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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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 but it’s 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 is being streamed on Criterion this month 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.

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On Conductor John Wilson’s Orchestral Sabbatical and The First Porn Movie I Ever Did, Part 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 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 beloved 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 freakin’ 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 when I worked for Rouben Mamoulian. Practically every freakin’ 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 Somerset Maugham’s short story, “Rain”). I’m not kidding.

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

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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 calculated 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.

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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, Freakin’ 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.

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On Conductor John Wilson’s Full Dress and the First Porn Movie I Ever Did, Part 1

Years ago there was a story in a Stephen King collection called “Full Dress, which was about a formal tailcoat that turns its wearer into an insane monster. Eventually it gets worn by a struggling young conductor, and the usual King bloodletting evolves (“It’s not you, it’s the coat!!!” shrieks the pretty soprano, right before Tillotson plunges his baton into her neck).

For some reason that came into to my mind. But just so you don’t go on thinking this is some kind of fanblog (really, I’m not a fan*, just crazy in love with the bloke) I thought I’d spend a posting to tell you all how I got my first gig in pictures.

John Wilson.jpegImmaculate white full dress shirt with detachable wing collar, white dickey, white bow tie, white waistcoat, studs, cufflinks, striped trousers, and a spare tailcoat in the dressing room—my bonny lad is set

This happened in San Francisco—in the 70s a paradise for the sexually adventurous—and coming after the time I worked as classic film director Rouben Mamoulian’s amanuensis, which was after the time I posed nude for a blind sculptor in St-Paul-de-Vence, which was after the time I danced topless in a mob-run bar in Red Hook, which was after the time I was the night solfeggist at ASCAP

So anyway. One lovely summer evening about six weeks after I hit the city I went with a (legit) actress friend to a house party up on Potrero Hill, mostly because she enticed me with the information that the party would be featuring a hot tub. (Am such a pushover for hot tubs.) Well, at the party there was this cute but obvious older guy from London (trimmed ginger beard, open shirt, bead bracelet—no one goes California like the English) named Paul, who owned the house and who invited me seulement for a session of coke+quaaludes and a nice soak later, after all the other guests have left. Then he gave me his card. (This was only the second time a man ever gave me his business card before we had sex, and it wouldn’t be the last)…

Part 2 “Zombie Love Slave” here.
Part 3 “Sausalito Hot Tub” here.
Part 4 “Lovelace” here.

*No, really, I’m in love with John but he plows through Gershwin like a bull moose and treats Bernstein like Bernstein’s Saruman and he’s Frodo. How could any red-blooded American woman countenance such effrontery to her national pride?**

**He does, however, conduct Elgar and Vaughan Williams like an angel.

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Letter to Leonard Bernstein from Felicia Montealegre, Late 1951

My bonny conductor John Wilson’s stunningly ignorant and thoughtlessly glib dismissal of Bernstein’s marriage to Felicia Montealegre brought me back to this extremely private but deeply moving letter, published in a collection by Yale U Press in 2013. This was written around the time she had just married Bernstein and was still working in television:

Lenny and Felicia

Darling,

If I seemed sad as you drove away today it was not because I felt in any way deserted but because I was left alone to face myself and this whole bloody mess which is our “connubial” life. I’ve done a lot of thinking and have decided that it’s not such a mess after all.

First: we are not committed to a life sentence—nothing is really irrevocable, not even marriage (though I used to think so).

Second: you are a homosexual and may never change—you don’t admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain sexual pattern what can you do?

Third: I am willing to accept you as you are, without being a martyr or sacrificing myself on the L.B. altar. (I happen to love you very much—this may be a disease and if it is what better cure?) It may be difficult but no more so than the “status quo” which exists now—at the moment you are not yourself and this produces painful barriers and tensions for both of us—let’s try and see what happens if you are free to do as you like, but without guilt and confession, please!

As for me—once you are rid of tensions I’m sure my own will disappear. A companionship will grow which probably no one else may be able to offer you. The feelings you have for me will be clearer and easier to express—our marriage is not based on passion but on tenderness and mutual respect. Why not have them?

I know now too that I need to work. It is a very important part of me and I feel incomplete without it. I may want to do something about it soon. I am used to an active life, and then there is that old ego problem.

We may have gotten married too soon and yet we needed to get married and we’ve not made a mistake. It is good for us even if we suffer now and make each other miserable—we will both grow up some day and be strong and unafraid either together or apart—after all we are both more important as individuals than a “marriage” is.

In any case my dearest darling ape, let’s give it a whirl. There’ll be crisis (?) from time to time but that doesn’t scare me any more. And let’s relax in the knowledge that neither of us is perfect and forget about being HUSBAND AND WIFE in such strained capital letters, it’s not that awful!

There’s a lot else I’ve got to say but the pill has overpowered me. I’ll write again soon. My wish for the week is that you come back guiltless and happy.

F

from The Leonard Bernstein Letters
edited by Nigel Simeone
Yale University Press, 2013

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