Update On Conductor John Wilson’s 2020 Gigs: Britten’s The Turn of the Screw (March); Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 4 in Santiago (April); and Massenet’s “Meditation” (Chandos, February)

I once 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 Wilson 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.


UPDATE 14 Nov 2020 : On 3 December 2020 BBC4 Radio will be streamcasting John Wilson and Opera Glassworks. From the BBC webpage:

The conductor John Wilson made his name restoring the historical scores of great Hollywood musicals. With the John Wilson Orchestra, he has been a fixture at the Proms for over a decade.

In March this year, he was at Wilton’s Music Hall in London, rehearsing Benjamin Britten’s Turn of The Screw for Opera Glassworks, when lockdown happened. All the tickets had been sold, the costumes were ready, the set was in place and the curtain about to go up. Then the production came to a crashing halt.

There was too much to lose, and this programme tells the story of how, months later, the opera was re-conceived, re-imagined and rescheduled under the new restrictions we are all learning to live in. John Wilson, along with the producers, decided to turn the staged performance into a film. Wilton’s is the perfect Victorian venue for this unsettling and ambiguous ghost story about the corruption of innocence.

In October, the singers came together again, only this time also with a film crew.

Covid restrictions meant the singers and musicians had to be recorded separately and in the most unorthodox ways. We follow John as he brings his meticulous and inspired vision of Britten’s opera to a new audience and a new format. We hear, day by day, what it was like being on set, how John worked in this ‘topsy turvey’ world as he described it, giving the singers the flexibility to interpret the opera and then later conducting the musicians having to fit round their recorded performances.

‘I do believe in making music for the joy of it,’ John says, ‘and we’re experiencing heightened levels of appreciation at the moment because it’s been taken away from us.’


CANCELLED: 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 Teatro del Lago.jpgNOTES for John’s new CD Escales (Chandos, 2020) can be found here.

RECORDED: 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.


[all tags]

Chanticleer Sings Gerald Finzi’s “My Spirit Sang All Day” Just for My Beloved John Wilson; Plus John’s Streamcast Conducting the RAMSO in Strauss, Finzi 23 October 2020

Hosted by the Royal Academy of Music, this concert of their Symphony Orchestra, conducted by my beloved John Wilson, will be broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube from the Duke’s Hall, Friday, 23 October 2020, 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time. A link to the stream will be available here on YT shortly before the performance.

The program:

“ChanticleerAbove the San Francisco-based all-male choral group, Chanticleer: Gerald Finzi’s tuneful setting of English physician-poet Robert Bridges’s love poem to his wife, Joy.

My spirit sang all day
O my joy.
Nothing my tongue could say,
Only my joy!
My heart an echo caught
O my joy,
And spake,
Tell me thy thought,
Hide not thy joy.
My eyes gan peer around,
O my joy,
What beauty hast thou found?
Shew us thy joy.
My jealous ears grew whist;
O my joy
Music from heaven is’t
Sent for our joy?
She also came and heard;
O my joy,
What, said she, is this word?
What is thy joy?
And I replied,
O see,
O my joy,
‘Tis thee, I cried,
’tis thee:
Thou art my joy.

~Robert Bridges (1844-1930)


[all tags]

“We John Wilsons, we can be busy little beavers when we need to be” ~ Novelist-Composer Anthony Burgess (Dick Cavett, ABC-TV 1971)

Anthony Burgess, my Number One Language Guy, was on Dick Cavett’s talk show late one evening during my first year at music school. The host had brought up the oft-told story of how Burgess, when in his 40s, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and told he would be dead in a year; consequently he returned home to England (he’d been in the civil service in Brunei) and was seized by a mania of writing that resulted in his completing a half dozen intriguing novels, all of which are still in print. Oh, and he didn’t die in a year. Referring to his name at birth—he was christened John Wilson, Anthony being his Catholic confirmation name and Burgess being his mother’s maiden name—Burgess commented, “We John Wilsons, we can be busy little beavers when we need to be.”

