Sid Ramin and Red Ginzler’s Overture to Gypsy: John Wilson Conducting The John Wilson Orchestra, BBC Proms 2012

The indication “burlesque strip stylewas actually written on the music right around 4:00. Both Ramin and Ginzler cut their teeth writing swing arrangements; lead trumpet in the original Gypsy pit was Dick Perry, late of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Solo trumpet Mike Lovatt here lays it down fine. Some people obviously know something about burlycue. Composer Jule Styne was pleased with this orchestration. Once again, the BBC Proms program The Broadway Sound, 2012.

John Wilson Gypsy Overture

Also at 4:00 John Wilson shimmying like a brazen hussy. This is the moment one year ago today when I fell in love with you my bonny, that lovely luscious moment when I stumbled onto this old clip and caught a glimpse of your hidden fires…

Kiss Me, Kate: Another Cole Porter Musical with Dirty Lyrics, Played by The John Wilson Orchestra and Conducted by John Wilson, BBC Proms 2014

John and O don’t always perform semi-staged fully-voiced musicals badly at their BBC Proms appearances at the Royal Albert Hall—their 2012 My Fair Lady was pretty much all right, no shenanigans there (pronounced The Guardian, “John Wilson’s adapted score—which borrows from Andre Previn’s movie arrangement—adds a sparkle to even the most drearily expository songs: the flutes somehow sound cheekier, the brass ruder, the strings zingier”). And in fact their 2014 Kiss Me Kate was as it was meant to be: big, sexy and playful. Winsome John even gets a speaking part!

Kiss Me Kate
That’s the hilarious Louise Dearman as singer/sexworld adventuress Lois Lane. (Yes I swear to God, that’s the name the writers of this classic 1948 Broadway musical gave her.)

Now, we all know about “Too Darn Hot” with its descriptions of nice normal congress (“I’d like to sup with my baby tonight / Play the pup with my baby tonight”) and “Tom, Dick or Harry” with its lyrics “I’m a maid mad to marry and would take double quick / Any Tom, Dick or Harry, any Tom, Harry or Dick” and the lilting refrain “A-dick-a-dick dick dick, a-dick-a-dick dick dick”…

But did you ever stop to think about the song “Always True to You in My Fashion”? Which was one of my party pieces years and years ago (alternating with “I Cain’t Say No” from Oklahoma). I once gave it some thought and what I worked out is this: Lois isn’t just your ordinary sex supplier—no, she specializes in those extra-special somethings that make a man (well, certain men) happy and willing to pay top dollar for them. Not to mention that in every verse she pretty much announces her rates:

  • There’s a madman known as Mac
    Who is planning to attack
    If his mad attack means a Cadillac, okay!…
  • I would never curl my lip
    To a dazzling diamond clip
    If a clip meant “Let ‘er rip!”
    I’d not say nay…
  • There’s an oilman known as Tex
    Who is keen to give me checks
    And his checks I fear
    Means that sex is here to stay…

…ending always with the last line, “But I’m always true to you darling in my fashion / Yes I’m always true to you darling in my way.” Which to me is the number-one indication she keeps it hot with her boyfriend because with him it’s, like I said, nice normal congress. You know, vanilla. But with her clients? As you may recall I was in the business, where scenarios abound. (Remember Basingstoke?) All this to say it amused me to no end to watch Lois size up within two seconds The Conductor, cunningly portrayed by my beloved John Wilson. Because I know exactly what’s going on in her head, in descending order:

  • How much do orchestra conductors make, anyway?
  • Tell mama what your kinks are.
  • Hey, he’s kinda cute. Skinny, but cute.

But don’t blame me, take it up with Cole Porter. Kiss Me, Kate is available in its entirety here.

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.

Trial by Jury.jpg

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.

 

Samuel Barber: Violin Concerto, op.14, Played by Isaac Stern with the New York Philharmonic and Conducted by Leonard Bernstein

Oh, my bonny just loooves his timpani. But first things first. Samuel Barber completed this Violin Concerto in 1939. It’s a work in three movements and lasts about 22 minutes. I’ve got this classic 1964 recording and it’s one of my yummier ones.

Barber Violin Concerto

Now! From Bachtrack: Exaggeration and Disinterest Mar John Wilson’s CBSO Programme

Simon Cummings, 08 April 2019. Great composers—or, rather, their greatest compositions—have a tendency to be able to shine through less than ideal performances. This was the situation that faced us in Symphony Hall last Saturday, though it’s important to stress that the root cause lay not with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, or their Chorus, or with either of the evening’s two soloists, but with conductor John Wilson.

