Murder On the Orient Express by Richard Rodney Bennett, Played by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, with the Composer on Piano, and Conducted by Marcus Dods (1974)

I must’ve seen this movie four, five times when it first came out, when matinees were cheap, and what kept calling me back—besides the lovely, lush, immersive experience of just sinking back into an engaging and sensually-satisfying film in an air-conditioned theater in the middle of smelly, sticky, hot Manhattan—was, of course, the music. I really, really dug the score, just like I really dug the score of Walton (mostly)’s Battle of Britain (@1:20), a few years earlier, and went back matinees to go hear it again and again. Which doesn’t mean I like all of Richard Rodney Bennett; I think I’ve gone to almost every other movie he did a score for and can’t remember the music to any of them.

But this one I could whistle for years, decades, afterwards, and the only thing that recently brought it back to mind was—yes! yes!—falling in love with my bonny conductor John Wilson. Because of his association with Bennett, you see. Oh, they owned a house together or some such relationship [download PDF of Feb 2020 issue of Gramophone here], but that’s not what I’m talking about. Back when John was 28, he and Bennett—and The John Wilson Orchestra!!!—got together to record, as I mentioned in an earlier posting, an abomination called Orchestral Jazz. So I’m figuring that anything my bonny lad knows about jazz has to’ve come from this guy, and the trouble is, I really can’t find anything that would lead me to believe Bennett knew anything at all about jazz, except that he once partnered with jazz singer Claire Martin, and she’s pretty genuine.

Murder On the Orient Express (1974).jpgDirected by Sidney Lumet, whose first film was about another dozen people meting out justice, 12 Angry Men (United Artists, 1957). Above Jean-Pierre: “The Orient Express“. Composer Richard Rodney Bennett on piano, Marcus Dods conducting the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, 1974.

But when it comes to purely orchestral music, Bennett shows that he knows a thing or two, Royal Academy graduate that he is. I’m glad, because his complete score for the film Murder on the Orient Express (Paramount, 1974) is probably the last example of a type of music they call over there English Light Music, which flourished on and off for about a hundred years since the 1870s, and is defined by easily accessible melodies and lush, decorative orchestration. In other words, music that’s delicious to hear and easy to digest. And while Murder has slightly campy touches, Bennett essentially knew who his audience was, and what they wanted.

EMI in 2014 reissued the entire original soundtrack score, with Bennett at the piano and Marcus Dods conducting the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

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

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“The Trolley Song” in A Celebration of Classic MGM Film Musicals with Conductor John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms, 1 August 2009

This is the song that led me to fall in love with English conductor John Wilson


“The Trolley Song” as performed at A Celebration of MGM Musicals is available here.


It was one evening after dinner a couple of years ago, and I was idly doing what I usually do after the washing up, which is trawl the internet for bits of interesting music. They’d been coming to mind either from the latest endorsements of FB friends, or from my furthest memories… Anyway, this particular evening I was remembering a poor joke (at actress Rosie O’Donnell’s expense!) made on an old, old TV cartoon show that stuck in my mind because the joke relied on the assumption that “The Trolley Song” was corny and/or second-rate.

Only thing, I don’t remember “The Trolley Song” as being corny and/or second-rate. In fact I remember the number in the movie, Meet Me in St Louis, as being rather gorgeous and lush and yummy, and not just because Judy Garland sang it. (Come to think of it, that joke also sounded like a cheap dig at gay culture, which fries me.) I hadn’t in years heard the complete version since it was played on the soundtrack  [more later]

John Wilson Orchestra, Criswell, RLPO 2012 .jpg
Dearest John Wilson, Conductor, I don’t care whether some guy at Warners made you up because he had to optimize the assets in his department, you’re real enough to me. And it doesn’t matter a damn bit how you got the gig. What matters is you did the work. Above Kim Criswell and John Wilson rehearsing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra: “The Trolley Song” from The Best of The John Wilson Orchestra (Warners 2019). [Photo by Eric the Fish King, 2012]

“The Trolley Song”
from the 1944 MGM film
sung by Judy Garland

“The Trolley Song”
from the 1944 MGM Film
music only track, no vocals
(thanks, Jack Campey!)

Orchestrator for this song—as well as the entire MGM musical Meet Me in St Louis—was Conrad Salinger. “He had a very individual, sophisticated sense of harmony,” said our John in a 2013 interview with the LA-based Film Music Society (of which I am a member). “It’s those very subtle and exclusive touches that he gave to those numbers that set him apart… Little touches of instrumentation, like alto flutes and French horns, that gave those pictures a sound world all their own. His specialty was that high­-class production number, the theatrical presentation of a popular song, or a balletic development of a number. In the hands of Salinger, you could be listening to Debussy or Ravel. He’s never going to be a household name, but that doesn’t diminish his stature.”

