Fisher; Diahann Carroll starring as Julia; and of course, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura in Star Trek. Not to mention there were frequent small-screen guest appearances by stage stars like Ruby Dee and Diana Sands and TV stalwarts like Mimi Dillard. And you know, looking back, I think I noticed these actresses particularly because they all reminded me of one particular black girl I had a crush on from her photos and her work, who’d died in the mid-60s only a few years after her historic stage triumph:

“MikeAbove sweet Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965), playwright, author of the seminal American stage drama, A Raisin In the Sun: Lalo Schifrin’s tuneful syncopated 6/8 that’s the theme for Mannix, played by his orchestra.

Remembering the TV show Mannix also brings me back to something I quickly realized after moving to the Golden State: When you come to California, more sooner than later you will run into an Armenian. Heck, one of my first secretarial jobs in LA was for Tbilisi-born Rouben Mamoulian. Connors (1925-2017), who was born Krekor Ohanian in Armenian-strong Fresno, claimed to be a distant cousin of William Saroyan, author of The Time of Your Life and The Human Comedy, among other classic dramas of mid-20th century America.

Saroyan once made a memorable statement, “Wheresoever two Armenians meet, there is Armenia.” Which is something I’d like to apply to Filipinos as well.


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Aaron Copland’s Quiet City, Played by the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra and Conducted by My Beloved RCM Alumnus, John Wilson, 2013

Distressing to learn that John’s 5 November concert at the Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra has been cancelled. So as a small consolation, here’s John conducting this lovely and familiar Copland piece. Recorded on 13 November 2013 in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall at the Royal College of Music in London.

John Wilson RCM Copland 2013.pngAbove: Katie Potts on cor anglais, Adam Stockbridge on trumpet, as my bonny John conducts.

Originally drawn from music composed as incidental accompaniment to a play, Copland’s “Quiet City” has gained much more popularity as a concert work for orchestra.

John recorded this and other Copland standards for Chandos a couple of years ago but this rendition, performed by the next generation at RCM, is closer to my heart.


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