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 nonetheless 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.


[all tags]

My Beloved John Wilson Conducts the Concordia Foundation Artists in Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in Southbank, November 2010

This 2010 clip was uploaded to YT as a fundraiser in 2020 for Concordia, a group dedicated to promoting and supporting struggling young musicians. My beloved John Wilson was one of those struggling young musicians, and now as guest conductor he leads Concordia Foundation Artists here in a performance of Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music from the Foundation’s 15th Anniversary Concert, held at The Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on 22nd November 2010, with a reading of the text by Founder and Artistic Director, Gillian Humphreys OBE. This is the piece that made Rachmaninoff weep.

John Wilson Conducts Concordia, 2010Above: Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music (1938) performed by John and Concordia.
How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!
Here will we sit and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony…

~William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act V

[all tags]

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

For those of you who know that, as well as being a retired porn actress, I also write porn for a living (actually “women’s erotica” but you know and I know it’s porn, lady porn, but PORN), Full Dress being a riff on my old boss Rouben Mamoulian’s classic The Song of Songs—you know, the one where Marlene Dietrich has a rich would-be composer for a husband and a young, sensitive, bespectacled conductor for a lover, inspiring them both to artistic heights through her Mighty Marlene Power. Oh, baby. This is the movie that inspired me to emulate you in my youth.

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 below) I thought I’d spend a posting to tell you all how I got my first gig in pictures.

John ExposedAbove John’s arousingly exposed suspender: Marlene Dietrich, who my old boss in Hollywood Rouben Mamoulian cast in his 1933 film The Song of Songs, sings a love song to mi amor.


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 our national treasures?**

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


[all tags]

Letter to Leonard Bernstein from Felicia Montealegre, Late 1951

An 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 acting in television (watch Felicia as Mildred in Of Human Bondage on Studio One on my YT channel here):

Lenny and FeliciaAbove the newlyweds: Bernstein’s early piano composition, “Four Anniversaries: 1. For 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


[all tags]

A Great American Songbook Song for My Beloved John Wilson, Conductor: Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” from Jubilee (1935) Sung and Played by Pete Townshend

BBC’s resident singer/interviewer Clare Teal welcomes Proms stalwart and all-around “shouty scary” (her description) conductor John Wilson to the studio to talk about his new CD album Cole Porter in Hollywood and his orchestra’s 2014 tour, as well as spin a few swing platters, none of which we hear in entirety. Toward the end of the interview John Wilson Orchestra drummer Matt Skelton rips through “Begin the Beguine”.

John and ClaireClare Teal and Conductor John Wilson, 28 September 2014. Above John and Clare: Pete Townshend sings “Begin the Beguine“.

“Begin the Beguine” is a song written by Cole Porter (a song is music with WORDS John, you know?) who composed it at the piano in the bar of the Ritz Hotel in Paris. The beguine comes from the Caribbean; it’s a combination of French ballroom dance and Latin folk dance and was popular in Paris at the time Porter was writing.

The song is notable for its 108-measure length, departing drastically from the conventional thirty-two-bar form. Where a typical standard popular song of its time was written in a fairly strict 32-measure form consisting of two or three eight-measure subjects generally arranged in the form A-A-B-A or A-B-A-C, “Begin the Beguine” employs the form A-A-B-A-C1-C2 with each phrase being sixteen measures in length rather than the usual eight. The final C2 section is stretched beyond its 16 measures an additional twelve bars for a total of 28 measures, with the twelve additional measures providing a sense of finality to the long form. The slight differences in each of the A sections, along with the song’s long phrases and final elongated C2 section at the end, give it unique character and complexity. The fact that the song’s individual parts hold up melodically and harmonically over such a long form also attests to Porter’s talent and ability as a songwriter.

Porter reportedly once said of the song, “I can never remember it—if I want to play I need to see the music in front of me!” Alec Wilder described it in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950 as “a maverick, an unprecedented experiment and one which, to this day, after hearing it hundreds of times, I cannot sing or whistle or play from start to finish without the printed music”.

Pete Townshend
Begin the Beguine
Cole Porter, words+music
Another Scoop (1987)
Pete Townshend Catalog

When they begin the beguine
It brings back the sound of music so tender
It brings back a night of tropical splendor
It brings back a memory ever green

I’m with you once more under the stars
And down by the shore an orchestra’s playing
And even the palms seem to be swaying
When they begin the beguine

To live it again is past all endeavor
Except when that tune clutches my heart
And there we are, swearing to love forever
And promising never, never to part

What moments divine, what rapture serene
Til clouds came along to disperse the joys we had tasted
And now when I hear people curse the chance that was wasted
I know but too well what they mean

So don’t let them begin the beguine
Let the love that was once a fire remain an ember
Let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember
When they begin the beguine

Oh yes, let them begin the beguine, make them play
‘Til the stars that were there before return above you
‘Til you whisper to me once more
Darling, I love you

And we suddenly know what heaven we’re in
When they begin the beguine
When they begin the beguine


[all tags]

Dylan Thomas, Rouben Mamoulian, and a Christmas Memory for My Beloved John Wilson, Conductor

22 December. 40 years ago in Beverly Hills I was sitting in the alcove-cum-office that I shared with my boss, The Old Man, Rouben Mamoulian. It was late afternoon, the Friday before Christmas weekend, and I was eager to get back home to my boyfriend Sol and our little room behind Musso & Frank. But there were a few more things to do before I could leave.

