Recorded at the Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, 2 July 2021. Found the donation window, incidentally. Back in January, 2020 after we heard John conducting them in Tchaikowsky I said to Mister Grumble, ‘That was as good as any small-city orchestra in the US. I’d’ve paid cash money for this,’ and darned if the RAM didn’t just make my life a little easier. Here it is.
There are 3 naked ladies in this blog. This is one of them*.
“I’m not given to displays of emotion, but when Maria and I met up again [to record the R+H album] we had tears in our eyes. She’s so exotic!” enthused my bonny conductor about this Detroit-born soprano. “I love her—as a person!” Yes, John. I’d love to hear more.
About the DVD recording of Salome, says Toronto blogger John Gilks in Opera Ramblings: “The production is really pretty conventional… Almost all the visual interest revolves around Ewing’s Salome though Michael Devlin’s scantily clad and palely made up Jochanaan is quite arresting too. Narraboth (Robin Legate) is an unremarkable actor and Herod (Kenneth Riegel) and Herodias (Gillian Knight) look uncomfortably like a couple of drag queens… The recording, directed by Derek Bailey, is about what one would expect from a 1992 BBC TV broadcast…*** This is probably worth having a look at as a record of an iconic performance by Ewing but I can’t imagine anyone would choose it as the definitive Salome.”
*Here’s another exotic nude, just for my beloved John Wilson.**
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…”
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
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”.
Gimadieva made her UK debut at the Proms with John and the John Wilson Orchestra in their program Hollywood Rhapsody, which included pieces by my favorite screen composer Bernard Herrmann. I’ve been a fairly knowledgeable fan of Herrmann since my teen years, but somehow I never got around to hearing the entire aria until—yes! yes! are you getting bored hearing this again?—I fell in love totally and completely with English conductor John Wilson and craved to hear all the music that he is part of. To my delight, he backed this brilliant singer well.
Above my bonny John making nicey-nice with a soprano for once: “O cruel!” (Salammbo’s aria) from the film Citizen Kane. Herrmann planned to write an entire opera based on this scandalous Flaubert novel but, daunted by the task, as Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff before him, never got around to it.
And for good measure, here’s Gimadieva doing Donizetti’s “O luce di quest anima” with The Hallé the way I’d like to have sounded in my last trimester jury at music school.
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.
DAMN! UPDATE 16 JAN 21: Both DailyMotion and BiliBili have DELETED this video of the complete 2013 BBC concert! If I find it again I’ll reinstate the link. (Links to selections available on YT are in red.)
As a compensation, here are ALL the other, complete JOHN WILSON AT THE BBC PROMS available on my blog:
SONG MEDLEY (YT): – “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
We certainly all need some tenderness and a couple laughs right now. Below, the wonderful, luminous Molly Picon—who worked with legendary actor-producer-director-impressario-rival-to-Jacob-Adler-Stella’s-dad-model-for-Max-Bialystock-grandfather-of-Michael-Tilson-Thomas Boris Thomashevsky—sings “Oyfen Pripetchik” (MM Warshawsky 1848–1907), an enduring, evocative song from the past that everyone at a certain time, in a certain place, seems to have known the melody and all the words to. From season 2, episode 6 of the TV comedy masterpiece, Car 54, Where Are You? (Entire episode on my YT channel here. And really, dig the punch line ending.)
Below, a lovely rendition from Israeli singer Chava Alberstein.
Could you say no to this woman?
Oyfn pripetchik brent a fayerl, Un in shtub is heys. Un der rebe lernt kleyne kinderlekh Dem alef-beyz.
Zet zhe kinderlekh, Gedenkt zhe, tayere, vos ir lernt do. Zogt zhe nokh a mol un take nokh a mol: “Komets-alef: o!”
Lernt kinderlekh, lernt mit freyd, Lernt dem alef-beyz. Gliklekh is der Yid, wos kent die toyre Un dos alef-beyz.
“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.
Above bloodily hardworking John: Kim Criswell, the Maida Vale Singers and The John Wilson Orchestra tear into the Gershwin brothers’ “I Got Rhythm”.
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.”
Three years after Man of La Mancha was a major hit on Broadway, Belgian music legend Jacques Brel licensed the staging rights, adapted the book, translated the lyrics, directed the production, and starred as Don Quixote with the original Dulcinea herself, Joan Diener.
Here’s a song that’ll tear your heart out (English lyrics by Joe Darion; music by Paul Hindemith-trained Mitch Leigh; French lyrics by Jacques Brel):
The Four Last Songs are “Frühling” (Spring), “September”, “Beim Schlafengehen” (When Falling Asleep) and “Im Abendrot” (At Sunset). All of the songs but “Frühling” deal with death and all were written shortly before Strauss himself died. They are suffused with a sense of calm, acceptance, and completeness. The settings are for a solo soprano voice given soaring melodies against a full orchestra, and all four songs have prominent horn parts. The combination of a beautiful vocal line with supportive horn accompaniment references Strauss’s own life: His wife Pauline de Ahna was a famous soprano and his father Franz Strauss a professional horn player.
My beloved John Wilson lived in this ravishing music when he conducted the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra late in March 2019, in a program that included Korngold and the Emperor Waltz.
Dame Joan was the one who got me interested in classical singing, if not doing it myself then listening to and appreciating it. This really tasty ditty comes from the pen of William Shield of Swalwell (which is right next door to my bonny John Wilson‘s childhood neighborhood of Low Fell), Gateshead, who rose to be the king’s Master of the Musicians and was buried in Westminster. “When William, at Eve” is from his comic opera Rosina (1782).