John Wilson Discourses Upon Leonard Bernstein at Birmingham Symphony Hall, 24 January 2018

Really, I’m going to have to start collecting these pronouncements.

John Wilson on Berstein
Stephen Maddock, CEO of the City of Birmingham Symphony and bonny John.

The music is of such importance it actually unlocks some of the questions as to what people are meant to be doing and thinking on stage. I’ve done West Side Story a lo’, I’ve done a few complete productions of it and whenever you are unsure of how to turn something dramatically you look in the score and the subito or the hairpin will actually give you the direction of what’s happening on the stage in every bar.”

John honey, there are these things musicals have called books

We will have to have a talk over a bot’le a’Broon one of these days, won’t we?


On the Waterfront Suite by Leonard Bernstein, Conducted by Bernstein, from the Elia Kazan Film of the Same Name

My bonny John Wilson is in Oslo right now, rehearsing the Oslo Philharmonic for his last all-Bernstein program of the Bernstein Centenary Year. Cunningly, it’s set to be performed on American Thanksgiving weekend—Thursday the 22nd and Friday the 23rd of this week. Wonder how many Americans in Norway will attend. Most of the program consists of songs from the shows West Side Story, Peter Pan, Trouble In Tahiti, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, with the only other straight orchestral pieces being the Overture to Candide and “Dance at the Gym” from WSS.

On the Waterfront.jpg

From MovieMusicUK: “To quickly establish his score Bernstein created a memorable main theme, his Dignity Theme, which is tied to Malloy’s developmental arc in the film, his journey from darkness, into the light. The theme opens the film upon a solo French horn nobile, which is joined flute and then kindred muted trumpets. The Violence Theme serves as Johnny Friendly and his gang’s identity. It is hard-edged, percussive, powered by fortissimo chords and antagonistic syncopated rhythms. The Love Theme speaks to Terry and Edie’s love. It is achingly tender, and hopeful, carried by solo woodwinds and harp, and when taken up by strings it is sublime The Pain Theme is anguished in its articulation and carried by a dirty solo alto saxophone. The Brothers Theme is a transmuted variant of the Pain Theme, carried by strings dolorosa, emblematic of the estrangement between Terry and Charley, which eventual crystalizes in a crucible of pain as Charlie turns on Terry and threatens him at gunpoint. The Riot Theme is powered by a grating string ostinato—sharp chords and is kindred to the Pain Theme through its inversion of horns and woodwinds.”

“La Valse” by Maurice Ravel, Played by the Orchestre National de France, Conducted by Leonard Bernstein

I haven’t got the date for this concert but Bernstein’s hair is silvery so I’m guessing it’s from the late 80s.

Ravel described his work:

Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished. The clouds gradually scatter: one sees at letter A an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo letter B. Set in an imperial court, about 1855.”

Bernstein La Valse.jpg

Bonny John conducted this very piece about two weeks ago at his old school, the Royal College of Music, and spoke about Ravel (as well as Ralph Vaughan Williams) in this podcast. He said “La Valse” is about social disintegration. O-kay…

Thanks to Mark Doran for pointing me to his posting comparing Ravel’s piano score of “La Valse” to his, Ravel’s, own orchestration. Part 2 to follow…

The Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein, Conducted by Bernstein, Played by the NY Philharmonic, 8 Jan 1961

Here’s “Overtures and Preludes”, episode 1 of season 4 of the Young People’s Concerts (which I remember watching new!). This one particular playing—at this particular time and place—with this particular freshness and energy—is my standard against which all other Candide Overtures that ever were or ever will be are judged.


Happy 100th, Lenny.

Bernstein’s On the Town, Performed at the BBC Proms by the LSO, Conducted by John Wilson

The on-demand streamcast (starting tonight commemorating Bernstein’s 100th birthday and continuing through 24 September) on BBC3 was actually pretty good—straightforwardly sung, acted and played; no John going meshugena with the tempi like he did two weeks ago with his own orchestra’s “concert” version of West Side Story. (In contrast, you do not mess around with the London Symphony Orchestra.) And is that the venerable UK-based American actor Kerry Shale doing the narrating?

John Wilson On the Town 2.JPG

As it was in West Side Story two weeks ago, I am theorizing that the terrifying foot-stomping in the audience that occurred when my lovely John stepped forward to take his bow at the end was started by fellow classmates of the youth chorus onstage and not a biker gang.

West Side Story From a Percussionist’s Perspective

I know a percussion major-turned-conductor who would come back to this pit for a lark…

(Percussion requirements: mallets, castanets, chimes, claves, conga, finger cymbals, glockenspiel, gourd, guiro, maracas, police whistle, ratchet, slide whistle, small maracas, snare drum, tam-tam, tambourines, temple blocks, timbales, triangle, vibraphone, woodblock, xylophone, 2 suspended cymbals, 3 bongos, 3 cowbells, 4 pitched drums)

West Side Story Percussionist's Perspective

Thanks to Joe Martone for sharing on YouTube.

West Side Story Performed by The John Wilson Orchestra and Conducted Oedipally by John Wilson at the BBC Proms, August 2018, for Leonard Bernstein’s 100 Year Anniversary

As far as The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent, The FT etc etc etc, and any outlet owned by the BBC are concerned you, my darling John Wilson, Conductor, are golden. Which kind of gets me off the hook when it comes to having my say over your performances coming to anything. No one’s going to listen to the unbosomings of a housewife from Woodside, Queens, and for that I breathe a sigh of relief. (Am still steamed at the late unlamented Gawker for publishing online without my foreknowledge or consent parts of my unpublished memoir back in ’08. Hulk Hogan, thou hast avenged me!)

So when I talk about the meal you made of West Side Story, please remember that you were the one who aroused my long-dormant musical sensibility in the first place and I have to be as honest as I can be. So don’t be a bloke about it. I’m trying to do something nice for you here, plus I’m in love with you, which has to count for something.

Really, I sympathize. Doing a production of West Side Story was going to be the crowning jewel in your personal Bernstein Year. Fancy FreeTrouble in TahitiThe Age of Anxiety… Conducting these fine works would be as nothing compared to conducting a (full-enough) production of THE ONE. And not just THE ONE, but THE ONE in the Royal Albert freakin Hall to a sold-out audience of 6,000+ , a thousand of whom would surely camp out in sleeping bags overnight at the box office to buy their tickets at 6L apiece (is that fan love or what?). I have only the vaguest idea what value the Corporation actually places on you and your orchestra’s appearances. But it’s very very clear, John, you have a sizable audience that responds to you faithfully and ardently.

Classical Net Review on John’s Royal Albert Hall concert ends: “…this was above all an homage to the art of Bernstein and orchestrators Irwin Kostal and Sid Ramin, rather than a celebration of West Side Story as a landmark in musical theatre history.”

[more later]

Lenny ShirtlessBetty Comden with Lenny in the apartment he shared with Adolph Green, circa 1941. Console yourself with this hot pic, people, till I return.