John Wilson BBCSO London SymphonyDick Cavett and Anthony Burgess on my old B&W portable, a US knockoff made by the same company that cornered the 70s East Coast market in prepackaged noodle soup, Pho King. Above the interlocutors: A full audio recording of Burgess’s ’71 appearance on Cavett (the first half-hour) wherein he does an Ovaltine commercial as Shakespeare would have truly sounded.

Which is a remark that came to mind when I fell in love with John—my John, John Wilson the Conductor—and read how he spent 15 years transcribing the “lost” scores of MGM musicals, toting his Sibelius-programmed laptop around, listening to tracks in off moments, plugging in those thirds and fourths and damned glissandos as he heard them, passing on pub crawling or watching the telly to keep working on this gorgeous music…

First fruit of my beloved’s efforts: The MGM Jubilee Overture, which was performed for its 50th anniversary by The John Wilson Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in 2004. (More information on the Overture plus tune credits here.)


[all tags]

Waterland from the Graham Swift Novel Starring Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack, Ethan Hawke, Grant Warnock, Lena Headey; Music by Carter Burwell; Directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, 1992

This is Stephen’s best movie, hands down. Whenever I think of Stephen and thinking of him raises my blood pressure remembering all the shenanigans he pulled on me, I also think of Waterland and (almost) all is forgiven between us, as far as I’m concerned.

Waterland.jpgThat’s Lena Headey in her first screen role. Above Lena, Grant Warnock and Jeremy Irons: Carter Burwell’s gorgeous, haunting music from Waterland.

I’m not a huge fan of Graham Swift’s books, but I read his Waterland and Last Orders, and much prefer Last Orders as a novel but Waterland as a film, no matter how many trivial changes the screenwriter made. In Swift’s memoir there’s the amusing revelation that Steve got this assignment because although he was last on the list he was the only one available…yeah, that’s the Gyllenhaal Luck. Fortunately—really fortunately—Steve had with him a very good Director of Photography, Robert Elswit, and score composer Carter Burwell, whose music you can hear above.

I mentioned in another posting about his film work that “there’s a creepy, dreamy, nasty edge in almost all the sex scenes in Steve’s movies…” which certainly figures here. Not in the actual sex scenes between the teenage lovers, which are all lyrically rendered, but in that damn ABORTION SCENE in the woods, which never fails to get gasps from us females in the audience. Check it out. There’s a weird fairy-tale quality to this scene which is beautiful, but sooo the wrong tone.


[all tags]

25 May, 2020—Two Birthdays: My Dad’s 115th and My Beloved English Conductor John Wilson’s 48th

My father, who would be 115 years old in 3 days, went to the movies with me only a couple of times. The first was for Taras Bulba (United Artists, 1962). I remember him getting a particular kick out of the ride of the Cossacks scene, thrilling Franz Waxman music and all.

The second time was for Tora! Tora! Tora! (20th Century Fox, 1970). The movie house in Columbia Heights, just over the city line from Northeast Minneapolis, was within walking distance, I walked it all the time, and could still get in for 50 cents because at 15 I still looked 12. For some reason my father ended up not only driving me the few blocks, but after I’d found my seat and the lights went down I was astonished to notice him come in and sit down beside me.

“Dad, what are you doing here?” I whispered loudly. “You know, the Japs win in this.”

“Not for long,” he answered cheerfully, which is about as close as anyone in our family got to talking about the 7 December 1941 attacks and the general brutality my mother, then a teenager in Bangar in the province of La Union, had to face in an occupied country.

Bangar in those days was rather like Nouvion in ‘Allo ‘Allo—a little town situated a ways from the capital but near the sea, a hotbed of resistance. When you read about Bangar here, just remember: that kid who escaped, which resulted in occupying troops burning down the place, was one of my cousins. When the guards marched him to town to be executed, his family, through looks and gestures from a distance, pretty much gave him the word that they expected him to “take one for the team” i.e. let himself be shot; but at the last moment, as family legend goes, he grabbed the officer’s sword and in the confusion was able to get away into the forest. And so as feared came the reprisals.

