Sexual Fantasies in a Time of Pandemic; Mamoulian’s Crying Violins; and Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Played by the RTE Concert Orchestra, Andrew Haveron, Soloist, with John Wilson Conducting

Before we get to what I think will be a nice and fair assessment of John Wilson’s new recording, a word to some people.

I have always been aware of the tacit agreement that exists between my screen persona Simona Wing and her fans, but let me now take this apt opportunity to state my position clearly: You all have my blessing to do whatever you want with me in your fantasies.

Because whatever you want to do with me in your fantasies is nothing compared to what I want to do with John Wilson in mine. So, go for it.

Now on to Korngold.

I didn’t realize this was still a thing in the music world, but apparently opinions continue to be strongly divided as to whether Erich Wolfgang Korngold—a true heir, by the way, to The Great Mittel European Romantic Tradition—deserves inclusion in the canon some snooty farts call the Classic Repertoire. You know, the one that has Bach and Beethoven and all those other cats. It’s no secret that when you mention the name Korngold, the average music lover’s first thought is of upmarket movie soundtracks (Anthony AdverseThe Adventures of Robin HoodThe Sea HawkCaptain Blood) and likely never gets around to the fact that Korngold wrote, among other things, the most luscious symbolist opera of the 20th century, Die Tote Stadt, in 1920, and a hell of a gorgeous violin concerto 25 years later: I, II, III(Click here to subscribe to the RTE Concert Orchestra channel and support them.)

So it seems like every generation there has to be one nut who comes along and says, Let’s run Korngold past the hoi-polloi again and see if he’ll fly—and if you think I’m talking about you, John Wilson, you’ve got a swelled head. Because the nut I’m talking about is the nut in the CIA. The anonymous nut who got The Company to fund an enterprise back in the early 70s called “The Golden Age of Hollywood Music” and hence to elevate Korngold to the status of Hollywood Royalty—but through his film scores and his film scores only.

But that story later.

We’re here right now not just to size up a new Korngold recording, but to honor the decades-long musical relationship of Andrew Haveron, violinist, former Leader of The John Wilson Orchestra, current Leader of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and conductor John Wilson, whose career in orchestra building started at the age of 22 and hasn’t stopped since.

Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D, their latest Chandos release, was going to get my attention with or without the Winsome Lad of Low Fell anyway, as I’m a sucker for this particular style and era of music. But I was glad to learn about their actual friendship as well; for me it explains why the perfect communication that’s so evident here between Haveron and my John (and through him, to the estimable RTE Orchestra) has some of the magic of Barenboim+du Pré, back in the brief days when those two were cooking hot with Elgar.

This is soloist Haveron’s star turn: a warm, fresh, intimate—revelatory even—rendition of a piece that, let’s face it, is kind of like the “Nessun Dorma” of violin concertos. But this is John’s success too. So much of my bonny’s gift for conducting Korngold, as we know, has to do with his insistence on a technique his PR people call “shimmer” but is actually wrist vibrato on strings, a technique in fingering I learned about and taught myself when I was 14 because I liked the sound it made, although when the orchestra teacher put it down for sounding cheap and sloppy I quit it.

But I know the sound of shimmer and you do too. The John Wilson Orchestra practically patented it. John himself still calls for it whenever he conducts Tchaikovsky. It’s in all the high-toned movies of the 1930s (examples above). And it would have been in Rouben Mamoulian‘s classic film musical Love Me Tonight had The Old Man (my old boss, incidentally) been able to make Paramount’s musical director Nat Finston understand what he was talking about when, in a certain musical scene, he said he wanted “crying violins”. But I could tell what he was talking about when he told me this story 46 years later.  

Korngold Violin Concerto String SextetNOTES for Korngold: Concerto & Sextet (Chandos, 2020) can be found here.

