Aaron Copland’s Quiet City, Played by the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra and Conducted by My Beloved RCM Alumnus, John Wilson, 2013

Distressing to learn that John’s 5 November concert at the Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra has been cancelled. So as a small consolation, here’s John conducting this lovely and familiar Copland piece. Recorded on 13 November 2013 in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall at the Royal College of Music in London.

John Wilson RCM Copland 2013.pngAbove: Katie Potts on cor anglais, Adam Stockbridge on trumpet, as my bonny John conducts.

Originally drawn from music composed as incidental accompaniment to a play, Copland’s “Quiet City” has gained much more popularity as a concert work for orchestra.

John recorded this and other Copland standards for Chandos a couple of years ago but this rendition, performed by the next generation at RCM, is closer to my heart.


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Fanfares (Chandos, 2018), an Album by Onyx Brass, Conducted by John Wilson

A recent article mentioning John in 4barsrest, an online publication that serves brass instrumentalists, reminded me of the fact that I never did get around to listening to and writing about my beloved conductor’s recording with the Onyx Brass, which I bought 2 years ago this month. I am listening now.

John Wilson & Onyx Brass 2Church of St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, where the Onyx Brass rehearsed and recorded this in 2017. Above John: Malcolm Arnold’s “Railway” Fanfare, my personal favorite. NOTES for Fanfares (Chandos, 2018) can be found here. There is no other instrument in a symphony orchestra that calls attention to the manmade-ness of its actual sound than the horn. Strings can mimic the human voice; woodwinds the sound of wind in the trees; percussion can conjure up a hail storm… But you tell me, can the sound of human lips vibrating a piece of metal sound like anything but what it is?

Well, two years makes a difference. I fell in love with John two years ago 2018, that spring. That summer of 2018 was The Bernstein Summer. The summer my beloved John tried to oedipally murder Leonard Bernstein before an arena of cheering thousands; 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, e.g. 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 this collection of 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 (see above); 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 yes, Joseph Horovitz, my beloved John Wilson‘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 two 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.


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A Tribute to Carl Reiner (1922 – 2020): “That’s My Boy??” from His Finest Creation, The Dick Van Dyke Show, 25 Sep 1963; Plus Lionel Newman and the Theory of Swing from Composer David Bruce

The screenshot below doesn’t show where the laughs begin. The screenshot below shows the setup for the BIG REVEAL—leading to the longest studio laugh on American TV.

Rob is Stunned SpeechlessAbove: Pete Rugolo and Orchestra play “The Dick Van Dyke Show” theme, segueing into the theme for the contemporaneous TV show “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”.

If you remember viewing it first-run, as I did, you will recall that thrill of being in on the “joke”. And you will most definitely know that—as perfectly and wittily as it is tied to its time and place—this joke will never land ever, ever again.

Anyone here remember the joke? Here’s the entire episode in its new strikingly colorized and sound-sharpened version, Carl Reiner’s last ongoing project before his death.

A few notes on episode 1, season 3: This was filmed just before MI:OS, when G Morris was making the transition from LA disc jockey to actor. M Dillard was already a familiar face on television at this time. The episode was written by the great comedy team of B Persky and S Denoff, who went on to create the TV show That Girl.

Earle Hagen’s Dick Van Dyke and Lionel Newman(!)’s Dobie Gillis themes have got to be in my opinion the swingiest, finger-poppingest themes in the history of TV, topping even Mancini’s Peter Gunn, because of their superior melody lines. The version above is just okay, but I would looove to hear the snap and slide my beloved John Wilson would put into either of these short pieces like he did with his 2005 Grammy-nominated “Beyond the Sea”. Quel dommage, he’s on to finer things now, my bonny is.

By the way, I owe my interest in swing to London-based composer / Royal College alum (1991-93) / YT maven David Bruce—in particular his lecture on swing theory, which set my head back on straight. Thanks, David!


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My 2nd Anniversary of Being In Love with John Wilson, RCM Alumnus, Who Conducts His Alma Mater’s Symphony Orchestra in Maurice Ravel’s “La Valse”, 2018; Plus My Progress in Porn

4 May, 2020. Porn is the reason I’m late with this posting. For two years, longing for my beloved John Wilson has impinged on my usual output of actual writing, which once dealt mostly with conspiracies, low magick, backstage intrigue, and government foul-ups, and I have got to channel that particular energy somewhere… So, as mentioned earlier, mes amis, I’ve started a series of short stroke books called Hollywood Bound, which I plan to finish and release in sequence over the summer.