A shadow still hangs over the de la Peña family.

Fil-Am 1941Taken at a banquet of an old Filipino-American association my dad was part of (that’s him under the picture on the right; keep forgetting he still had hair before I was born), one of about a hundred around at the time. Note the date: only a couple of weeks before Pearl Harbor. Note also the Philippine flag on the wall. The Philippines wasn’t yet a sovereign nation but a Commonwealth and didn’t achieve independence till 1946.

Meanwhile in California my dad, who had come to the States a young man in 1927, was engaged to a woman from St Louis he eventually COULD NOT MARRY because—are you ahead of me on this?—HE WASN’T WHITE!!! Yes! The MISCENEGATION LAW of the State of California—which by the way was NOT REPEALED UNTIL 1962—prohibited them and God knows how many other California couples from legally joining, forcing them to travel to other states where they could. (Recently read this happened to that fine actor Dean Jagger and his Chinese-American fiancee in the early 50s and I’m curious to hear other people’s stories).

How my dad, residing at last in Minneapolis, eventually found and married my mother in Manila is another story, and it’s a doozy. I’ll tell it on their 70th wedding anniversary next year.

Now to my beloved John Wilson, who was born the day of my father’s final birthday, in 1972. John, I’m not saying we’re psychically linked, but about a month ago in the middle of defrosting the refrigerator I think I got a weird emotional flash from you where you were being right annoyed… I got the impression it might’ve been about The John Wilson Orchestra, you were waiting for some kind of answer re your orchestra and not getting it, and I actually felt your annoyance… As I say, it was weird, like listening in on a party line…

That’s all I could make of it. But it’s enough to make me want to give you something special for your birthday. So…I’ve tried this only once, with an old boyfriend, and I think because I was really, really into him it worked. On the actual day of your birthday, John, I’m going to try to send you an energy shot. [UPDATE: Just did it. Think I got through. 25 May 2020 2AM UK time.] Until then, Happy Birthday, light of my life, fire of my loins. And if you and I ever make that date at the Metropole in Gateshead, tell me if it worked.


[all tags]

The Silent Musician by Mark Wigglesworth, Richard Wagner, Cosmic Sex, and My Beloved Conductor John Wilson

In an earlier post I mentioned that, since May a couple years ago, I’ve been reading books by orchestra conductors on conducting, in order to better glimpse into the unfamiliar heart and mind of my beloved John Wilson. That classic tome written by Richard Wagner was far out, of course, and going back to some of Leonard Bernstein‘s early writings was deeply nostalgic.

But it was my treatment of a book my bonny conductor had on his public Facebook Likes list that done me in—a thin, and thinly humorous, volume written by a coeval of John’s who let out his dirigental insecurities in a tirade of snark that I answered in kind in a long, 4-star Amazon review that I thought was hilarious, which it was, although apparently only to me. I did this to get John’s attention. I got it. John did not like what I wrote. Hence, he learned how to spell my name ab-so-lute-ly correctly.

Now, Mark Wigglesworth has a 30-year career conducting a number of the great operas and a number of the great symphony cycles, to much acclaim. If there is one thing that John’s friend’s book made evident, in its perverted way, it’s the importance of a conductor being holistically grounded, and Wigglesworth is, as we used to say in the 70s, a grounded guy. Not surprising for someone who has Alan Watts on his bookshelf; and since the English-born psychedelic Zen guru of San Francisco is one of my guiding lights too, it was a deep pleasure to read The Silent Musician, Wigglesworth’s musings on his inner/outer artistic journey as a conductor. Wigglesworth, from Sussex, is an acclaimed interpreter of Gustav Mahler as well as Wagner, two creative heavyweights who positively require those who would approach their work to have had a fair look first into their own personal psychological-spiritual makeup. Consider Daniel Barenboim—one artist on the world stage I respect the hell out of—and his own moral / philosophical / logistical grapplings with the Architect of Bayreuth (download his “Wagner and Ideology” here and let me just say, if Barenboim figured it out I’m satisfied).

