Then that changed. On the 10th of January this year the LSO completely canceled John’s concert.
Then on 8 April the LSO released on Marquee.tv a freebie fundraiser video concert with a couple of selections from the two earlier planned programs, plus Maurice Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales”, as well as Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess, A Symphonic Picture” arranged by Robert Russell Bennett and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Partita for Orchestra.
Hard sell from the LSO website: “John Wilson takes his personal favourites by Gershwin, Ravel and Richard Rodney Bennett, and presents them in glorious sonic Technicolor. Everyone knows that no-one—but no-one—conducts Gershwin with more verve and style than John Wilson. But today he gets even more personal, with joyous, multicoloured showpieces by two composers close to his heart: Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, and Richard Rodney Bennett’s brilliant Partita. For some, Rodney Bennett was the composer who did Four Weddings and a Funeral; for others, he was one of the finest jazz pianists of our time. But for Wilson, he was a friend, an inspiration, and ‘an absolute master’. This should be a treat.”
At the intermission talk with Cendrillon‘s director Fiona Dunn, my beloved John Wilson, mezzo Kate Lindsey, and soprano Danielle de Niese, the topic of debate was, What should Prince Charming look like in the 21st century?
Says John to the lovelies (here pictured): “I think having Prince Charming as Massenet stipulated, it fits beautifully within the whole kind of sonic picture of the whole thing. It’s not a piece that you could say fits on one musical plane, it’s got lots of colors. It’s one of the most colorful pieces he ever wrote… When I said I was doing this piece to people, they would say, Oh yeah, that’s a nice light sort of sweet little piece. It’s not a sweet little piece, it’s a big piece, there’s always another layer to get to and there’s always more detail to explore, always more depth every time. It’s not lightweight…”
Tell me of two operas more different in sexual tone than The Turn of the Screw (1954) and Massenet’s Cendrillon (1898) that my beloved John Wilson did within six months of each other, and I’ll faint. Not that story tone would mean anything to him, as you can read above…
Which is just as it should be. My beloved John wasn’t meant for[doing laundry now; more later]
EXTRA! The most John Wilsonish piece in Cendrillon.
“Marche des princesses” from Cendrillon, Act IV Jules Massenet, composer Academy of St Martin in the Fields Neville Marriner, conductor Capriccio, 1997
A new production of The Turn of the Screw from Opera Glassworks, conducted by John Wilson at London’s Wilton’s Music Hall, was three days from opening in March 2020 when the first lockdown hit.
Director Selina Cadell and producer Eliza Thompson managed to rebook the cast of six singers and 13 musicians (from John’s own orchestra, the Sinfonia of London) for a run in October. But as weeks of lockdown turned into months, it looked like the project would be scuppered.
At which point, they rethought it for film.
The stage director and producer took the opportunity to experiment. “We weren’t interested in live capture,” says Thompson. “But we didn’t want the fact that it was intended to be a stage production to be lost.”
This influenced not just their approach with singers and a working method with camera director Dominic Best across the 6-day shoot, but also with the individual players forming John Wilson’s orchestra.
With the perfectly captured, decayed grandeur of its main, high-vaulted space dating back to 1859, the thrillingly atmospheric, Victorian-era Wilton’s Music Hall translates perfectly into the chilly, remote country house and garden in which the ghostly actions occur. Designer Tom Piper seized the opportunity to make the entire building a film set.
“Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t have all the musicians there together,” says Thompson. “So with the auditorium completely filled, becoming a Suffolk reed bed, we’ve planted the musicians throughout the film. As the story progresses, it becomes more anarchic.”
Cadell and Thompson have capitalised on the opera’s unique construction, individual scenes interspersed with an instrumental theme and 15 variations, to enhance the work’s filmic, non-linear nature.
The performance, still in the edit prior to being distributed via arts channel Marquee TV, is an equally impressive advance born out of Covid necessity. The vocals were filmed live, with the singers using microphones but without the orchestra. Instead, using monitors, John Wilson conducted them against live keyboards. Once the singers’ tracks were laid down, the orchestra was recorded to fit the singers’ interpretations, which is how it should be. ~David Benedict, from The Stage, 20 Nov 2020
*Catch a glimpse of the man I love on the monitor at 00:33 or here at rehearsal.