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, 26 August 2013: The Complete Concert of Hollywood Rhapsody Including “Casablanca”

Disappointing to hear that John won’t be doing Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at Wilton’s Music Hall in London this month. So, to cheer everybody up, here’s the FULL 2-HOUR PROGRAM of my John and The John Wilson Orchestra at the Proms, 2013. That’s Jane Monheit, John, and Matt Ford below.

John Wilson Orchestra BBC Proms 2011 (Monheit, Ford)


The entire 2013 BBC Proms concert Hollywood Rhapsody with The John Wilson Orchestra is available here.


The full program (with remarks as they come to me):

  • 20th Century Fox Fanfare (from the studio, 1933) / Alfred Newman
  • Street Scene (from the 1931 film; Sam Goldwyn/United Artists) / Alfred Newman
  • “Confetti” (from Forever, Darling; MGM, 1956) / Bronislaw Kaper Just wish that this really delightful period piece weren’t associated with the stupidest cinematic use of James Mason (a fine English actor and fellow cat-loving chum of my old boss, Mamoulian) ever concocted and omigod—is this one of the pieces you reconstructed, John? Pleeease tell me, whenever you and I keep that date at the Metropole.
  • Laura (suite; from the 1944 film; 20th Century Fox, 1944) / David Raksin
  • Psycho: A Narrative for String Orchestra (from the 1960 film; Paramount) / Bernard Herrmann
  • Salammbo’s Aria (from Citizen Kane; RKO, 1941) / Bernard Herrmann (with Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva)
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood (from the 1938 film; Warner Bros) / Erich Korngold
  • 25-MINUTE INTERVAL In which my beloved John, at 41 years back in 2013, pours out his hopes and dreams.
  • The Big Country (from the 1958 film; United Artists) / Jerome Moross
  • Casablanca (suite from the film; Warner Bros, 1942) / Max Steiner, Schneckenburger, Wilhelm, de Lisle, Herman Hupfeld
  • SONG MEDLEY:
    – “An Affair to Remember” (from the 1957 film; 20th Century Fox) / Harry Warren, Leo McCarey (the film’s director), Harold Damson
    – “Something’s Gotta Give” (from Daddy Long Legs; 20th Century Fox, 1955) / Johnny Mercer
    – “Young at Heart” (from the 1955 film; Warner Bros) / Johnny Richards, Carolyn Leigh
    – “It’s Magic” (from Romance On the High Seas; Warner Bros, 1948) / Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn
    – “The Tender Trap” (from the 1955 film; MGM) / Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn
    – “My Foolish Heart” (from the 1949 film; Samuel Goldwyn/RKO) / Ned Washington, Victor Young
    – “Three Coins in the Fountain” (from the 1954 film; 20th Century Fox) / Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn
    – “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” (from the 1955 film; 20th Century Fox) / Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster
    – “That’s Amore” (from The Caddy; Paramount, 1953) / Harry Warren, Jack Brooks
    – “Que Sera, Sera” (from The Man Who Knew Too Much; Paramount, 1956  / Jay Livingston, Ray Evans
    – “All the Way” (from The Joker is Wild, 1957; Paramount) / Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn
  • A Place In the Sun (suite from the 1951 film; Paramount) / Franz Waxman
  • Tom and Jerry (from the MGM cartoons; 1940-58) / Scott Bradley
  • Ben-Hur (suite from the film; MGM, 1959) / Miklós Rózsa

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

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My First Music: On Conductor John Wilson and His Thing About Percussion, Plus Emmanuel Chabrier’s “España” (1883), John’s New Recording from Chandos

I thought it was important to put in this posting’s title the date in which the self-taught French composer Emmanuel Chabrier wrote this enduringly scrumptious piece, the orchestration sounding more like something post-WWI. Yet it was composed during the height of La Belle Epoque. This was the last piece (a reduction, of course) I ever played on the violin in my junior high school orchestra, before switching a couple years later, at 16, to Voice at the University of Minnesota.