Here’s the website: Simona Wing, Erotic Ebooks for Esoteric Tastes. As you recall, Simona Wing was my screen name in the flicks.

Now, on the second anniversary of The Day I Fell In Love With John Wilson, what should I stumble on but this vid of a concert with Ravel  which my beloved conducted at the Royal College of Music (where he attended 1990-94).

RCM Symphony John Wilson.jpgMaurice Ravel described his work, written in 1919: “Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished. The clouds gradually scatter: one sees at letter A an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo letter B. Set in an imperial court, about 1855.” In the accompanying podcast bonny John asserted that “La Valse” is about social disintegration. Another reason for me to get into his head. Above: Audio of the entire piece.


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My First Music: Miklós Rózsa’s Ben Hur Suite, Conducted by John Wilson and Played by The John Wilson Orchestra, BBC Proms 2013

I was just looking at the schedule for John Wilson my bonny lad’s month of January 2020 and it’s pretty hoppin’: that concert of showtunes in Stockholma couple afternoons of Vaughan Williams in the Midlands; an afternoon of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Brett Dean at the Royal Academy; on the 20th a free talk at his alma mater, the Royal College of Music, with Durham-born Sir Thomas Allen, about his, John’s, life story. I’d be interested in hearing my bonny’s free talk, if only to find out if he’s honed his storytelling skills yet. (Which would require actually listening to him, a transcript wouldn’t be sufficient.) The rest is pretty ho-hum. I’m wondering if John ever remembers the old days and compares them to his life now. Can you imagine what fun this must’ve been to conduct?

John Wilson Rosza 4.jpgSaw Ben-Hur (20th Century Fox, 1959) first run years ago with my very Catholic mom so I remember the music as Holy music. Then after that, as Monty Python music.


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Suite from the Score of Truly Madly Deeply by Barrington Pheloung (1954 – 2019)

Mournful noodling distinguishes this piece. I remember the movie—adore the movie—but just don’t remember the music at all. Australian-born, Royal College of Music graduate Pheloung, who died last week at the age of 65, got some considerable write-ups for having been the composer of the popular Inspector Morse theme which, again, isn’t to my taste.

Truly Madly Deeply.jpg
Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman tug at our hearts in this off-beat romance.

I’m guessing the author of Waving, Not Drowning (which I reviewed on Amazon and below) borrowed the name for his fictional conductor, Barrington Orwell, from Pheloung. It’s a small world over there.


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

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Royal Gala at Windsor Castle for the Royal College of Music, May 2019

One little bad review doesn’t phase my bonny, bless him. On Thursday 16 May 2019, His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, President of the Royal College of Music (RCM), held a special gala concert at Windsor Castle. The concert showcased some of the RCM’s most acclaimed alumni, including Sir Thomas Allen, Dame Sarah Connolly and Conductor John Wilson, performing alongside Maxim Vengerov, Polonsky Visiting Professor of Violin, and the talented young musicians in the RCM Chamber Orchestra. The evening included a performance of George Frideric Handel’s Overture to an English Opera (here played by the Little Orchestra of London).

Windsor Castle Gala 2019 news itemI’d know the back of that head anywhere.

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

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John Wilson Interview (with Music!) at the BBC Studios in Salford, 12 November 2018

“I think I’ve done my last batch of film music,” says bonny John. Interview starts at 9:50. (Update 5 March 2019: Damn, the Beeb yanked this podcast! Will replace the link if they ever bring it back. To make up for it below are some downloadables.)

Included with the interview in their entirety: Met soprano Joyce DiDonato sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (Rodgers & Hammerstein); the famous barn-raising dance in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Gene de Paul, Alexander Courage), and “I Got Rhythm” (George and Ira Gershwin), all played in that ineluctable John Wilson Orchestra way.

John Wilson Interview 2013

From a 15 June 2016 article in The Sydney Morning Herald:

It’s rare, if ever, to hear a kind word said about James T. Aubrey, the ruthless former CBS executive hired in 1969 to turn around the stuttering fortunes of the MGM movie studio. In a four-year reign he slashed staff numbers, cancelled many projects and sold off the company’s archive in a sale that, famously, included Judy Garland’s iconic ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.