Speaking of Wagner, a few years ago Wigglesworth conducted the overture to a Wagner opera I’ll bet you’ve never heard of: Das Liebesverbot, or, The Ban on Love. I only know about this one because I took the mandatory survey course at music school at the university and never ran into it again till now. So this is the first and only thing I’ve ever heard from this opera:

Overture to Das Liebesverbot (1836)
Richard Wagner
Mark Wigglesworth, conductor
BBC Orchestra Wales

Or will ever hear, ever again. Just a bit…Mediterranean, wouldn’t you say?

But what amazes me more is the libretto, because Wagner—get this—chose for his source material the scuzziest, meanest sex comedy ever written, which is, of course, Measure by Measure by William Shakespeare. Yes, at the end hypocrisy is vanquished and everyone gets laid, but eeeeuuwww…

Now, think on the twenty-three year psychological-spiritual journey from Das Liebesverbot to this:

“Mild und leise” from Tristan and Isolde (1859)
Richard Wagner
Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Waltraud Meier, soprano
Beyreuth, 1995

I’m sorry, but when I hear that tune I want to see this face.

For the rest of you, behold Maestro Wagner.

Richard Wagner.jpg


[all tags]

Things I Did for Love, 1: Watched Get Carter (British MGM 1971, Mike Hodges Director) and Sarah Millican; and Listened to, But Didn’t Watch, The Orville

This is all bound up with my beloved John Wilson, Conductor being from Gateshead, of course. Even that Seth MacFarlane show.

Sarah Millican first. I swear, I tried listening to this fast-talking comedienne from nearby South Shields the middle of last year but could not keep up with her pace or her accent. Later I started watching old episodes of Auf Wiedersehn, Pet and Our Friends In the North but they’re just so…masculine, you know? Which I suspect pretty much defines Geordie culture anyway… So I started alternating watching that show with When the Boat Comes In, which was more successful for me, as the estimable Northumbria-born actress Jean Heywood provided a good model of what a feminine northeast accent sounds like. After her it was a snap to follow Millican.

Second, The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s Star Trek-like TV series. Like the 70s folksinger says, “I’m a stoner, I’m a trekker, I’m a young sky walker…” So yeh, I’d be interested in watching this show just to see if it measures up to the standards of my youth. Unfortunately, none of MacFarlane’s projects (except for pre-2013 Family Guy) ever sound interesting enough for me to overcome my intense personal dislike for him. So…maybe later. I did, however, listen to the show’s theme music, which was written by Andrew Cottee, the same young man who wrote some arrangements for The John Wilson Orchestra over in England. The theme does everything expected of it.

Third, Get Carter, 1971, starring Michael Caine and the City of Newcastle. Made this movie last on my list because it deserves two paragraphs, being the British noir classic that it is…

Sidebar: As we all now know from film school, existentialism is the engine of noir, which means that petty details like Michael Caine speaking in a thick Cockney accent* when his character’s supposed to be from Newcastle-upon-Tyne oughtn’t to matter to the sophisticated auditor. But I had a problem. I’m sorry. A year and a half ago I wouldn’t have cared, one Brit being the same as any other. Then I fell in love with John, Low Fell lad, and individuality suddenly became a very important thing to me.

The Movie Overall: Not quite sure why the filmmakers transplanted novelist Ted Lewis’s story from his original setting in Lincolnshire (Lewis’s birthplace), to Tyneside, but since it’s the classic story of the Anti-Hero’s Revenge, which works anytime, anyplace, it does fine here. Michael Caine’s a little podgy but quick with his reflexes and still a treat for the ladies. Lots of sex and violence, lots of local atmosphere, local faces, and landmarks like Tyne Bridge, the Newcastle Racecourse and, of course, the carpark across the Tyne River.