As for my beloved John’s own especial sensitivity to percussion: Listening to and viewing John conduct the RAM student orchestra last Friday in Tchaikovsky’s 6th—in particular watching John’s very visible reaction to the cymbals in the third movement—gave me some insight into his musical values, which never fail to impress me. I understood the kind of sound he was trying to bring out from that young cymbalist and, had it worked, would indeed have sounded sooo nifty, it would have been John Wilson Orchestra nifty, but alas…

(The sound aspired to, incidentally, was that “snap” I heard the JWO achieve in Beyond the Sea about 16 years ago.)

Lastly, a word about the strings in the fourth movement. Yup, there was that “John Wilson Orchestra shimmer”, that famous wrist vibrato anyone who’s ever picked up a fiddle recognizes and has to have come to terms with fairly early in training. We used to wonder if it made our playing actually sound better, and it depends. The Russians and Mittel Europeans used it a lot a hundred years ago. Some call this type of playing now “period playing”. My old boss, Rouben Mamoulian, called this style of playing “crying violins”. He claimed it was his idea to use it in the musical Love Me Tonight, in the “Isn’t It Romantic” sequence.

John Wilson Royal Academy 2020 3NOTES for Escales (Chandos, 2020) can be found here.

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

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At the End of the Year 2019: Conductor John Wilson, Eugene O’Neill, and My Old Boss, Classic Film/Stage Director Rouben Mamoulian, 1

John Wilson, light of my life, fire of my loins. You’re a true musician, you command the finest magical mechanism Western Civilization has ever achieved, the symphony orchestra, and you do this for a living. All life is asking you to do is be cool with it, and the fact that I’ll be continuing to make love to you long distance indefinitely.

Now, there are more compelling subjects in the world of music appreciation (like was Mozart poisoned, or who was Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved, or should Concert A be tuned to 432MHz instead of 440MHz) than ranting about the inane and vaguely insulting blatherings on the podium of a popular, middle-ranking English conductor. But I happen to have fallen in love with that conductor. And so it’s probably the case that I listen to that conductor’s pronouncements a little more acutely, a little more discerningly than I would, say, Michael Tilson Thomas’s or Maestro Mauceri’s. It’s just that you reveal more about yourself in your out-loud asides than I think you’d prefer, John.

So as much as I’d relish taking the time to dress you down for the impudent and ultimately self-revealing remarks you made about Mmes Bernstein and Coates, I really should finally get down to the one single thing (aside, of course, from your tearass tempi, your overuse of percussion, your rushing of singers, your astonishing lack of color in certain critical pieces) that has bugged me since the day I first encountered it: your juvenile dismissal of my old boss, film/stage director Rouben Mamoulian, and his creative contribution to the original 1943 production of Oklahoma! Now, I know you were only riffing off info you got from some book or Andre Previn, who probably socialized with The Old Man when they were both at MGM. But, like I mentioned in an old posting, of all his stage and screen work The Old Man liked to talk about, the one he liked to talk about the most was Oklahoma! And I turned out to be his perfect audience, because early on I’d confessed to him that I was a big Rodgers & Hammerstein fan. (Filipinos are big Rodgers & Hammerstein fans, for obvious reasons.)

But before I say another word about Oklahoma! I have to tell you all now a side story about Mamoulian and Eugene O’Neill. It’s a doozy and it has everything to do with the point of this posting.

John and Mamoulian 2Rouben Mamoulian and John Wilson at around the same age, 80 years apart.

