Bradley Creswick, Leader of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, Discusses Vaughan Williams’s “The Lark Ascending”

Royal Northern Sinfonia Leader Bradley Creswick
Taken at the upstairs hall at The Sage, the Royal Northern Sinfonia’s permanent home in Gateshead, on the south side of the river from Newcastle. That’s the Tyne and the Tyne Bridge out the window.

Royal Northern Sinfonia is a British chamber orchestra, founded in Newcastle upon Tyne and currently based in Gateshead. For the first 46 years of its history, the orchestra gave the bulk of its concerts at the Newcastle City Hall. Since 2004, the orchestra has been resident at The Sage, Gateshead. In June 2013 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title ‘Royal’ on the orchestra, formally naming it the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

This is the group John Wilson wished a happy birthday to, and it’s a truly worthwhile one: The RNS has an outstanding record in community outreach in the northeast of England. It’s pleasing to think that bonny John had a childhood filled with these wonderful memories—makes me recall Northrop Auditorium and the Minneapolis Symphony, now the Minnesota Orchestra. (Will tell all about my Vietnam War-era music school/protest days sometime.)

The vid above doesn’t have the entire Vaughan Williams, so here’s my lovely lad conducting this exquisite piece:

Made in Britain (2011)
“The Lark Ascending”
Ralph Vaughan Williams, Composer
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
John Wilson, Conductor

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Serenade for Strings by Lennox Berkeley (1938-39), Performed by the LSO and Conducted by the Composer

The sunniest piece in the programs of my bonny John Wilson’s upcoming concerts is this one, Serenade for Strings op.12, which he’s conducting with the Royal Northern Sinfonia in a program entitled Great Britons, again at The Sage in Gateshead, his home town, 1 March 2019.

The composer who wrote this piece has obviously been in love. It’s in the music.

Lennox Berkeley Love.jpg

In fact, while sojourning in Europe Berkeley studied under Maurice Ravel and did fall in love with Benjamin Britten which…actually…might make a good Saturday Drama for BBC Radio 4…

So, My Beloved John Wilson, When Are You Going to Conduct Vaughan Williams’s 6th?

I see your master plan, pet. You did Symphonies 1 and 2 last year; this year you’re doing 3, 4, and 5 (but not in that order). And considering the rest of the year you’re going to be busying yourself with Massenet, then the Proms (if not there’ll be a riot on your hands), then I suppose you’ll go on tour with The JWO for the holiday season. So…I’m figuring sometime early next year for no. 6, right? If not early next year, sometime next year…?

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 6 in E Minor
Sir Roger Norrington, Conductor
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (1997)

Roger NorringtonNorrington is the conductor who believes in using NO vibrato. “Wobble” he calls it.

And what about 7, 8 and 9? Are we going to hear them next year, or the year after? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s Vaughan Williams’s Symphony no. 6 I’m really after. What a truly nutzoid piece. A genuine WTF. Even without comparing it to Symphonies 1 through 5, it’s still a nutzoid piece. It’s intriguing enough for me to want to listen to it again and possibly again. (And of course I am eager to hear you, flame of my heart. What a wondrous thing you’ll make of it…)

Ralph Vaughan Williams Conducts His Symphony No. 5, 1952

Ralph Vaughan WIlliams.jpg

This recording was made off-air by a sound engineer using state-of-the-art recording equipment for the time that used rare and expensive long-playing acetate disks. The symphony was first performed in June 1943 (at the height of the blitz) but this recording captures a later performance in September 1952. There are four movements: Preludio 0:00 Scherzo 11:40 Romanza 16:40 Passacaglia 26:42.

My beloved John Wilson is slated to conduct this symphony with the Royal Northern Sinfonia at The Sage in his home town of Gateshead in March 2019.

Harriet Cohen Plays Cornish Rhapsody by Hubert Bath, Featured in the 1944 Film, Love Story

Margaret Lockwood is a dying pianist, Stewart Granger is an RAF pilot going blind in this wartime romance from Gainsborough Pictures.

Harriet Cohen Frame.jpg

Legendary pianist, anti-fascist activist and muse to Arnold Bax, Ralph Vaughan Williams and others Harriet Cohen at the piano here. “Cornish Rhapsody” was written by Hubert Bath (who also wrote, for all you English sports fans, “Out of the Blue” for the BBC5 Sports Report).

Conductor John Wilson’s First Appearance in the Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms, 2007

It would appear that John’s very first time on the podium in the Royal Albert was, at age 35, conducting the 50-piece BBC Concert Orchestra in Sir William Walton’s score from the unseemly gorgeous 1969 war picture Battle of Britain. “Battle in the Air” is spirited, ravishing and very dramatic. I saw the film first run in Minneapolis, then again in London and then again in, of all places, Patras, Greece, but it’s the music I remember most.

John Wilson Battle.jpeg

Yes love, that overtone did seem to go on forever, didn’t it?

Fanfares, an Album by Onyx Brass, Conducted by John Wilson

Release date 8 March 2018 from Chandos. After having creditably conducted a brass-heavy, atonal new Turnage piece with the LSO and a circus in Berlin for New Year’s (Circus Roncalli, named after Cardinal Roncalli, His Holiness Pope John XXIII) I suppose my bonny lad was ready for a new challenge. Knowing nothing about the English brass tradition maybe this isn’t the right album for me to be assessing musically. Still, I will follow (almost) anywhere my beloved leads me, so here we are.

John Wilson & Onyx Brass 2

The only fanfares I know at present are Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” (here performed and riffed on by Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and—like any red-blooded American—the fanfare that begins Alexander Courage’s “Star Trek Theme” (repeated here); but I also remember from my girlhood a stirring, very English fanfare that provided the theme for the 1967 BBC series The Forsyte Saga, which I found out only recently is the beginning of the first movement entitled “Halcyon Days” from the suite The Three Elizabeths written by Eric Coates.

Said MusicWeb International of Fanfares: “John Wilson proves himself to be a deft and intelligent interpreter of this music which he allows to push on in flamboyant display or swagger with burnished grandeur as the mood demands. The playing of the expanded Onyx brass is of exactly the right kind of easy virtuosity and blazing brilliance.”

Check back for my comments after I’ve heard in entirety every one of these 58 freakin cuts.