I had a dream about you a few days ago, John. It was very short. You were maybe 17, 18… You were standing on Tyne Bridge looking down at the river… It was a cool glassy day and the river was cool and glassy… And you were standing there, thinking and pondering that this was the finest sight there ever was… Then you turned your gaze eastward, toward the North Sea… But all you could see was a shimmery horizon, and maybe it was the sea, but it was calm as well and it made you think about how infinite and endless it was (you were only 17, after all)… And then after a few more seconds of pondering you turned to look at me and you said, ‘And that’s when I decided to love Vaughan Williams.’
Above the maestro and the sea, Sakari Oramo conducts the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Chorus, the BBC Youth Choir, and soloists Sally Matthews and Roderick Williams in Vaughan Williams’s Symphony no 1.
That snooty critic fart Andrew Sarris once mock-praised my old boss Rouben Mamoulian for his early cinema innovations that never quite caught on. Hah! When’s the last time you were so proud of your old boss’s work you wanted to make sure the world never forgot it? So—here’s the most audacious musical film sequence ever directed, which magically links up the movie’s two singing stars Maurice Chevalier and Jeannette MacDonald:
Happy 2021, my darling Local Low Fell Lad Made Good. I just tried getting on your management’s website for you (johnwilsonconductordotcom) to check for your January gigs when I was sent to the sinister Your connection is not private page, which perturbs me a bit as it sounds like the server might’ve been hacked.
[Sorry, have to go be with Mister Grumble for a while. More later, promise.]
[2 Jan 2021 14:20] Later. I’m back, dear. Glad to see that fixed, for now. Mister Grumble and I had a date to listen to what I just found on YT: the 1978 NYE Grateful Dead concert from The Closing of Winterland—you know, the one where [legendary band manager] Bill Graham glides down to the stage on a giant lit joint (as I described it to my blind angel which he recognized at once)—and really, it was a great night, or so the Mister tells me. The Mister is the one who turned me on to The Dead, back at our old commune in San Francisco.
[making dinner now, Bavarian-style pork chops with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes; I’ll come back to wrap this up as soon as I can, promise]
[6 Jan 2021 14:21] Okay, now that I’ve served all your wonderful fans around the world, let me have my say.
The BBC Proms 2017 semi-staged production of Oklahoma! pissed off 3 people I care about even though one of them is dead: Mister Grumble, a proud Oklahoman, who hated to see this nuanced Sooner tale turn into some weird English panto; original 1943 director Rouben Mamoulian, who even though dead howled in his grave at your dismissive use of his name in promos, oh, and for perpetuating a “mistruth” about him and his artistic relationship with Agnes de Mille; and me for two things: one, your use of the Robert Russell Bennett orchestration (which was never meant to play to a room the size of the Albert) instead of the film orchestration (by Bennett+Courage+Sendry+Deutsch) which, if I remember rightly, you actually used in your 2010 show for the last number, “Oklahoma!”, and it was gorgeous; and two—Marcus Brigstocke as Ali Hakim!!!??? Who the hell at the BBC was responsible for thatwhitewashing? And why didn’t the UK press call the Beeb on it? (I mean, if you’re all going to be hoity-toity over Maria in West Side Story…) Now, I can lay the former at your door but maybe not the latter, as the Beeb seems to have gone off its rocker on its own… But c’mon.
But let that pass. What really impresses me about my lust for you is that it started me on the road to thinking about The Old Man again. And actually, really, I should thank you for that. Mamoulian ought to be remembered—not for being a cranky old has-been, but for having directed some classic pictures and classic stage musicals like, you know, Oklahoma! I knew him. Our minds matched. That there was some weird man-woman friction going on between us toward the end makes no difference. It fries me how little regard he gets nowadays, even in the film buff world. So, ultimately, there’s no rancor on my part toward you re Mister M. (As a matter of fact, I think I’ll work out all my mental stuff about Mamoulian in a mystery one of these days.)
But now my love, here’s the last item and I hope I can finish it before I have to go in to make dinner.
Okay. Here’s the connection between you and Mamoulian, and it has nothing to do with you as a musician. It has to do with that damn full dress of yours.
Front Row: What’s so enthralling to you about the music of Erich Korngold?
