By the way John, if it were in your power to enter the mind and body of any orchestra conductor who ever lived—while they were conducting a particular piece at a particular time and place—who would be that conductor? and what would be the piece, and where and when?
John’s pop fans in Britain have nothing to worry about—all the goodness of The John Wilson Orchestra (1994-2019) is now squeezed into his new/old/new group, the Sinfonia of London. Thank Kennedy Street Productions, who brought Barry Manilow and Gladys Knight to UK’s shores, for this shrewd spectacular run aimed at the 2023 Holiday Season. Now we’ll hear the rest of the movie music John’s been transcribing all these years.
More info to come as I find it. I understand as of 2 December 2022 tickets are already flying off the box office shelves.
Meanwhile here’s The John Wilson Orchestra‘s “signature” tune, the MGM Overture composed by Johnny Green; more info on that medley here.
John mi vida, white-hot flame of my heart: In celebration of your latest award, I’m serenading you tonight with a song I know you know, because you’ve played it and I’ve sung it, and somewhere in that magical Music Room out there, you and I are playing and singing it together.
Above John, his award, and a Chandos exec: Eric Coates’s enduring 1926 sheet music hit, “Bird Songs at Eventide” sung by Liverpool-born mezzo Kathryn Rudge, played by RAM professor James Baillieu.
Over the quiet hills
Slowly the shadows fall;
Far down the echoing vale
Birds softly call;
Slowly the golden sun
Sinks in the dreaming west;
Bird songs at eventide
Call me to rest.
Love, though the hours of day
Sadness of heart may bring,
When twilight comes again
Sorrows take wing;
For when the dusk of dreams
Comes with the falling dew,
Bird songs at eventide
Call me to you.
~Harry Rodney Bennett (1890-1948), writing as Royden Barrie
There is so much to love in this Joan Crawford flick I hardly know where to begin. Firstly, it is my second-favorite Crawford movie (the first being Rainobviously, as I was in the 1980 version). Secondly, Oscar Levant. Oscar Levant! Novelist Nora Johnson’s object of teenage lust!
Thirdly, the B&W gorgeousness of the movie itself.
A few insights on the orchestral pieces of the lively and prolific Richard Rodney Bennett (“A Collage Artist” will be the post’s title) to be finished as soon as I, one, do a little necessary sex writing, and, two, actually buy the complete Chandos 4-volume set of the work of John’s distinguished mentor, conducted by John. For now, here’s a recording from a BBC broadcast (yes, bonny John is conductor) that starts off with a few words from the composer himself:
NOTE: “[The English temperament] is disciplinable, and steadily obedient to certain limits, but retaining an inalienable part of freedom and self-dependence, [with a propensity for] spending its exertions within a bounded field, the field of plain sense, of practical utility.” ~ Matthew Arnold The Study of Celtic Literature (1867)
From The Guardian, Fiona Maddocks: “The final work, Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, was one of the best, most alert and detailed performances you could hope for. Wilson, whose gestures on the podium are so unassuming he appears to do nothing more than beat time, had scrutinised the score, and asked probing questions about every familiar phrase, making it fresh. The Sinfonia of London, mostly a recording ensemble, is made up of leading principals or chamber musicians who want to play for Wilson. You can hear their devotion.”
MY BELOVED CONDUCTOR SPEAKS!
[Proms Director] David Pickard and I had a conversation about Sinfonia Of London’s connection in the past to English music, principally John Barbirolli’s famous record of English music for strings and it is as we know Ralph Vaughan Williams’s 150th anniversary so I thought opening with the Tallis Fantasia would be (a) good thing. And built that around I guess the English romantics and a fairly recent work by a living composer, Huw Watkins, who is Welsh and one of my favorite composers and a piece which he actually happened to write for Adam Walker, who’s our principal flute. The rest of the program con-sists of things you might know and you might not know. Walton’s Partita, which is a tour de force but it’s rarely done, and I think that’s because it’s so impossibly difficult. … Very difficult! One of the first violins came up to me and he said, “This is absolutely bloody murder!” We really sweated over it, and I—I hope to pull it off.
Love this cover. Actually, it’s kind of sophisticated. Look! It has the magic words Hollywood and John Wilson and nothing more need be said. Now I know what to get for Christmas for my other old lady friends.