Mamoulian Queen ChristinaNot Oklahoma, of course, but Queen Christina (1934) with Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. Oklahoma I’ll get to presently.

The Old Man reached behind him on his desk for a volume that had a paper bookmark in it and asked me to read aloud. I found the place and began; it was a poem I’d never read before, called “Fern Hill”:

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

After I read the entire poem out loud he sat back in his chair with a dreamy look and, pointing to a passage, asked me to read it again.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden…

And here he sat up and whispered fiercely, “A cock on his shoulder…” And here he leaned over and, laying a hand on my knee, directly looked into my face and said urgently, “Yes, yes! That is what it was like! When I was a boy…” And I want to tell you his eyes were glistening a little bit when he said that but I’m afraid to be mocked for cheap sentiment. But yes, yes, The Old Man had tears in his eyes when I read him “Fern Hill”.

So that was his Christmas present to me (plus a few extra dollars Christmas bonus) and it’s a Christmas present I want to give to you, John, not just because I’m in love with you and want to give you nice things, but because I want you to know something about the man you made such a careless remark about and why I’ll be spending some time upholding his memory and reputation.

Everyone else, a very Merry Christmas and Other Assorted Holiday Cheer.


[all tags]

Pete Townshend’s Dad Cliff and The Squadronaires Perform “Rock’n’Roll Boogie”, 1956

From Who I Am: A Memoir by English progressive rock band The Who’s Pete Townshend (Harper, 2012):

The Squadronaires.jpgThe Squadronaires, “Rock’n’Roll Boogie”, 1956.

“In 1945 popular music had a serious purpose: to defy postwar depression and revitalize the romantic and hopeful aspirations of an exhausted people. My infancy was steeped in awareness of the mystery and romance of my father’s music, which was so important to him and Mum that it seemed the centre of the universe. There was laughter and optimism: the war was over. The music Dad played was called Swing. It was what people wanted to hear. I was there. …”

“As the son of a clarinettist and saxophonist in the Squadronaires, the prototypical British Swing band, I had been nourished by my love for that music, a love I would betray for a new passion: rock‘n’roll, the music that came to destroy it.”


[all tags]

The Rio Grande by Constant Lambert, Broadcast Live from the Royal Albert Hall, 12 September 1959

A very nifty, lively, jazzy modernist piece written by Constant Lambert (The Who manager Kit Lambert’s dad) in 1927. Australian virtuoso Eileen Joyce, who famously played the heart-wrenching Rachmaninoff in the film Brief Encounter (entire film here), is at the piano here. County Antrim-born Jean Allister, contralto soloist, joins her with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Chorus. At the podium is Sir Malcolm Sargent.

lambert-piccadilly-arcade

Composer-novelist Anthony Burgess, in his autobiography Little Wilson and Big God (Burgess’s original name was John Wilson; his middle family name was Burgess and his confirmation name was Anthony) wrote,“Lambert, who admired Duke Ellington and proclaimed his harmonic roots in Frederick Delius (who in his turn had taken them from Debussy), was a fearless reconciler of what the academies and Tin Pan Alley alike presumed to be eternally opposed. I was present at that first performance, and so was my father. And, in 1972, on a plane from New York to Toronto, I found myself sitting next to Duke Ellington, who spoke almost with tears of the stature of Lambert, admitted that he had learned much from both Delius and Debussy, and expressed scorn for the old musical division, which had been almost as vicious as a colour bar. He had lived to see it dissolve and jazz become a legitimate item in the academic curricula.” [More Burgess on Lambert here.]


[all tags]

“Changing My Tune” from The Shocking Miss Pilgrim by George & Ira Gershwin and Rescued by Composer Kay Swift

Castles were crumbling
And daydreams were tumbling
December was battling with June
But on this bright afternoon
Guess I’ll be changing my tune

We can thank composer-arranger Kay Swift, composer of “Fine and Dandy” and George Gershwin’s married secret lover, for making sure this song found its perfect setting in this 1947 20th Century Fox musical after his untimely death ten years earlier.

