John Wilson Conducts Oklahoma at the 2017 BBC Proms, Rouben Mamoulian Howls In Protest from His Grave, Part 1

…and this time I’m siding with The Old Man. But I’m writing this for you, John.

Richard Rodgers Piano

Let me start off with a little story. It’s a true story, and it’s one of the reasons I’m here doing this thing right now.

(I mean, the rest of you didn’t really think this entire blog was just about bonny John Wilson, did you?)

But bear with me a moment. I have to go back in my memory to forty, forty-one years ago, to that sad shabby house up on Schuyler Road in Beverly Hills which I’m not really rarin’ to do, but here goes.

It was a late morning about six weeks into my work assignment and The Old Man hadn’t arisen yet, so there I was in the salon with nothing to do except quietly wait for his appearance and his orders for the day (which letters to answer, which bills to pay, which people to call, etc) before getting down to the primary purpose of my being there, which was, in the agency’s words, “to assist Mr Mamoulian in the writing of his memoirs”. None of that memoir writing actually did transpire in the nearly nine months I was with him—other things did—but let’s not jump ahead. Unsupervised, I was forbidden to handle/read books from his voluminous library, but you know what? He never expressly told me not to play the piano, that big black shiny intriguing baby grand in the middle of the room, and I couldn’t resist. Could you?

There wasn’t a sound coming from any part of the house, although I could faintly hear Henry the daily handyman moving his wheelbarrow out in the yard. I’d had enough of examining in painstaking detail the boring watercolors and Russian icons on the wall. I sat down on the bench.

Sense memory kicking in… At that point it was the closest I had gotten to this humongous piece of furniture. I remember the smooth feel of the wood as I ran my fingers on it, gently lifting up the fall board to get to the keys. The piano was a Steinway. That is, I remember it as a Steinway, because I don’t remember it not being a Steinway. I put the fingers of my right hand down in place and began, ever so softly, to tap out the first tune that came into my mind, which happened to be the waltz from Carousel. Eight bars in I thought I heard a rustle from the back of the house and stopped cold, put the fall board down and stood up.

This was the first time my eye was caught by something on the right side of the music rack, some sort of writing actually carved into the wood of the music shelf that lay flat in the cabinet of the piano. It was in cursive—and it was a name:

Richard Rodgers

It still gives me goosebumps to remember (like remembering what it was like to handle a saint’s bones): sitting on the same bench Rodgers sat on, putting my fingers on the same keys… When The Old Man finally did get up an hour later, I was sitting back at my desk in his alcove-cum-office, pretending to read one of the cheap Hollywood magazines I brought to pass the time, although my mind was still on the bars I’d played and where the bars were going musically, and I think I was humming. I must’ve been humming. Because as he came into the alcove I heard Mamoulian exclaim, “Hey! That’s from Carousel!”

I looked up. Caught! I was about to apologize when he spoke again, this time it seemed almost wistfully. “You know, I directed that.”

I said softly, as if it were an apology, “I know.”

At that moment our relationship started to take a different turn.

Part Two here or below. [Going out for a beer now, catching up later…]

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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 all about, didn’t you?

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 passable, but the real delight is in watching my bonny enjoy himself starting at 10:48.

John Wilson Sullivan.jpeg

End of the Year 2018 While I Still Have John Wilson, Conductor in My Head

I’m finding it mighty strange that my bonny has a birthday landing on exactly the same day as my father’s (a Gemini to the core—I learned to know ’em when I see ’em) but somehow it starts to make sense: There’s John of the BBC Orchestra and Eric Coates and Vaughan Williams and the tra-la-boomy-boom that makes up English music; and there’s John of the big-shouldered swaggering sweating bombastic vibrant American tune book. One (when he plays it well) makes me want to cook him a nice lamb stew with pearl onions swimming in the rich gravy; the other (again, when he plays it well, which is almost always) makes me want to—well, I was in the business, you know. Use your imagination.

Driven to Drink by John Wilson

Only don’t be too sure which is which. Like I said, John almost always plays the music of his country and his heritage well, with a deep feeling that’s irresistible; whereas when he works out the great American tunes it turns out more often to be hit-and-miss, with many many many more misses than hits.

But oh! When he does hit! When my bonny John and his orchestra play “The Trolley Song” or “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” or “Get Happy” or the MGM Jubilee Overture it’s freakin heaven, and I’m not the only one to say this. Subtlety is not this lad’s forte when it comes to the American popular repertoire. But when John goes big, loud and busy when the number actually calls for it, screams out for it, it’s so damn satisfying when he does it and does it brilliantly that I want to—how can I put this?—do something for my darling in return…make him a nice meal…fatten him up a little… (Ess, kind, ess!)

For right now, though, I’ll settle for a natter on a quiet afternoon, which is why I thought of the Metropole before karaoke time. You know, when you get up there. I’ve never seen the Angel of the North.