Above: John conducts the Sinfonia of London in Frederick Loewe’s “Embassy Waltz” from My Fair Lady.
Here’s an American musical film starring Eleanor Powell and James Stewart, directed by Roy Del Ruth and released in 1936 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The score, a smutty parody of HMS Pinafore, was composed by Cole Porter.
The plot is sublimely ridiculous: While on leave, sailor Ted Barker (played by James Stewart) meets Nora Paige (Eleanor Powell) at the Lonely Hearts Club, which is owned by Jenny Saks (Una Merkel), the wife of fellow sailor “Gunny” Saks (Sid Silvers), oy. Ted instantly falls in love with Nora. Ted later meets Broadway star Lucy James (Virginia Bruce) aboard a submarine while she’s on a publicity tour. Her damn dog falls overboard, Ted rescues it, and Lucy falls in love with him. Though Ted has already scheduled a date with Nora, he is ordered by his captain, Dingby (Raymond Walburn), to meet Lucy in a nightclub.Nora, who lives with Jenny and her 4 year-old daughter, Sally (Juanita Quigley), aspires to become a Broadway dancer. However, her newfound career is in serious jeopardy when she inadvertently comes between Lucy and her producer McKay (Alan Dinehart). Nora distances herself from Ted after seeing pictures of him and Lucy in a newspaper the next morning.Lucy pressures McKay to stop the press campaign, threatening to leave the Broadway production if any more photos or articles about her and Ted are published. Nora becomes Lucy’s understudy and re-considers her attitude towards Ted. But she’s suddenly fired after McKay tells her to perform a dance that Lucy considers undanceable. Ted, of course, to the rescue. That’s our Jimmy.
Besides Eleanor Powell and James Stewart, the cast also featured Virginia Bruce (here singing the above song), Una Merkel, Sid Silvers, Frances Langford (as a brunette), Raymond Walburn, Alan Dinehart, Buddy-freakin-Ebsen, little Juanita Quigley, Barnett Walker, and Reginald-double-freakin-Gardiner as the policeman who conducts “Easy to Love”.
After wading through the unsurprising reviews of John’s 16 July concert at the Royal Albert, thought I’d list his upcoming performances:
Above: I’m afraid nothing on this list arouses my delight except the Martin-Blane standard, “Love”, here suavely sung by the co-composer himself, Ralph Blane; kickass arrangement by Ralph Burns, who 6 years later orchestrated Richard Rodgers’s No Strings.
The dates link to the ticket sites. The other highlights link to available recordings.
So speaks my beloved conductor John Wilson: ‘I am delighted beyond words to be taking Sinfonia of London on our first live tour, playing in some of the UK’s most exciting venues. All ninety of us are looking forward to welcoming audiences who know the orchestra through our recordings, our televised appearances at the BBC Proms, as well as anyone coming to hear us for the first time. We hope our programme will thrill and inspire you!’
From 4barsrest.com, an online publication that serves brass instrumentalists: The critically acclaimed big band and orchestral conductor (that’s my lad!) has accepted the role of Honorary President of the Yorkshire band Black Dyke. Chairman of the Board of Black Dyke Band Trustees, Trevor Caffull stated, “We are delighted that John Wilson has agreed to be our Honorary President and very excited with some of the initial thoughts shared regarding potential collaborations. In his early life, John was steeped in brass band culture. He has clearly lost none of his enthusiasm for the genre and we are very optimistic that this will evolve into a mutually rewarding association.”
About Fanfares: I fell in love with John the spring of 2018. The summer of 2018 was The Bernstein Summer. The summer my beloved John tried to oedipally murder Leonard Bernstein before an arena of cheering thousands at the Royal Albert; the summer I finally heard on YT his Proms Oklahoma! from 2017 with Mister Grumble and having to end up apologizing to my Oklahoman husband the rest of the year; but more importantly, this was the summer I decided to try to make as comprehensive a chronology as I could of John’s musical paths, as evidenced by the dates of live performances whether videoed or not, radio broadcasts, album recordings and so forth. In this way I hoped to be able to follow him on those various paths, perhaps to be rewarded, even if only for a moment, with hearing music as he hears it, or perceiving if only for a moment what he feels when he conducts. So when I bought Fanfares, it was not a completely whimsical purchase. When I read later on that, a few months after he recorded with Onyx at St Jude’s, John went on to tame the raucous festival orchestra of Circus Roncalli at their New Year’s show in Berlin, I knew I was on the right track.
