Massenet’s “Meditation” on the Chandos Label, Britten’s The Turn of the Screw in London, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4 in Santiago, Conducted (or, To Be Conducted) by My Beloved John Wilson, 2020

You know, I 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 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.

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 RAM Jan 2020.jpgAbove John: His “Meditation“.

Lastly, re “Meditation”, 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 new album (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 First Music: On Conductor John Wilson and His Thing About Percussion, Plus Emmanuel Chabrier’s “España” (1883), John’s New Recording from Chandos

I thought it was important to put in this posting’s title the date in which the self-taught French composer Chabrier wrote this enduringly scrumptious piece, the orchestration sounding more like something post-WWI. Yet it was composed during the height of La Belle Epoque. This was the last piece (a reduction, of course) I ever played on the violin in my junior high school orchestra, before switching a couple years later, at 16, to Voice at the University of Minnesota.

As for my beloved’s own especial sensitivity to percussion: Listening to and viewing John conduct the RAM student orchestra last Friday in Tchaikovsky’s 6th—in particular watching John’s very visible reaction to the cymbals in the third movement—gave me some insight into his musical values, which never fail to impress me. I understood the kind of sound he was trying to bring out from that young cymbalist and, had it worked, would indeed have sounded sooo nifty, it would have been John Wilson Orchestra nifty, but alas…

(The sound aspired to, incidentally, was that “snap” I heard the JWO achieve in Beyond the Sea about 16 years ago.)

Lastly, a word about the strings in the fourth movement. Yup, there was that “John Wilson Orchestra shimmer”, that famous wrist vibrato anyone who’s ever picked up a violin recognizes and has to have come to terms with fairly early in training. We used to wonder if it made our playing actually sound better, and it depends. The Russians and Mittel-Europeans used it a lot a hundred years ago. Some call this type of playing now “period playing”. My old boss, Rouben Mamoulian, called this style of playing “Crying Violins”. He claimed it was his idea to use it in the musical Love Me Tonight, in the “Isn’t It Romantic” sequence.

John Wilson Royal Academy 2020 3John’s CD comes out February 2020 (Chandos #5252, Escales)

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Camille Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1 in A-minor, Performed by Jacqueline du Pré and Conducted by Daniel Barenboim

On the 12th of September, 2019 my beloved John Wilson appeared at the Koncerthuset in Copenhagen conducting the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, starting off with cellist Andreas Brantelid performing the Saint-Saëns concerto, and finishing off the evening with Holst’s The Planets, which John has perfected to his satisfaction, conducting as he did in 2013 the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in Leeds in 4 of the 7 Planets.

Here’s the Goddess’s chosen one, Jacqueline du Pré, playing the concerto with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, her husband Daniel Barenboim at the podium. In the time they had, they did not squander the gift that was given to them to make music together.

Jacqueline dupre big laugh

 

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John Wilson Conducts Jules Massenet’s Comic Opera Cendrillon at Glyndebourne, 8 June – 2 August 2019

My name is John Wilson [so says my bonny] “and I’m going to be conducting Cendrillon at the Glynebourne Festival 2019. It has elements of comic opera, it has ardent love music, solos, duets, and this element of fantasy which runs through the whole thing, a fairy tale which he conjures up expertly in the score. It’s instantly attractive music, and the reason I said I would do this piece is when I first heard it I was struck with just how high the level of invention is all the way through. It may not be done very often but I think it’s one of his best pieces, I really do [fades]. Everyone knows the story of Cinderella and I think his orchestral palette and his harmonic and melodic palette really conjured up very clearly—you can think of isolated parts of the ballet and the Fairy Godmother’s music which are full of that kind of glittering fantasy… Really gorgeous inspired music! And of course I love all the pulling it all together. I love the fact that in an opera, let’s say you have a staging problem or you have a sort of question hanging over of how you should, you should represent something on stage. The answers nearly always is [sic] to be found in the score. But he was [sic] a great masterpiece. There will be a sforzando chord or an inflection in the vocal writing which will give you the kind of…the dramatic point*, and it’s great to be a part of something which is so organic where everything affects the other. The influences of Wagner, Tchaikovsky aren’t very far away, there are lots of glowing melodies there that really, really stir you. I really can’t wait to get started on it.”

Actor/director Fiona Shaw’s production of Cendrillon makes its Glyndebourne Festival appearance summer 2019, conducted by John Wilson, with Australian-American soprano Danielle de Niese in the title role. (Picture courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival 2019.)

Danielle de Niese, John Wilson.jpgRight before this production, de Niese starred with Kelsey Grammer in the first West End staging of Man of La Mancha in fifty-three years, produced by the man who was the first to bring me to orgasm when I was 18.

*See below, “John Wilson Discourses Upon Leonard Bernstein at Birmingham Symphony Hall, 24 January 2018” and let’s have a one-pound argument, John.

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Conductor John Wilson Among the Women of Glyndebourne’s Massenet’s Cendrillon, 2019

The intermission talk with director Fiona Dunn, my beloved John Wilson, mezzo Kate Lindsey, and soprano Danielle de Niese. The “topic of debate”: What should Prince Charming look like in the 21st century?

John Wilson Glyndebourne TalkI’m only here for the shoes.

My bonny John: “I think having Prince Charming as Massenet stipulated, it fits beautifully within the whole kind of sonic picture of the whole thing. It’s not a piece that you could say fits on one musical plane, it’s got lots of colors. It’s one of the most colorful pieces he ever wrote… When I said I was doing this piece to people, they would say, Oh yeah, that’s a nice light sort of sweet little piece. It’s not a sweet little piece, it’s a big piece, there’s always another layer to get to and there’s always more detail to explore, always more depth every time. It’s not lightweight…”

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

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.

Chopin Polonaise in A flat Op 53 Lang Lang - YouTube.png

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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