Shostakovich’s Symphony No 1 and the Japanese Attack, 7 December 1941

Serge Koussevitsky, Leonard Bernstein’s mentor, was on the podium conducting the first symphony by the “new young Soviet composer” Dmitri Shostakovich in the CBS radio Sunday afternoon broadcast of the New York Philharmonic when, in the middle of the first movement, none other than famed NY correspondent John Charles Daly broke in with the news of Pearl Harbor. The Japs bombed the naval base at Pearl twice that morning, first at 8am Hawaii time, then again at 9:30am…then went on that same day to bomb the fuck out of Singapore, Hong Kong, Burma, Guam…

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Then about 6pm they finally got around to Clark Air Base and the RCA transmitter on the outskirts of Manila

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John Wilson Pinch-Hit Conducts Antonin Dvořák Twice in a Month and Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings with the BBCSSO in Glasgow, 19 November 2019

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.

Ann Not Antonin DvorakNo, not Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904) but the much-easier-on-the-eyes American-born film actress Ann Dvorak [same pronunciation] (b Anna McKim 1911-1979)—writer, BBC wartime broadcaster, and star of Pre-Code movies. Plus: Fellow Czech Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996) conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in his illustrious countryman’s Eighth Symphony.

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 involved in 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.

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Mikhail Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila and Cabin Pressure (BBC4 2008 – 2014)

Here’s a sweet little doddle while I work on a few involved postings (not all of them to do with my bonny John Wilson). Cabin Pressure is one of the funniest, most cleverly-written sitcoms on BBC Radio and it doesn’t hurt that two stage/screen veterans with the most gorgeous voices and perfect comedic delivery are top of the compact cast list. I’m sharing this episode because it starts off with a demanding conductor and a paranoid bassoonist on board the tiny chartered airplane—and as always, of course, Glinka’s overture to the opera Ruslan and Ludmila.

Cabin Pressure.jpgStephanie Cole, creator John Finnemore, Roger Allam, and Benedict Cumberbatch perform Cabin Pressure for a live BBC studio audience.

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Schelomo by Ernest Bloch, Played by George Neikrug (1919 – 2019) and the Symphony of the Air, Conducted by Leopold Stokowski

Counted among one of the greatest cellists in the Golden Age of String Players, George Neikrug has died, the day after turning 100.

Born in New York, at age 24, Neikrug met D.C. Dounis, a Greek pedagogue, whose revolutionary approach had a profound influence on the young cellist. “Trying to tell you about Dounis’s teaching is like asking me to tell you about a whole science like biology,” Neikrug said. “Dounis put very much emphasis on the most basic things I did like how I played a down bow and an up bow. He would show me how to play a down bow and an up bow and then I would play through a whole piece and he would sit there and practise with me. If he caught me doing one thing wrong I’d have to do it over again so I learned this tremendous amount of concentration…”

It was thanks to his studies with Dounis that Neikrug resolved to devote his life to teaching at schools including Detmold, Oberlin, the University of Texas-Austin and Boston University, whose arts faculty he joined in 1971.

In 1960, Neikrug performed “Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque“, the final work in Swiss composer Ernest Bloch’s 1916 Jewish Cycle.  with the NBC Symphony at Carnegie Hall and Leopold Stokowski, who described the cellist’s performance as “unforgettable”.

George Neikrug

Thanks to old friend, violist Vivi Erickson, for remembering her former Boston University teacher for me.

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Andre Rieu and The Johann Strauss Orchestra Come Home to Maastricht, 2018

This is what I’ve been waiting for since last summer: a vidcomp of the complete annual summer concert of the greatest festival orchestra in the world, The Johann Strauss Orchestra, led by Andre Rieu, in the town square Vrijthof in their home town of Maastricht, The Netherlands, 7 July 2018.

Maastricht Andre Rieu JSO.jpgAbove: The other famous orchestra from the Netherlands, the Concertgebouw, strikes up Shostakovich’s waltz.

From their rousing entrance to the tune of “76 Trombones” by Meredith Willson (that’s two l’s, thank you) to their invariable sign-off pieces: the Maastricht city anthem; Strauss Sr’s “Radetsky March”; “An der schönen blauen Donau” op. 314 (of course!); Shostakovich’s Jazz Waltz No 2; “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (from “Plaisir d’amour” by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, 1784); Austrian composer Robert Stoltz’s “Adieu, mein kleiner gardeoffizier”; and the Rocco Granata standard “Marina” (which I used to hear every year at the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, NYC), there’s two hours here of sheer delight, drinking and dancing. It’s always a special afternoon when I get to play the entire Maastricht concerts for me and Mister Grumble, I open a bottle and dance around the room and he just grins intermittently and drinks. Will write down the playlist one of these days.

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Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez in the Film Brassed Off, Starring Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald (1996)

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As I remarked earlier, I will go almost anywhere my beloved leads me, and it was a remark of John’s that led me to this movie, which in 1995 was released to much acclaim in England but neglected and devalued in the States when it was shown here a year later. When asked by The Telegraph about his early musical influences, said John Wilson, Conductor, “Brass bands. Coming from a working-class background, the tradition of amateur music-making was important to me…”

In this scene Tara Fitzgerald is showing the lads her superior proficiency on the flugelhorn, which inspires their conductor—played by Lancashire-born Peter Postlethwaite—to consider taking the band on a competition tour and win some desperately needed prize money for their out-of-work members. There were a spate of British films in the 90s that dealt with the mass unemployment in Britain in the 80s that created a crisis in the culture of the north of the country a decade earlier, The Full Monty and Billy Elliot being two of the better known. Brassed Off is well written, well acted, has lots of very listenable music, and well deserves a larger audience.

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Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and Conducted by Leonard Bernstein, Telecast on BBC1 22 January 1967

Performed at the 1800-seat Fairfield Halls in Croydon. If you look fast you’ll notice 2nd violins leader Sir Neville Marriner (at the time former professor at the Royal College of Music, recent founder of the chamber orchestra St Martin in the Fields, and to-be music director of the Minnesota Orchestra). Note that touching moment at the end when the members of the LSO refuse to rise, at Bernstein’s insistence, for the applause of the audience, instead remaining seated and applauding Bernstein themselves. Now that’s respect.

Bernstein Stravinsky

Just a passing thought, but watching this clip again recently I idly mused if this history-making performance might represent the ultimate secret aspiration of my bonny, my darling, my beloved John Wilson. Oh laddie. You’ll get there.

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