“Warsaw Concerto” by Richard Addinsell, Played by Valentina Lisitsa with the BBC Concert Orchestra Conducted by Keith Lockhart, BBC Proms 2013

Warsaw Concerto Lisitsa Lockhart 2013
I love watching how Lockhart, official Guest Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, scrupulously keeps in sync with not just his orchestra but with his soloist. It’s also a delight to watch at the beginning of the clip Lisitsa curtsying almost shyly to leader Cynthia Fleming.

Valentina Lisitsa, who started out as a YouTube sensation 12 years ago and is now counted as one of the foremost keyboard interpreters of the Eastern European Romantics, gives an intensely satisfying performance here of Addinsell’s “Warsaw Concerto”. The Concerto was written for the movies—for, specifically, the 1941 movie Dangerous Moonlight, in which Polish concert pianist Anton Walbrook becomes a fighter pilot for the RAF, falls in love, gets amnesia, and composes some music. The movie, although a success from a propaganda viewpoint, was considered a potboiler by critics, and even the astute Anthony Burgess, who was an army sergeant and nascent composer himself at the time, looked down on the “Warsaw Concerto” as a cheap imitation of Rachmaninoff. Intellectual snobs have derided the piece, but it’s lingered in the memory for lo these many years, and is only now taking its permanent place in the classical repertoire.

For that we have to thank composer/film music restorer Philip Lane. It was to Lane that the musical estate of Richard Addinsell was entrusted and, like composer/orchestrator William David Brohn (for Prokoviev’s Alexander Nevsky) and my beloved John Wilson, Lane took on the task of reconstructing by ear written scores for film music whose manuscripts had been destroyed through carelessness or war. (Some suggest that the “Warsaw Concerto” was entirely the work of Addinsell’s orchestrator, Roy Douglas, who died in 2015 at the age of 107). Addinsell’s—or Douglas’s—”Warsaw Concerto” was one of them. As Lane writes:

“The process of reconstruction does not get easier, but some films are more difficult than others. The biggest enemy is the combination of dialogue and sound effects over the music, and occasionally there are seconds of complete inaudibility when guesswork has to replace authenticity. The greater the composer, the more difficult the work, on the whole, since the melodic and harmonic language tends to be more adventurous. In the case of recent scores there are usually soundtrack CDs devoid of extraneous sounds to work from, but despite the change in status of film music, present day composers still mislay their scores. I have reconstructed music by Jerry Goldsmith, Randy Edelman and James Horner in the last year alone. If the composers are still alive I obviously encourage them to do the reconstruction themselves. So far, they have declined for various reasons.”

The Police Perform Ghost In the Machine at the International Stadium, Gateshead, 31 July 1982

If I hadn’t fallen so fierce hard for Geordie-born-and-bred orchestral conductor John Wilson I’d never have been delving into All Things Gateshead and I never would have found a (Seoul-based bootleg) recording of this show, which was the very show Mister Grumble and I missed in New York when I was heavily pregnant. Great music, great energy, and it was touching to catch a (private?) glance at Sting—another Geordie, by the way—crossing himself before taking the stage. The sound is impeccable.

The Police, Gateshead, England, July 31, 1982 - YouTube.jpeg

For more on The Police’s drummer, go to my posting below, “The Equalizer Theme by Stewart Copeland“.

John Wilson Conducts The JWO in a Big Band Swingin’ Symphonic Medley, BBC2, Christmas Day 2010

Shimmy alert at 6:26. Whoever would stifle that shimmy in years to come, my bonny, would stifle your spirit.

John Wilson Big Band

Excerpts by composer and band: “Skyliner” – Barnet / Charlie Barnet; “Take the A Train” – Billy Strayhorn and vocalist Joya Sherrill / Duke Ellington; “Let’s Dance” – Gregory Stone (based on von Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance”, orchestrated by Hector Berlioz) / Benny Goodman; “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” – Irving Berlin / Ray Noble; “Begin the Beguine” – Cole Porter / Artie Shaw; “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” – Ned Washington and George Bassman / Tommy Dorsey; “Midnight Sun” – Hampton and Sonny Burke / Lionel Hampton; “You Made Me Love You” – Monaco and McCarthy / Harry James; “Moonlight Serenade” – Miller / Glenn Miller; “Peanut Vendor” – Moisés Simons / Stan Kenton; “Woodchoppers Ball” – Joe Bishop / Woody Herman; “One O’Clock Jump” – Count Basie / Count Basie. Orchestral arrangement by composer Andrew Cottee.

Didn’t work at ASCAP for nothing…

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Martin and Blaine, Orchestrated by Conrad Salinger, Reconstructed by My Beloved John Wilson, and Sung by Judy Garland

The song first appeared in a scene in Meet Me in St Louis (MGM, 1944). Divided into a series of seasonal vignettes starting with summer, 1903, the movie relates the story of a year in the life of the Smith family in St Louis, Missouri, leading up to the opening of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (more commonly referred to as the World’s Fair) in the spring of 1904. In a scene set on Christmas Eve, Judy Garland’s character, Esther, sings the song to cheer up her despondent five-year-old sister, Tootie, played by Margaret O’Brien.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.jpg

For more Judy, Conrad Salinger and bonny John, go to my post below on “The Trolley Song”.