The Carpark in Gateshead Scene: By a stroke of luck Get Carter was just streamed on Criterion so I watched the entire movie, then to make sure, watched the carpark scene twice more in order to understand why it so sticks in the mind. Because it does, you know, even though I’m not a fan of movies like this. I guess it’s because there’s rather a high elegance to this scene that contrasts with all the mundaneness and phony poshness around it… Very arty, but a genuine statement. Or maybe it’s just because I like watching Michael Caine get all riled up.

Get-Carter-1971-Behind-The-Scenes-Michael-Caine-Brian-Mosely-Trinity-Square-Car-Park-Gateshead-2The now torn-down carpark at Trinity Square in Gateshead in this famous scene was a dreary piece of English Brutalist architecture that, according to its creator Rodney Gordon, was never meant to stand the test of time anyway. That’s the theme to The Orville above.

*I understand that a stage version of Get Carter was recently performed in Newcastle, with Carter’s accent spoken correctly.


[all tags]

On Conductor John Wilson’s Orchestral Sabbatical and The First Porn Movie I Ever Did, 3

Dearest John Wilson, Conductor, it makes me happy to be in your audience and I don’t require you at all to be in mine—mostly because, as Mister Grumble just pointed out, my flicks would probably give you a heart attack. And hand to God, I do not want to add to your anxieties in this, your time of spiritual transitioning.

It also makes me doubly happy that you’re going to be concentrating more on the Classic Repertoire this season, although it means leaving your faithful John Wilson Orchestra fans for a time. (I’m in your fan club because Claire’s a nice lady and she asked me twice, so I’m there up close noting people’s disappointment that you and your orchestra won’t be touring your native country this year.) Because when you’re not touring with American film music on the program, you’re not on the podium making the kind of quasi-witty comments that would make even me wince, and I used to be Arthur Godfrey’s gag man back in the fifties.

Now VoyagerNow, Voyager (1942): Bette Davis as brave Charlotte Vale and Paul Henreid as her handsome weenie of a lover in this BBC2 Saturday Afternoon Movie I’ll bet John saw once upon a time on a rainy day when he was a kid and couldn’t make head nor tail of, except for the music. Above: That’s Charles Gerhardt conducting the Max Steiner score, including the Warners Bros studio theme, which Steiner also wrote.

By the way John my sweet Geordie lad, I’m getting a kick out of imagining you form the word “porn”. Pohhhrnnn.

On that note, I just want to let all of you know that I realize it’s not hard to find me. Really. I’m in the IMDb. I don’t even have to fill you in on what my screen name is because IMDb seems to have switched pretty much every one of my credits back to my legal name anyway, so it would be kind of pointless… All right. It’s Simona Wing. My castmates in my first movie, Dork & Sindy aka Playthings, gave it to me, and I consider it quite a lagniappe. Mister Grumble used it for my character’s name in his first novel (Tales from the Last Resort, Brave New Books, 2002) and no one has been able to get better use out of it since.

I have pleasant memories of that shoot. For one thing, it was shot in Marin County. In Sausalito! In a house overlooking the Bay. Do you see in that pic those houses up in the hills? The white house above the red roof, that’s where we shot.

For another thing, Craft Services was fantastic. You could graze all day.

And it was a friendly, clean shoot. Does anyone here who saw the flick remember what I was wearing before the guy in sunglasses stripped me naked, threw me into the hot tub and started chewing on my behind? That white blouse, that long black skirt, those pumps? That was my secretarial outfit, the one I wore a few months earlier in Beverly Hills when I worked for Rouben Mamoulian. Practically every day, I was that poor (took Sunset bus to foot of Schuyler Road, got off, wearing sneakers climbed hill, at Mamoulian’s door removed sneakers, put on pumps which I carried in my handbag). I remember I had one line which has since been coming back to me regularly, because whenever I run into an occasional fan, he (and it’s always a he) tends to quote it to me:

“Marin County been bery, bery good to me.”

