Alondra de la Parra Conducts The Orchestra of Paris in Darius Milhaud’s “Le Bœuf Sur le Toit,” Philharmonie de Paris, 2015

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Have you ever seen a conductor so much in the heart of the music as 38 year-old, New York-born Mexican-American Alondra de la Parra? Bernstein yes, definitely. Carlos Kleiber was also known to joyfully respond to a joyful chord. And this girl, like those fine blokes, has got it all—joy, knowledge and consummate control. On the road to being one of the greats, she is.

The title “Le Bœuf Sur le Toit” is that of an old Brazilian tango, one of close to 30 Brazilian tunes, or choros, quoted in the composition. The piece was originally to have been the score of a silent Charlie Chaplin film. Its transformation into a ballet was the making of the piece, with a scenario by Jean Cocteau, stage designs by Raoul Dufy, and costumes by Guy-Pierre Fauconnet. There is no real story to speak of, but is a sequence of scenes based on music inspired by Brazil, a country in which Milhaud spent two years during World War I.

The ballet’s premiere was given in February 1920 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and in turn gave its name to a celebrated Parisian cabaret-bar, Le Bœuf sur le toit, which opened in 1921 and became a meeting-place for Jean Cocteau and his cronies.

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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.

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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 and drinks. Will write down the playlist one of these days.

Second Rhapsody by George Gershwin: Wayne Marshall, Piano; John Mauceri, Conductor, with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra

Premiered at Symphony Hall, Boston, on 29 January 1932, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra; Serge Koussevitzky, Conductor and George Gershwin, Piano.

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George Gershwin
NBC-Radio Studios (with pickup orchestra?)

In November 1930, George and Ira Gershwin arrived in Hollywood to write the score for their first movie, Delicious. Besides the songs, George was asked to compose an instrumental piece to underscore a sequence where the film’s immigrant heroine wanders through a somewhat menacing Manhattan. In the end, only six minutes of what was originally entitled “Rhapsody In Rivets” was used but George, never wanting good work to go to waste, believed that his score deserved an additional life as his next work for the concert hall. Upon his return to New York, while also working on the score for Of Thee I Sing (which was to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1932) he completed the Second Rhapsody and prepared it for its Boston debut under the baton of Serge Koussevitzky (Leonard Bernstein’s mentor).

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Wayne Marshall
The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra

Wayne Marshall Conductor

Pictured above is Lancashire-born conductor/organist/pianist Wayne Marshall, 57—with credits as Chief Conductor of WDR Funkhausorchester; Organist and Associate Artist of the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester; Principal Guest Conductor of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi; and as an acclaimed interpreter of George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.

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Michael Tilson Thomas
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra

The form most commonly heard today is a re-orchestrated version created fourteen years after Gershwin’s death. Since this version is the only one offered by the publisher, it has been almost impossible for orchestras to perform the piece as Gershwin envisioned it. However, the 1931 recording (above) of a run-through of the music, with Gershwin playing the solos and conducting the orchestra, gives some idea of the original version. Michael Tilson Thomas has been a promulgator of Gershwin’s original 1931 version. He sought out the original manuscript in the library as the basis of his 1985 recording and for his later performances.

Gershwin Second Rhapsody
Ian Buckle
The John Wilson Orchestra

My bonny John Wilson‘s latest CD release, The Best of The John Wilson Orchestra, recycles some of the song hits from his BBC Proms shows—but it also includes his never-heard-before version of Gershwin’s Second (here called “New York”) Rhapsody. A bit heavy-handed.

Emperor Waltz, Conducted by Daniel Barenboim with the Berliner Philharmoniker, 2013

In the Revolution of 1848, Johann Strauss Jr had sided with the dissidents—the anti-Habsburg faction—while Strauss Sr his father had been an avowed royalist, composing the Radetsky March in honor of the great general who played a large part in suppressing the Revolution. For some time the court looked with misgivings and suspicion at Strauss Jr, however important he proved to the Austrian image.

There’s a file of a police interrogation where the younger Strauss was asked why he had dared to play the ‘Marseillaise’. In an Austria of strict censorship, that was a loaded question. Strauss answered, ‘Because it is good music and good music is what concerns me’.”

But the wounds of the revolution gradually healed. Soon Austria had a new emperor. When the emperor celebrated the 40th anniversary of his accession in 1888, Strauss composed a waltz in honor of Franz Josef.

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My signal, my flame, my beloved John Wilson is slated to conduct this piece in Stockholm 29 March 2019.

The Bournemouth Sinfonietta Conducted by Norman Del Mar Plays George Butterworth’s “The Banks of Green Willow”

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Butterworth based “The Banks of Green Willow” on two folk song melodies that he noted in 1907, including “Green Bushes”. “Green Bushes” was a common tune, and there are notable uses of it in works by Ralph Vaughan Williams (Folk Song Suite, Movement 2) and Percy Grainger (“Passacaglia: Green Bushes” and “The Lost Lady Found”).

George Butterworth, age 31, was killed on 5 August 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. He was was a Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry.

Norman Del Mar was a British horn player/conductor who taught conducting at the Royal College of Music; one of his notable students was violist/conductor Neil Thomson (b. 1966) who in his own turn taught conducting at the College. My bonny John was one of his students.

Sir Malcolm Arnold Conducts Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic in Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, 1969

This is absolutely weird, but Mister Grumble, who’s of an age and knows everything about English Progressive Rock, had no idea this piece existed. (He attributes it to having been distracted at the time of the 1969 concert, getting out of the US Army as he did, after spending 13 months overseas.) So when I played the live recording for him for the first time on Sunday he went to the moon.

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The Concerto for Group and Orchestra was composed Jon Lord, lyrics by Ian Gillan. It was first performed by Deep Purple and the RPO conducted by Malcolm Arnold on 24 September; the record came out that December. The performance at the Royal Albert Hall was the first ever combination of rock music and a complete orchestra and paved the way for other rock/orchestra performances.

Two “Summertimes” from The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, One Conducted by John Wilson, 2018

…The other conducted by John Mauceri in 2006 with the Nashville Symphony & Chorus, in a production based (in part) on the original score markings of composer George Gershwin:

For those who are familiar with the score, the very opening will seem slower. It is clear from Gershwin’s metronome markings and from the articulations in the orchestral parts that he intended the opening to be moderately fast (marked ‘Risoluto e Ben Marcato’ in the composer’s hand), exposing its inner syncopation and then accelerating. ‘Summertime’ is faster than we are accustomed. It is not a sad song, after all, and ‘A Woman is a Sometime Thing’ is slower. In fact, these two ‘lullabies’ by the mother and the father of their nameless child, are at the same metronome marking. In other words, Gershwin wanted to link the daddy and the mommy to each other by the speed of their music, even if their words and styles are quite (humorously) different.” On Porgy & Bess ©John Mauceri

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Anthony Tommasini in his New York Times review of the English National Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess described my bonny as the “excellent John Wilson, who led a performance that had sweep, shape and vitality, as well as rarer qualities: precision and restraint”. Here’s our John from this past summer rehearsing “Summertime“. Performances of ENO’s Porgy and Bess run to 17 November.