MAMOULIAN’S AND MY EUGENE O’NEILL STORY

This is the second story Mamoulian, The Old Man, ever told me, which he told me in a way that was flattering as hell, which was he didn’t ask if I knew who Eugene O’Neill was, although I did say “Wow” at the mention of the name, so he might have sized up my interest that way, and just went right into the story. Seems that when he was living an emigre’s life in New York, trying to make a go of it in stage work, he scored his greatest career triumph to date: The Theater Guild wanted him to direct a play by Eugene O’Neill. Now, O’Neill had already won the Pulitzer and he’d already had several successes, not to mention his other new play, Strange Interlude, was already generating a lot of pre-opening night buzz, so we’re talking King of 1928 Broadway here. O’Neill agrees to meet Mamoulian in his hotel room (that is to say, O’Neill’s hotel room. It seems like the best stories about O’Neill take place in hotel rooms) to talk over any directorial concerns O’Neill, the playwright, might have, and if he has any advice to give this youngster concerning his play.

“Actually, Mr O’Neill,” says Mamoulian, trying to sound like himself at thirty, you know, the brash but confident whiz-kid, “I know exactly how to fix your play.”

“You will change not a word. Not a word!” says O’Neill. And here The Old Man doesn’t bother to actually imitate O’Neill, although in time I heard him do some good impressions of other people, mostly actors.

“Look here, Mr O’Neill,” says young Mamoulian, opening the bound script of Marco Millions that he brought with him. “I can show you exactly where the speeches slow the play down, and where we can achieve the same ends using action. Here—” And here The Old Man imitates taking a blue pencil and boldly slashing a diagonal line across a rejected page like editors do— “—and here—” He goes on to recreate his turning the pages of the script one at a time— “and here—here—here—” with a slash! slash! slash! And all the time I’m thinking with a kind of growing horror: You CUT Eugene O’Neill!!!?

“But in the end,” Mamoulian assures me, “he saw that I was right, and we got along splendidly.”

But that’s not the end of the story. About a year after Mamoulian and I go our separate ways, I get a chance to attend opening night of Marco Millions at Berkeley Stage Company up in the Bay Area, as the plus-one of some guy I was seeing. This was around the time BSC was on its “classics” kick, making it clear in news and ads and publicity sheets that this wasn’t just any old O’Neill revival, this was an extra-special homage to the master playwright of our great theatrical heritage. Scenes cut from the 1928 production had been restored in order that this fruit of O’Neill’s genius be presented intact and full; Mamoulian’s name was hardly mentioned.

Well, I watch this big lumbering thing, right through the parts that dragged on and on with their interminable speeches about the redistribution of wealth and so on, and I’m thinking, this must be where he cut, here— Then here— And here  And almost like he’s whispering in my ear “See? See?” I realize that The Old Man was right to make the cuts, and that Marco Millions probably could have been a fine piece of theater if they’d stuck to the original opening night version.

But I swear, it was not on my mind to argue this during lobby talk after the curtain. The big thing on my mind was that I had the perfect story to share at this particular time, in this particular space, and yeah, I wanted to share it. I was with the guy who brought me, a cokehead freelance lighting designer who was always hitting up people for jobs. Together we went up to the artistic directors, a married couple, my date immediately starting in with the whole buttering up thing, you know, You look fabulous what have you been doing to yourself, etc etc etc.

I break in with something like, “You know, I have a great story about this play I got straight from (and here I made sure to stress the second syllable like he preferred) Rouben Mamoulian and how he worked with—”

And here the guy, my date, takes me aside and mutters as urgently but tenderly as is possible for him, “Sweetheart, would you please shut up while I’m talking business.”

Reader, I did.

So everyone, this is the first time—the very first time—in forty-one years I’m telling this story.

And you, Tom Stocker. Just for that, I regret having given you the most explosive blowjob of your life, the one that made you howl like a wolf.

Part 1 “The Rodgers Piano” here.
Part 2 “Agnes De Mille” here.

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

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Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: “Mimi” by Rodgers & Hart, Sung by Maurice Chevalier to Jeanette MacDonald in the 1932 Paramount Musical Love Me Tonight

That snooty critic fart Andrew Sarris once mock-praised my old boss Rouben Mamoulian for his early cinema innovations that never quite caught on. But for me this scene in Love Me Tonight (1932) is memorable—never seen a filmed musical number take the straight-into-the-camera point of view for first the singer then singee. It’s just adorable, and I don’t think any other director has done this.