“They had no intrinsic value,” was Aubrey’s icy comment at the time.

And along with that brutal act, incredibly, he also ordered the destruction of many of the film scores in the company’s archive, trashing music from legendary films including The Wizard of Oz, High Society and Singin’ In the Rain.

These gems might have been lost forever were it not for the passion and dedication of English conductor John Wilson, who for the past 15 years has dedicated much of his time to re-creating them.

Now he has re-scored some 200 separate numbers from MGM musicals from the 1930s to the early ’60s purely by ear, a task he was driven to largely out of necessity—he loves the music and wanted his orchestra, the John Wilson Orchestra, to play it.

“I had to do it,” he says simply.

He’s also quite frank about the tedium of minutely reconstructing each part.
“First and foremost, I’m a conductor—it’s all I do really,” he says. “I don’t like writing music out but I have to. It’s a pain in the arse! It’s hours of toil.

“I do love hearing it back—I only do the numbers I think are really sensational—but sitting listening to four seconds of music on a loop for half an hour just to get one bass clarinet part—is that going to be anything other than just necessary?”

One might then expect Wilson to join the chorus of Aubrey critics but he is surprisingly generous towards the man who presented him with a lifetime’s work.

“It would be easy to say James Aubrey was a vandal but I think there were a lot of people around then who had no idea that this was worth keeping,” he says.

The pace at which the studio system turned out films left little time for those involved to consider their longer term significance.

“If you had said to anyone in the 1930s that what they were creating was art they would have laughed at you,” says Wilson. “It was entertainment designed to make a profit. Nobody was archively minded. A lot of the scores were an unfortunate casualty of that prevailing attitude. It would have been a case of, ‘Who wants a load of old crumbly pages’?”

Wilson’s passion for “good quality light music” sprang from listening to the TV and radio when he was growing up in Gateshead in the 1970s-80s.

After an extensive apprenticeship playing piano, arranging music and conducting for amateur dramatics, pantomimes and other productions he went on to study in London.

“By the time I arrived at the Royal College of Music at 18 I was fairly hands-on and practical,” he says. “There were never any divisions for me between David Raksin, Max Steiner and Erich Korngold and Strauss, Mozart and Brahms.”

Now he is working alongside his long-time friend and collaborator, Sydney Symphony Orchestra co-concertmaster Andrew Haveron, bringing his favourite light music to Sydney audiences.

Haveron has led the John Wilson Orchestra since its inception.

“Andrew knows how to play this music better than anyone on the planet. That’s a real game changer,” says Wilson.

On a program that also includes music from Citizen Kane, Gone With The Wind and Star Wars will be Erich Korngold’s music for 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn.

Wilson’s face lights up. “It is,” he says, “the greatest movie score that has ever been written. I never get past how impressive it is.”

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

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My Beloved John Wilson, RCM Alumnus, Conducts Fellow RCM Alumnus Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem with the Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra, November 2013

Recorded on 7 November 2013 in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall at the Royal College of Music in London.

John Wilson RCM Britten 2013Above John: I Lacrymosa 00:00 / II Dies Irae 09:22 / III Requiem Aeternam 14:56.

A passionate expression of the composer’s pacifism, penned amid the conflict of 1940, Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem is also a memorial to his parents. A powerful and enduring work, one of Britten’s most abiding from the earlier part of his career.

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

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Ocean’s Kingdom, A 2011 Ballet Score by Paul McCartney, Co-Arranged and Conducted by John Wilson

Like his coeval Pete Townshend, Paul McCartney never learned to read/write music, but like Townshend, that certainly didn’t stop him. I prefer the second movement of this but the entire piece is worthwhile.

Ocean's Kingdom 2.jpg

And just so you don’t think I’m always down on my bonny John Wilson, who was himself brilliantly educated at the Royal College of Music, here’s his orchestration, written in 2002 when he was 30, of Howard Goodall’s score for the TV movie The Gathering Storm, a bit Elgarish. And here’s the orchestration he wrote when he was 28, of Richard Rodney Bennett’s music for the TV mini-series fantasy Gormenghast, which won the Ivor Novello Award for Best Film Score in 2000.

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

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