Wilson’s approach to all three works on the programme could be summarised as ‘filmic’. It was as if each piece wasn’t quite adequate on its own terms but needed to be given the kind of superficial gloss that might make it suitable for Hollywood. The resulting effect of this was two-fold: exaggeration of the works’ more obviously lyrical or bombastic high points, and a kind of disinterested flattening of their less show-stopping sequences.

Thus, the contrasting episodes of Copland’s Appalachian Spring felt less like components of a single, overarching continuity than the vagaries of a narrative that kept changing its mind. At its most relaxed, as in the deliciously sleepy, dawn- and dusk-like music with which the works begins and ends, Wilson seemed to have little idea what to do, allowing its inherent prettiness to sound with indifference to pacing, shape and nuance. Only when the material became conspicuously excited did Wilson do the same, leading to a more appealing rendition of the assorted Allegro sections, which were lively and fun. (It’s interesting to note that Symphony Hall’s renowned acoustics, supposedly good for everything, audibly struggle when presented with small orchestras performing tight, crisp rhythms such as those in the Copland, on this occasion making the CBSO sound more than a little swamped.) But in hindsight these only made it more apparent how flat was the rest of the work, with clunky gear changes and a weak sense of connection.

The nature of the material in Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto played much more into Wilson’s wheelhouse. The lyrical first two movements contain much that is redolent of silent film scores, which therefore suited the cinematic treatment they received. The sweetness in the music often felt rather cloying and over-earnest—where Copland had been likeable, Barber seemed to be spending all his time desperately trying to get us to like him–but the sense of dialogue between soloist James Ehnes and the orchestra, clearly heard here as equals, was highly engaging.

The Violin Concerto is a problematic work at the best of times, due to its weird structural combination of two emotionally-charged movements followed by an evidently bolted-on presto finale that appears to stem more from a desire to satisfy the demands of the original violinist than from the same creative impulse as the rest of the work. Yet on this occasion, Ehnes’ enthusiasm in the finale was a huge relief, his breakneck fingerwork rising above the robotic pulse laid down by Wilson. Best of all, though, was Ehnes’ even more unstoppable encore, a performance of Eugène Ysaÿe’s Violin Sonata no.3 that took real risks, resulting in such nail-biting excitement that the concerto was almost immediately forgotten.

For all the issues that had manifested in the Copland and Barber, nothing and no-one can stand in the way of the juggernaut that is Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. Wilson’s tendency to exaggeration was matched by Walton’s own overblown response to Osbert Sitwell’s libretto. To stunning effect, particularly in the first half of the work: testifying again that the devil has the best tunes, the combination of orchestra and chorus (who, on this occasion, augmented by the University of Birmingham Voices, were simply enormous) during Belshazzar’s unbound, sacrilegious revelries was an absolute riot and hugely involving. Considering the downfall that we all knew was coming next, one almost felt guilty for enjoying it so much.

Bass-baritone Božidar Smiljanić was by turns mesmerising, moving and borderline prophetic as soloist. His take on the introduction to Babylon was masterful, moving abruptly from proudly rattling off a list of valuable commodities to a stern, almost witheringly prolonged articulation of the word “slaves”, concluding with a tender lament for the “souls of men”. Likewise, the almost laughably undramatic moment when the libretto sums up almighty judgement in the wake of all the ungodly merriment in just a single sentence, Smiljanić made profound, as if he were heralding not merely the end of Belshazzar’s days but everyone’s.

Again, though, the music’s more inverted, painful episodes lacked weight, Wilson making them brisk and functional, mere lulls before the storms. When these came, they were overwhelming—how could they not be? But it was just such a shame that the most powerful moments of the concert, such as these, were for the most part in spite of John Wilson’s best efforts, rather than because of them.

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 such musical 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

John Wilson, Conductor Wishes the Royal Northern Sinfonia a Happy 60th Birthday, 3 December 2018

John Wilson and Royal Northern Sinfonia

Oh John honey. You’re a sweetheart to do this when you’ve barely unpacked.

John conducted Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Symphony no. 5 in D major with the Royal Northern Sinfonia at The Sage in his home town of Gateshead 1 March 2019.

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

I see your master plan, John. 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 (two shows Friday, 9 August!), 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 strange piece of music. Even without comparing it to Symphonies 1 through 5, it’s still a strange piece, though intriguing enough for me to want to listen to 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…)