MacDonald Love Me TonightAbove Jeanette: That’s the 1932 Victor recording above of Chevalier singing “Mimi”, with the Paramount Studio Orchestra conducted by Nat Finston.


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

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Conductor John Wilson, Grieving for a Lost Star, “Stereophonic Sound” by Cole Porter, and Going Hollywood

It actually would hurt me, John Wilson my beloved, if you ever believed I think of you the way MacFarlane thinks of you—as more or less part of his gig rather than as who you are, which is to say John Wilson. Something I’d like to throttle him for but’ll probably go on watching the pre-2013 Family Guy anyway. Nothing personal against your chum.

John WIlson with MacFarlane

No, I lie, it’s personal.

About ten, no, eleven years ago the best friend of the son of my (now ex-) friend died unexpectedly in New York, and it was a shock to everyone. My own son, who was the same age, was a big, big fan of his—more than a fan, in fact, he practically worshipped this young actor—and was in tears that day. I texted my friend and we shared our shock and grief. Daniel Day-Lewis stopped an interview, sobbing, “I didn’t know him, I have a strong impression I would have liked him very much…and so looked forward to the work he would do in the future.” I’d so like to have witnessed this young man’s progress on screen and stage through the years myself. He was the new Brando—better than Brando, in fact, as he not only acted and directed but wrote as well. And he wasn’t even thirty. He was handsome and vigorous, he had a beautiful speaking voice. He was the most committed actor I’d seen on screen since Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces.

So there he was dead in NY. On the streets of Beverly Hills, some roving celebrity reporter from one of the gossip shows was out and about getting sound bits for his show, and came across Rob Lowe and MacFarlane. After some genial exchange of bullshit the rover blurted, Did you hear the news from New York? and without a pause went right into giving them the news. Lowe dropped his mask, truly stunned for a moment, and turned human, while MacFarlane drawled almost offhandedly, “We-ell, this is disconcerting…” And at that moment I started to genuinely dislike the calculating little creep. MacFarlane’s an almost supernaturally gifted dealmaker, Stewie’s a pretty inspired animated character, and the guy seems to have a genuine fondness for the old styles…but that just isn’t enough for my scorecard. If you could say that there’s such a thing as a Seth MacFarlane Tolerance Level, mine’s pretty low I guess.

Anyway, I’m less ironical and more earnest than one would assume at first. And I tend to take things like that hard. Not exactly an asset around here.

On another note:

“Stereophonic Sound”
Silk Stockings, MGM 1957
Janis Paige, Fred Astaire
Rouben Mamoulian, Director

Silk Stockings was the last movie my old boss Mamoulian, aka The Old Man, ever did (at 60—he died at 90), and “Stereophonic Sound” is one of the numbers on John Wilson + Orchestra’s 2014 Cole Porter album. But watch the clip instead. Janis Paige is the focus in this number but Fred Astaire at 58 is still a joy.

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

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Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: Applause, Starring Helen Morgan (Paramount, 1929)

Legendary torch singer Helen Morgan (she was the original mulatto Julie in Jerome Kern’s Showboat) was only 28 when she played the washed-up headliner mother of a chorus girl in this early, early talkie (1929!) which benefits from an excellent sound recording. Filmed over at the Astoria Studio in Queens. Note Mamoulian’s penchant for symbolism: Morgan’s poster like the Holy Madonna hovering over her daughter and daughter’s sweetheart; the rolled-up curtain on the bannister posing as Death. When I saw this shot it hit me then what a genius The Old Man actually really was.

Applause can be viewed here in its entirety.

