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.


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“The Bad and the Beautiful” by David Raksin, Arranged by Angela Morley, and Performed by The John Wilson Orchestra Conducted by My Beloved John Wilson

My bonny John was 30 when he recorded, with the orchestra that bears his name, this achingly tender theme.

I saw The Bad and the Beautiful (MGM, 1952) for the first time in New York when I was 20, at one of those great cinema art houses, the Little Carnegie I think. Anyone remember that fabulous nosh pit in the lobby of the Little Carnegie? It was set up to resemble an outdoor Parisian cafe, complete with wrought tables and chairs, painted scenery, etc… Here after the show my date treated me to a glass of cabernet and a flaky meat pasty, the leftovers of which the waiter wrapped up for me in a square of foil he molded into the shape of a swan.

The Bad and the Beautiful 2

What do you do when you’re a passionate actress still in love with a wounding bastard who’s a screen genius? You make the damn movie.

As for Bad+Beautiful: Cast headed by Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Gloria Grahame, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gilbert Roland, Walter Pigeon. Vincent Minnelli helmed. MGM, 1952. 5 Oscar wins. To feel the full effect, get your heart stomped on by a Hollywood louse before viewing.

The Bad and the Beautiful
Soft Lights and Sweet Music, album
Classic Angela Morley Arrangements
The John Wilson Orchestra
John Wilson, conductor
Vocalion, 2002

*Oscar-winning transsexual composer-arranger Angela Morley (1924-2009) has quite a story herself, which maybe I’ll get to in another posting. For now, here’s a 1977 article in the Independent that should whet your interest.

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

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My First Music: “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music by Rodgers & Hammerstein

And right around the time in history James “Smiling Cobra” Aubrey was turning MGM’s historical music scores into LA landfill and my beloved John Wilson was home in Gateshead falling out of his baby chair in excitement over the brand-new BBC news theme, forty-five years ago today—even down to the day of the week—I fled Minneapolis for New York and took a shared room at Sage House, a genteel women-only boarding house on 49 West 9th Street in Greenwich Village, New York.

With 2 meals a day included it came out to $33 a week. You read that right. A place in Greenwich Village, breakfast and dinner, for thirty-three dollars a week. Try to imagine the mischief I got into with all the money I had left over from my weekly paycheck from my first job as a solfeggist at ASCAP, that it’s summer in NYC, it’s 1973, I’m eighteen, cute as a button and old enough to drink, and gorgeous men are everywhere. And imagine too that I’m singing a song (in my heart and sometimes while bounding down the street) that every American girl of my generation inspired by Julie Andrews sang:

I have confidence in confidence alone
Besides which you see I have con-fi-dence in meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Sage House NYCThat’s Sierra Boggess singing above with The John Wilson Orchestra, BBC Proms, 2010.

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

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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.

The East Village, 1980s.jpgThey shot several episodes in my old neighborhood, the East Village, at great risk to star Woodward (two heart attacks and once he fell through a roof).

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.


Free pdf of my memoir re the Gyllenhaals A POET FROM HOLLYWOOD here.
Free epub of my 2014 Hollywod-based comedy mystery COLD OPEN here.
Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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My New York: 13 Essex Street, The Lower East Side, 1976

And tell me what street
Compares with Mott Street in July

Here in the same neighborhood on 13 Essex Street was my second apartment in New York; fourth floor walkup, one bedroom, tub in kitchen, $85 a month.

“Manhattan”
music by Richard Rodgers
lyrics by Lorenz Hart
sung by Ruth Tester
and Allan Gould, 1929

13 Essex StreetThis picture’s from the 90s. When I lived here in the 70s, the boutique was a kosher grocery that stayed open till 11pm. Above: Ella!

From the 1925 revue Garrick Gaieties. The song was introduced in the Gaieties by Sterling Holloway (eventually a Rocky and Bullwinkle stalwart) and June Cochran.

Free pdf of my memoir re the Gyllenhaals A POET FROM HOLLYWOOD here.
Free epub of my 2014 Hollywod-based comedy mystery COLD OPEN here.
Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.

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