Now, you have to be a real Saturday Night Live geek to recognize that line, and I’m not going to decipher it for you. But I suppose this showed people I could do voices, because I got a lot of work from this film, almost all of it involving fakey foreign-sounding accents. Like Fatima, woman of Borneo, in the hardcore version of Sadie Thompson aka Rain by Somerset Maugham. I’m not kidding.


The entire film Rain with Joan Crawford is available on my YT channel here.


Part 1 “Full Dress” here.
Part 2 “Zombie Love Slave” here.
Part 4 “Lovelace” here.

Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

[all tags]

Suite from the Score of Truly Madly Deeply by Barrington Pheloung (1954 – 2019)

Mournful noodling distinguishes this piece. I remember the movie—adore the movie—but just don’t remember the music at all. Australian-born, Royal College of Music graduate Pheloung, who died last week at the age of 65, got some considerable write-ups for having been the composer of the popular Inspector Morse theme which, again, isn’t to my taste.

Truly Madly Deeply.jpg
Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman tug at our hearts in this off-beat romance.

I’m guessing the author of Waving, Not Drowning (which I reviewed on Amazon and below) borrowed the name for his fictional conductor, Barrington Orwell, from Pheloung. It’s a small world over there.


Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

[all tags]

My Amazon Review of Waving, Not Drowning by “Barrington Orwell” and Lev Parikian

There must be 17 people in the entire world for whom this book has any relevance. I am not one of them.

I, however, have fallen hopelessly in love with an English, middle-ranking orchestra conductor, and this book was on his Facebook Likes List, and since nowadays I will follow (almost) anywhere my beloved John Wilson leads me, here we are. Why else would I not only purchase, but listen to, 58 Fanfares Played by the Onyx Brass and Geraldo’s Greatest Dance Hits—which nevertheless I have come to adore?

What the argument of the esteemed late fictional dirigent, Barrington Orwell speaking through his still-living amanuensis, Lev Parikian—son of the noted violinist Manoung Parikian—seems to be is that the career of an orchestral conductor is not a happy one. It is of course a hazardous profession, notorious for causing insanity, emotional instability, ruined health and, in at least one case I read about in Slipped Discwhen a woman in Brighton rushed the stage during a performance of Rodgers & Hammerstein and stabbed the conductor with a no. 2 Dixon-Ticonderoga shrieking, “You have desecrated the music of my people!”—homicide. But Orwell, or Sir Barry if you prefer, so reverences the lofty position he himself holds that he places the blame for dirigental woes everywhere but on the dirigent himself: on the uncooperative/disrespectful weather; or concertmaster; or soloist; or composer; or entire orchestra—choose one. Or all. I’m surprised he didn’t bring up Bernstein vs the BBCSO, but maybe the English were right on that one.

Unfortunately, in no way has this slight volume helped me better grasp the mind of my beloved, although it managed to identify his type. When not on the podium he wears neither Armani nor Hugo Boss but rather attires himself in jeans, trainers, horn-rimmed glasses and, because of his preternaturally long arms, blue bespoke shirts. I think he’s about 11 stone. Apparently off the podium he’s a combination of The Scholar and Mister Shouty-Scary. On the podium, in full formal dress, he is a god.

Waving Not DrowningFind my review on Amazon here.

Which brings me to the theory of which I am the author: The conductor exists not for the orchestra, not for the composer living or dead (Good grief! Whoever had that idea?), but for the audience. Whether from a box at the opera or from the floor at the Royal Albert, the conductor is the friend, philosopher and guide we require and as such (except for that dishy second-desk violinist with the golden locks) ought to be our sole focus. Yes, it is a weighty role that demands an enormous amount of conviction and honest purpose in those foolhardy enough to accept it. But remember that it is We, the People, aka The Audience, who ultimately hold a conductor’s success or failure in our own sweaty hands.

~for Anthony Burgess


[all tags]