So this is what I garner from John’s travels in brass. His Newcastle-Gateshead working-class background stands him in good stead in this field; as it’s in the north of England, among the factory and mine workers who were also dedicated amateur instrumentalists, that the uniquely British form of brass ensemble was not simply allowed to grow and thrive, but achieve such a high excellence of sound and musicality that concert composers were, and continue to be, attracted to write works for it, for example this ravishing masterwork by Scottish-born composer Peter Graham for the 165-year-old, 28-piece Black Dyke Band of Yorkshire.*
It was in and around groups like these, as a percussionist, as well as in amateur musical pit orchestras, as a conductor, where my beloved John Wilson as a teenager got his start, and where he first developed his “ear”.
Which brings us back to Fanfares played by the London-based Onyx Brass, or to be more accurate, the Onyx Brass 5 plus 6 friends. In this trailer @00:24, John gleefully declares his pleasure at hearing such a rich clear loud sound (“shatteringly loud” he laughs, “a thrilling sound”) from such a relatively small chamber group. A little brass does go a long way.
The album is a tribute to the impressive range of John’s genuine knowledge of the repertoire. The selections are grouped under each of the 15 featured composers, themselves grouped very loosely by era. If one listens seriously and openly to the entire record—there are 58 cuts—even an absolute neophyte to the field of British brass might be able to discern qualities in the music itself that distinguish traditional British music in general: for instance those certain intervals I talked about in “The Pure Joy of St Trinian’s and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness by Malcolm Arnold” that suggest stability, cohesiveness, and “rightness”. This is the music of pageantry.
John begins the collection with famed Master of the Queen’s Music, Arthur Bliss, near the top, and the Onyx Brass does his “God Save the Queen” with the reverence and swelling pride it deserves. Tuneful Arnold, who played first trumpet in the BBCSO, is well-represented here, as are Albert Ketelbey, Arnold Bax, Frederic Curzon, Eric Coates, etc etc. But the real gems come from Imogen Holst (Gustav’s daughter, 1907-1984) with her “Leiston” Suite (1967); Elisabeth Lutyens with her typically odd but compelling Fanfare for a Festival (1975); Michael Tippett with the “Wolf Trap” Fanfare (1980); and also Joseph Horovitz, my beloved John’s composition teacher at the Royal College of Music, with his “Graduation” Fanfare No 2”, which debuted in 2013 at the graduation ceremony of the Royal College.
Each of these later pieces may stretch the definition of what a fanfare actually is, but all of them contribute a superior musicality to the brass repertoire. John’s championing of these works—particularly Holst’s suite, which deserves to be included in general concert programs—shows me not only where his heart is, but also his head. And John Wilson’s head is something that’s been on my mind for the last four years.
*A brief look at the score excerpt of Graham’s “Metropolis 1927” will give you an idea of how large and fully-complemented a British brass band can be.
20 November, 1999. On this day 20 years ago, at 6AM, my bonny John Wilson made his first appearance on BBC radio when the morning show played his 1997 recording for Chandos of “The Tempter”, a theatrical music piece by the nearly forgotten, once popular, Welsh-English composer Sir Edward German (1862 – 1936), whose reputation John in his career has done a lot to restore. No, really. I’m into theatrical music so I should have known about this chap years ago, not just about Arthur Sullivan. So thank you, John, for Edward German. (I think you do a nifty Nell Gwyn Overture too.)
John was 25 when he conducted this, and even then showed his flair with bright theatrical pieces.
I don’t know what I did to please the gods but on this 2020 October morning, somehow, I took a perfect screenshot of John conducting, while watching the (UK time) 7:30pm performance of the Royal Academy of Music (Finzi, Strauss). “Metamorphosen” is from his new album on Chandos.
Above my beloved John, who I’m pleased to have captured as crisply and revealingly as Robert Elswit with his pic of Jake and Stephen Gyllenhaal (Steve’s gift to me): Himself conducting the Sinfonia of London in Strauss’s “Metamorphosen” (Chandos, 2022).