“The Trolley Song”
from Meet Me In St Louis (MGM, 1944)
orchestrated by Conrad Salinger
reconstructed by John Wilson
played by The John Wilson Orchestra
conducted by John Wilson
from the album That’s Entertainment!
A Celebration of MGM Musicals
Kim Criswell, vocalist
Warner Classics, 2012

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

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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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Stephen Sondheim, Earl Wrightson, and Irwin Kostal On American Musical Theatre, WCBS, 15 October 1961

In an episode of this television series, originally broadcast exclusively in New York City, Sondheim speaks before a workshop of NYC high school students, discussing the genesis of such songs as “Small World”, “I Feel Pretty”, and “One Hand, One Heart,” which are performed by Martha Wright and Ralph Curtis.

This show also includes question and answer period with Irwin Kostal, arranger and conductor for West Side Story. Hosted by Earl Wrightson. Produced by Ned Cramer. Directed by Neal Finn.

  • Everything’s Coming Up Roses – The CBS Orchestra
  • Small World – Martha Wright
  • Maria – Ralph Curtis
  • I Feel Pretty – Martha Wright
  • Tonight (Balcony Scene) – Ralph Curtis and Martha Wright
  • One Hand, One Heart – Ralph Curtis and Martha Wright
  • Mambo – The CBS Orchestra
  • Cool (Fugue) – The CBS Orchestra
  • Everything’s Coming Up Roses (reprise) – The CBS Orchestra

Sondheim, Wrightson, KostalLyricist-Composer Stephen Sondheim, Baritone/Host Earl Wrightson, Orchestrator-Conductor Irwin Kostal.

Here’s an excerpt:

Mr Kostal, what is the difference between an orchestrator and an arranger?

It refers specifically to what you find on the music. When a composer composes a piece of music, we hope that it’s a complete piece of music, and when a man like Mr Bernstein composes the music (short laugh) it is. So all you do, you just discuss with him what he’d like to hear, flutes, violins…and you follow exactly what is written on the paper. This is what I call orchestration. Now, I get to do very little of that kind of work…because nowadays composers don’t bother with too much detail…

Steve [Sondheim] here is the kind of man we need because he’s studying music, and believe me that is a rarity on Broadway, because most composers don’t… At one time in history, composers actually did their own orchestration. They had the time in those days…but also, they could do it. For instance, Victor Herbert was a tremendous orchestrator. On one television show I did recently I actually used Mr Herbert’s scores as he wrote them in 1916—I couldn’t do ‘em any better. He knew what he was doing. Kurt Weill was the last one to do this. George Gershwin never did it on Broadway, but he—after he became a successful songwriter—studied music and learned how to orchestrate so that by the time he did Porgy and Bess he was able to do a very good job on the orchestrations.

Now, in arranging—if the composer does not do his job properly, the orchestrator has to come in and finish the job for him. Now, you’d be surprised how many times I do Broadway shows where I get roughly a one-line melody, a lead sheet, and I have to add the bass line, the harmony, the chords, and if it goes on for four minutes or a routine I have to think of things for the flutes to play and the violins to play etcetera, and it becomes a hefty job and I really feel like I am a composer’s partner when I do this*… You know, the more you do of this sort of work, the less the composer likes it. Because he’s kind of mad at you because he didn’t do it himself, I think anyway. And it serves him right. He should do it himself. I think he should go to school himself and learn. We have too many lead sheets—sure, the melody is the most important thing in music, but too many of our composers have decided to write only the melody. They have separated melody from music. Now, the art of melody writing is not a separate art from music, it’s a part of music. And when they have written this top line and leave the rest to me, they’ve got to be dissatisfied because they didn’t do it themselves. Let them get down to their business and go to school and learn to write!

[*I wonder who’s he’s talking about. Shinbone Alley’s George Kleinsinger? Fiorello’s Jerry Bock? Surely not The Music Man’s Meredith Willson—Willson went to Juilliard.]


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

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Sid Ramin and Red Ginzler’s Overture to Gypsy and John Wilson Conducting The John Wilson Orchestra, BBC Proms 2012

The indication “burlesque strip stylewas actually written on the music right around 4:00. Both Ramin and Ginzler cut their teeth writing swing arrangements; lead trumpet in the original Gypsy pit was Dick Perry, late of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Solo trumpet Mike Lovatt here lays it down fine. Some people obviously know something about burlycue. Composer Jule Styne was pleased with this overture’s orchestration.