Swift GershwinAbove Kay Swift and her secret love: Barbara Cook and Tony Perkins sing “Changing My Tune” in Ben Bagley’s legendary recording series of deep Broadway cuts.


“When someone in the story is famous, every moment of his existence has, for people who care, an aura of significance, and there will always be people with a quasi-authority who think they know things they could not possibly know, simply because they have a lot of information and curiosity and a sense of entitlement to “the truth” about George Gershwin, as if sufficient obsession and possession of a lot of verifiable facts can earn both entitlement to and knowledge of the unknowable.”

from The Memory of All That (Broadway Books, 2012)
by Katharine Weber, Kay Swift’s granddaughter

[all tags]

My First Music: How the English Do It—Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto in Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter—David Lean, director; Noel Coward, producer; Cineguild 1945.

Brief EncounterAbove: Rachmaninoff’s entire Piano Concerto No. 2, played by Australian pianist Eileen Joyce in the famous ending of Brief Encounter.

From Jeremy Paxman’s 1998 The English: A Portrait of a People:

Take David Lean’s 1945 tale of forbidden love, Brief Encounter. The couple meet in the tearoom of a railway station, where she is waiting for the steam train home after a day’s shopping. A speck of coal dirt gets caught in her eye and, without a word of introduction, the gallant local doctor steps forward and removes it. The following eighty minutes of this beautifully written movie depict their deepening love and guilt each feels about it. …

As Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto comes and goes in the background, their affair unfolds, measured out in cups of tea in the waiting room of Milford station. … Being English, Celia Johnson feels no animosity towards her husband, whom she considers “kindly and unemotional”. Trevor Howard, equally trapped in a dry marriage, also expresses no hostility towards his wife and children. But the two of them are in the force of a passion they can hardly control. “We must be sensible,” is the constant refrain. “If we control ourselves, there’s still time.” In the end, despite all the protestations of undying devotion, the romance remains unconsummated…

What does this most popular of English films tell us about the English?


The entire film Brief Encounter is available on my YT channel here


[all tags]

The Equalizer Comes to New York’s East Village, Plus Stewart Copland’s Theme Music

With the coolest theme on American TV, The Equalizer introduced Copeland’s stunningly unique sound to the mainstream audience. In keeping with the series’ mash-up concept of “tradition merged with New Age high tech,” Copeland’s musical accompaniment would, one: with the exception of hero Robert McCall himself, forego the Wagnerian structure of identifiable leitmotifs, and instead choose to score the city of New York itself as a primary character; and, two: fuse classical structure with the combo of  “percussion carrying melody and synthesized strings” attached to world rhythms. Copeland’s would be a coldly ethereal yet dense “urban ballet” sound inexorably linked to the modern cityscape. This sound would influence composers such as Hans Zimmer and Thomas Newman.

610 East 9th Street NYCThey shot several episodes in my old neighborhood, the East Village, at great risk to star Woodward (two heart attacks and once he fell through an apartment building roof–not ours thankfully). That’s 610 East 9th Street, where we lived 1981-86. Rent for our 4-room inc full kitchen and full bathroom, 2 bedrooms and 1 living room, facing street: $250/m. You read that right. $250 a month.


Copeland was born in 1952. The son of CIA officer Miles Copeland, Jr (who appears as a character in Norman Mailer’s epic spy novel Harlot’s Ghost), he took up the drums at 12, was raised internationally in Cairo, Beirut, the US and England; and throughout the 1970s alternately worked as road manager and backup drummer for various groups until founding in 1977, along with Sting and Henry Padovani (later replaced by Andy Summers), the English progressive rock band The Police. After The Police went on extended hiatus in 1986, the drummer with a composer’s sensibilities dove headlong into scoring—to this day, one of his most notable works is as musical voice of The Equalizer, on which he composed 51 of 88 total episodes of the series.


[all tags]

Antoni Mendezona Sings “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” from the Opera Noli Me Tangere

Music by Felipe de Leon, libretto by Guillermo Tolentino. Noli Me Tangere is based on Dr. Jose Rizal’s 1887 classic novel of the same name. It follows the story of Juan Crisóstomo Ibarra y Magsalin, who returns home to the Philippines after pursuing scholarly studies in Europe. He plans to open a school and marry his sweetheart, Maria Clara (where we get the name of the dress I’d love to make and wear again), but Padre Damaso, arch-enemy of the Ibarras, sets out to thwart Crisostomo’s plans, creating the dramatic—and very operatic—storyline of forbidden love, betrayal, and revenge. “Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa” is one of the great soprano mad scenes in opera.

Awit ng Gabi ni Sisa from Noli Me Tangere (Felipe De Leon)

From the 2011 University of the Philippines production. Info on Cebuana coloratura Mendezona can be found at her website here.


[all tags]