John: It’s very much his own style… You hear two seconds of music and immediately you know it’s by Korngold because by the way he was 13 or 14 he had a fully developed late-Romantic Austro-German style and, you know, had it not been for the Nazis and the Second World War he would have continued to develop his operatic skills, his symphonic skills, and he would now be as established as Richard Strauss…
Front Row: What made you choose the particular pieces [for the Chandos recording] that you did?
John: I think the Symphony, Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp, is the last great Austro-German romantic symphony and…it was written 1947 to 52, it took 5 years, and…I think it was the piece that Korngold spent, lavished the most time on. I think it was the piece that he felt was he felt he really had to write because it was a labor of love… And you know, he couldn’t get a satisfactory performance out of it during his lifetime because he was considered old hat…and in 1972 I think it was, it was discovered in the Munich orchestra’s library and the first recording performance given… And I just felt that the time had come for a revised sort of conception of this symphony of Korngold’s.
From MusicalCriticism.com, 2009: As part of the celebrations for Johnny Mercer’s centenary, the BBC Concert Orchestra mounted two semi-staged performances of his final stage musical, The Good Companions, at the Watford Colosseum in Hertfordshire. Conductor John Wilson—who led the phenomenally popular MGM Prom this August, as well as a fantastic concert performance of My Fair Lady in Gateshead in July—came together with an experienced cast that included Liz Robertson, Ian Talbot and Annalene Beechey to perform the show, which was first staged in London in 1974. The results could not have been more entertaining.
Above Inigo, Susie Dean and Miss Trant: Judi Dench, from the 1974 West End production, sings “Darkest Before Dawn”.
The Good Companions is based on JB Priestley’s most popular novel—indeed the work that solidified his reputation. It tells the tale of an upper-middle class woman who—quite against the advice of her relatives—decides to use her newfound wealth to fund a group of strolling players whose director has run off with all the money; escape is a strong theme of the show. One can see why the backstage musical flavour of the novel must have appealed to the book and song writers.
The libretto for the West End show was adapted by Ronald Harwood, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Pianist. Composer Andre Previn, former Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, wrote the music for the Gene Kelly film It’s Always Fair Weather and conducted the films Gigi and My Fair Lady. Lyricist Mercer received nineteen Academy Award nominations and was the lyricist of dozens of American standards including “Moon River” and “The Days of Wine and Roses”.
In short, the piece is an underrated little gem (the original cast album starring Judi Dench, John Mills and Marti Webb was briefly available but is now a rarity), and in conductor John Wilson’s taut performance all the nuances came through. It seems the project has been a labour of love for him: the original full orchestral score was lost after being simplified for amateur productions, and although some of the original performing parts were eventually discovered by Caroline Underwood of the Warner/Chappell music publishers, Wilson has had to restore parts of the score for which no material survived. He has rendered the work of Angela Morleyand Herb Spencer, the orchestrators of the original production, extremely sympathetically, and led the performance with verve.
With theMaida Vale Singers covering a range of smaller roles and raising the roof in the ensemble numbers, and the BBC Concert Orchestra playing at their exquisite best, this was a superb evening. One hopes the same team will explore more classic musicals in the future, but in the meantime the Radio 3 broadcast on 16 November at 7pm is not to be missed. ~Dominic McHugh
There were some particularly strong singers in the BBC Proms concert at the Royal Albert back in 2011 I take pleasure in remembering, on this gray Monday two days before The Inauguration. On va voir. “Serenade” from The Student Prince was one of my mother’s favorite numbers, she just thrilled to it, especially when Mario Lanza was singing. “Can’t Help Singing” was in my Deanna Durbin Songbook when I was a teenager. “The Man That Got Away” was sung at my friend’s funeral—the friend who left me all his Andre Previn records—by his grieving lover. And then there’s “Secret Love”.
Lead in this feature was a fascinating woman named Juliet Anderson, a classroom teacher who, in early middle age (39), started in porn and quickly became a star due to her talent in enthusiastic penilingism, plus she photographed well doing it. I was a little more delicate going about it but I think no less effective as a wiggly little lovedoll. Fan Brian likens this pose to the one in “Cantara, 1973” except in 1973 I was 18 and this flick was shot 8 years later on a proper set.