The entire 2012 BBC Proms concert The Broadway Sound with The John Wilson Orchestra is available here.


John Wilson Gypsy OvertureAbove my darling John: The entire audio recording of The Broadway Sound. @4:00 of this clip of the Overture my darling John Wilson shimmies like a brazen hussy. This is the moment one year ago today when I fell in love with you, my bonny, that lovely luscious moment when I stumbled onto that clip above of you at the Royal Albert and got your number

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

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Warsaw Concerto by Richard Addinsell, Played by Valentina Lisitsa with the BBC Concert Orchestra Conducted by Keith Lockhart, BBC Proms 2013

Warsaw Concerto Lisitsa Lockhart 2013
I love watching how Lockhart, official Guest Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra, scrupulously keeps in sync with not just his orchestra but with his soloist. It’s also a delight to watch at the beginning of the clip Lisitsa curtsying almost shyly to leader Cynthia Fleming.

Valentina Lisitsa, who started out as a YouTube sensation 12 years ago and is now counted as one of the foremost keyboard interpreters of the Eastern European Romantics, gives an intensely satisfying performance here of Addinsell’s “Warsaw Concerto“. The concerto was written for the movies—for, specifically, the 1941 movie Dangerous Moonlight, in which Polish concert pianist Anton Walbrook becomes a fighter pilot for the RAF, falls in love, gets amnesia, and composes some music. The movie, although a success from a propaganda viewpoint, was considered a potboiler by critics, and even the astute Anthony Burgess, who was an army sergeant and nascent composer himself at the time, looked down on the “Warsaw Concerto” as a cheap imitation of Rachmaninoff. Intellectual snobs have derided the piece, but it’s lingered in the memory for lo these many years, and is only now taking its permanent place in the Classic Repertoire.

For that we have to thank composer/film music restorer Philip Lane. It was to Lane that the musical estate of Richard Addinsell was entrusted and, like composer/orchestrator William David Brohn (for Prokoviev’s Alexander Nevsky) and my beloved John Wilson, Lane took on the task of reconstructing by ear written scores for film music whose manuscripts had been destroyed through carelessness or war. (Some suggest that the “Warsaw Concerto” was entirely the work of Addinsell’s orchestrator, Roy Douglas, who died in 2015 at the age of 107.) Addinsell’s—or Douglas’s—”Warsaw Concerto” was one of them. As Lane writes:

“The process of reconstruction does not get easier, but some films are more difficult than others. The biggest enemy is the combination of dialogue and sound effects over the music, and occasionally there are seconds of complete inaudibility when guesswork has to replace authenticity. The greater the composer, the more difficult the work, on the whole, since the melodic and harmonic language tends to be more adventurous. In the case of recent scores there are usually soundtrack CDs devoid of extraneous sounds to work from, but despite the change in status of film music, present day composers still mislay their scores. I have reconstructed music by Jerry Goldsmith, Randy Edelman and James Horner in the last year alone. If the composers are still alive I obviously encourage them to do the reconstruction themselves. So far, they have declined for various reasons.”

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

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“June Is Bustin’ Out All Over” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, Played by The John Wilson Orchestra, Conducted by John Wilson, BBC Proms 2010

There was one number in the entire JWO Salute to Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Proms that was worth a damn—only one, but it’s a doozy.

John Wilson June

June Is Bustin’ Out All Over
from Carousel (20th Century Fox, 1956)
Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II
Rodgers & Hammerstein at the Movies
Warner Classics, 2011

An impressive list of orchestrators went into the making of this film musical number, including Nelson Riddle, Earle Hagen (That Girl Theme, The Dick Van Dyke Show Theme, The Andy Griffith Show Theme) and John Williams; you can hear the layers and layers of gorgeous sound in John and his Orchestra’s rendition.

This clip is from the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, 2010, but really, listen instead to the cut above from The JWO’s 2011 recording. It’s really ravishing.

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

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John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra at the BBC Proms, the Royal Albert Hall, 27 August 2012: The Complete Concert of The Broadway Sound Including “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue”

Before I go into more of my bonny’s musical missteps that have done their part to perturb me to no end, I think it’s only fair to first share the best clips available of John Wilson’s own 24-year-old orchestra—cannily named, as I have mentioned, The John Wilson Orchestra—which, out of over 200(!) on YT in ten years, come down to really only about 4, maybe 5 of these “best clips” between 2009-2019.