Applause Ending


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

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John Wilson Conducts Oklahoma at the 2017 BBC Proms, Rouben Mamoulian Howls In Protest from His Grave, 2

John my bonny, if we ever sit down someday and have a natter like two old friends I’d tell you how much in common you have with The Old Man, which you’d better take as a compliment, because Rouben Mamoulian was a genius. I didn’t think so when I worked for him, but then I was only 23 and he was 81, and the only movie I knew of his—besides The Mark of Zorro with Basil Rathbone and Tyrone Power, which I remember from TV as a kid—was Queen Christina, the result of cinema art-house hopping in New York in the mid-70s, and which had a special place in my half-lesbian heart on account of The Divine Garbo.

CXG Oklahoma
The most subtle reference ever to Agnes De Mille that was clearly about Agnes De Mille without having to mention her name was on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, season 4 episode 2: “So now they’re randomly doing ballet?” “I guess so, it’s hard to follow.” (Hip-hop follows.) “That’s not even the correct dance language for this piece.” Bay Area-born Vincent Rodriguez III is the hunk in the red neckerchief who plays Josh Chan, heroine Rebecca Bunch’s pinoy love interest. Above: The 2019 Broadway revival version of Oklahoma! re-orchestrated by the estimable Daniel Kluger.

But like I said earlier, I was already familiar with the fact that Mamoulian had directed Carousel and Oklahoma! on Broadway. So when he finally started to chat me up more familiarly, after a few weeks of my just coming in every weekday morning and answering his phone, opening his mail—unpaid bills, media people from all over wanting interviews, a few lines from old friends like Armina Marshall…Paul Horgan…Pamela Mason…Ray Bradbury—balancing his checkbook, reassuring Zayde on the intercom over and over that Henry their handyman hadn’t gone home yet etc etc, and basically fooling around during the many dull spots in the day (which is how I ended up playing the Waltz from Carousel to myself on the actual legendary Richard Rodgers piano), it was easy to follow The Old Man’s train of thought because I already knew a lot about the original production of Oklahoma!

“You know, Agnes…” he started right off the bat one day, and we both immediately understood who he was referring to: Agnes De Mille, the choreographer for the original 1943 production.

I sat up attentively, pen in hand, ready to take dictation. My main duty for Mamoulian was supposed to have been as amanuensis for his memoirs, after all. At least that’s what the temp agency had told me. Although they didn’t say amanuensis.

“No, put your pen down and listen!” he ordered. He was, in the weeks and months to come, going to say that a lot.

So I did.

Part 1 “The Rodgers Piano” here.
Part 2 “Laying It On the Table: “The Eugene O’Neill Story”

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

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Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: “Isn’t It Romantic?” by Rodgers & Hart, Ultimately Sung by Jeanette MacDonald in Love Me Tonight (Paramount, 1932)

The most audacious musical film sequence ever directed and you should watch it when you hear it. If I had seen Love Me Tonight (here available in its entirety) before I went to work for The Old Man I would’ve been more patient with him.

Isn’t it romantic
Music in the night, a dream that can be heard
Isn’t it romantic
Moving shadows write the oldest magic word

Love Me Tonight.jpgAnd dig that not-too-obvious Eros aiming his love arrow at Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier. That’s the great Ella Fitzgerald singing above the lovers.


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

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Directed by My Old Boss, Rouben Mamoulian: Marlene Dietrich Sings “Happy Birthday, Johnny” from The Song of Songs (Paramount, 1933) Just for My Bonny John Wilson, Conductor

25 May, 2019. This afternoon someone in Glyndebourne will be cutting my beloved John Wilson’s cake into tiny little slices, and so I wish them all well at the gathering.

The Song of Songs
La Dietrich inspires a handsome young English orchestra conductor to artistic heights with her transfiguring and deeply sexual love in this erotically frank Pre-Code movie from Paramount. If only you understood dirty German, my bonny…

A special shout-out to my old boss Rouben Mamoulian, who once told me, “Love with style, but also with a little sadness for the suffering involved.”

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

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