John Wilson Conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in G&S Favorites at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 18 April 2019

…including a complete performance of Trial By Jury, which I was in a production of before my bonny lad was even born.

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Hastily conceived as a one-act filler for an evening’s entertainment with Offenbach’s La Périchole, Trial By Jury quickly established itself as the real hit of the production. Although this was not Gilbert & Sullivan’s first collaboration, it was the work that established the partnership for good. The first performance of Trial By Jury was on 25 March, 1875.

Here’s a 1985 British TV production of this selfsame one-act operetta with comedian Frankie Howerd as the Judge, and it’s a scream.

 

Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “Overture di Ballo”: John Wilson Conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, 2011

And you thought I’d forgotten who this blog is addressed to, didn’t you?

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Overtura [Sullivan’s made-up word] di Ballo” is a concert work first conducted by Sullivan himself in 1870 in Birmingham, a year before he began his collaboration with WS Gilbert. It opened a program of British Light Music given in London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2011 by the BBC Symphony and conducted by John. The piece itself is sweetly assured; the real delight is in watching my bonny enjoy himself starting at 10:48.

Eric Coates and John Wilson

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BBC Concert Orchestra
John Wilson, Conductor

Since at least the age of 25 my beloved John Wilson has been associated with the prolific, ubiquitous English composer Eric Coates (1886-1957). In Town Tonight…Desert Island Discs…Music While You Work…The Forsyte Saga…all these BBC programs’ familiar signature tunes were taken from original works by Coates; while his most famous film music score, The Dam Busters, is well-known, and not just to British concertgoers or aficionados of British WWII pictures. There’s a safe, comforting familiarity about his brisk/inspirational but rather repetitive marches, suites etc that must make them as pleasant to play as they are to hear.

I can only wonder how frequent exposure to Coates’s work must affect John’s “ear”, and actually I’d love to talk to him about it sometime (that date at the Metropole?). As it turns out, I actually studied a few of Coates’s songs in voice class when I was 14: “Green Hills o’Somerset”—”The Fairy Tales of Ireland”—”I Heard You Singing”—and my favorite, “Bird Songs at Eventide”, all of which are sung in the 2008 recording above by baritone Sir Thomas Allen.

If it were solely a matter of musical quality it would be his vocal music, more than his orchestral, that would attract me to Coates’s work overall, but you know and I know I’m really here for my bonny lad…

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 made note of in 1907, including “Green Bushes”. “Green Bushes” was a common tune, and there are 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.

Joan Sutherland Sings a Song by Composer William Shield, Local Swalwell Lad Made Good

Dame Joan was the one who got me interested in classical singing, if not doing it myself then listening to and appreciating it. This really tasty ditty comes from the pen of William Shield of Swalwell (which is right next door to the neighborhood of Low Fell), Gateshead, who rose to be the king’s Master of the Musicians and was buried in Westminster. From his comic opera Rosina (1782).

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The Earworm That is Knightsbridge, Conducted by John Wilson

You’ve heard this piece a lot if you, like me, have regularly tuned in to the BBC over the years, as it was the signature tune for In Town Tonight. This is a sprightly “march” with a grand ending that doesn’t sound deserved—which is why I can’t get it out of my head—unless you know that this is actually the final movement of an entire 17-minute suite.

Performed by the BBC Symphony for the program British Light Music at the 2900-seat Royal Festival Hall in London, 2011.

I thoroughly enjoy watching John conduct the works of Eric Coates as he seems to have taken a personal delight in this particular composer—check out the very grand “Dam Busters” below (starting at 6:05; endearing look of satisfaction unclouded by thought at 9:10).

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The Death Star and The Dam Busters Played by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Conducted by John Wilson

A grand movie score by the prolific Eric Coates, very inspiring and very English. This is the kind of piece that cues you to proudly fly the Union Jack, which predictably some chap did, right in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall. I’m guessing this is some sort of tradition. The 2007 BBC Proms included the famous climactic shots from The Dam Busters—you know, the movie George Lucas ripped off when he did Star Wars. Not the Death Star down there, though, it’s the Eder Dam in the heart of Nazi Germany (6:05).

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