This is from their 2012 show The Broadway Sound (@43:50) at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in London, which seats 5200, with standing room for 1300 on the ground floor (tickets for which go for only 6L and for which people camp out overnight at the box office like it was Winterland). This is pertinent, because it seems like The JWO only does its best work when it can blast the roof off a barn.

1 BBC Proms 2012 John Wilson.jpgJohn my love, if conducting this incredibly hot number (audio here; YT video here) didn’t get you laid that night, I worry about your generation. Above John: The audio recording of the complete show, The Broadway Sound.


The entire 2012 BBC Proms concert The Broadway Sound with The John Wilson Orchestra is available here.


I had the old Ben Bagley recording and the 1983 Broadway revival recording (conducted by John Mauceri) of the Rodgers & Hart show On Your Toes—which of course includes the climactic ballet “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”—but both producer Bagley as well as musical theater preservationist Mauceri put on disc the 1936 Robert Russell Bennett orchestration rather than the 1954 one by Don Walker. Our John, being John (I’m starting to get into his “ear”), chose the Walker score to play in the Royal Albertwhich of course makes the most of those two “false” endingsand for once he was entirely correct.

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

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“Chanson de Maxence” from Les Demoiselles de Rochefort by Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand, Sung by Anne Sofie von Otter

Je l’ai cherchée partout j’ai fait le tour du monde
De Venise à Java de Manille à Angkor
De Jeanne à Victoria de Vénus en Joconde
Je ne l’ai pas trouvée et je la cherche encore

Je ne connais rien de lui et pourtant je le vois
J’ai inventé son nom j’ai entendu sa voix
J’ai dessiné son corps et j’ai peint son visage
Son portrait et l’amour ne font plus qu’une image

Cleansing my aural memory of John Wilson’s recording of Legrand’s “Chanson de Maxence” (in English clumsily rendered as “You Must Believe in Spring” or some such) in his awful 2000 album, Orchestral Jazz, with Anne Sofie van Otter‘s 2010 version (Brad Mehldau, pianist). Bonny John conducts his eponymous orchestra in an arrangement by Richard Rodney Bennett, who had absolutely no feel for this song. With such a strong melody (reminiscent of Fauré) and strong lyrics, all it needs is a strong emotive singer and a backup piano. I note with some distress that John himself did some other arrangements in this album, particularly for “Miss Otis Regrets”. With no lyrics! What the hell good is such a hilarious song without the words???

Anne Sofie von Otter

John and The JWO are okay, but just okay. I suppose when he was 28 my bonny’s loftiest ambition was to be the next Sidney Torch.

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

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No Strings, a Broadway Musical with Words and Music by Richard Rodgers, 1962

No Strings
Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley are the American lovers in Richard Rodgers’s No Strings, 1962.

No Strings opened on Broadway in 1962 and ran for 580 performances. Rodgers got the idea for casting a black actress in the star role after seeing model-turned-actress Diahann Carroll on The Tonight Show, feeling that the casting spoke for itself and any specific references to race in the play were unnecessary. “Rather than shrinking from the issue of race,” said Rodgers, “such an approach would demonstrate our respect for the audience’s ability to accept our theme free from rhetoric or sermons.” The script was by Samuel A. Taylor, who wrote the play Sabrina Fair and adapted the book D’entre les morts by Boileau-Narcejac for the Hitchcock film, Vertigo.

Considered too risky by Broadway investors, the first production was almost entirely financed by Rodgers himself. Following out-of-town engagements in Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland and New Haven, No Strings finally opened at the 54th Street Theater on 15 March 1962. It was generally welcomed by the New York critics; at season’s end, it was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning three: for Joe Layton as choreographer, for Diahann Carroll as Best Actress in a Musical, and for Rodgers for his score.

Upon seeing the 2003 No Strings revival at Encores! The New York Times‘s Ben Brantley wrote: “The revelation of No Strings is that one of songwriting’s greatest collaborators had it in him to fly high on his own. And fly high he did. No Strings deserves to be better known than it is. The music is youthful and jazzy, almost a throwback to the Rodgers of Rodgers & Hart. The lyrics range, frankly, from serviceable to as good as they get. The relationship between the two leading characters at the heart of this musical is in the fine tradition of the attracting opposites found in all the Rodgers & Hammerstein shows, and the emotional stakes are as real today as they were in 1962.”

As the title hints, there’s no string section in this pit. In fact there’s no pit: The musicians are all on stage, playing and occasionally making appearances in the story. The orchestrator Ralph Burns eventually did record an orchestration with strings for his own band, but I haven’t heard it.

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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