My Beloved John Wilson Appointed to the Henry Wood Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and Conducts the RAMSO in Arnold Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht” (1899) at Snape Maltings, 6 June 2021

O sieh, wie klar das Weltall schimmert! / Es ist ein Glanz um alles her / Du treibst mit mir auf kaltem Meer / doch eine eigne Wärme flimmert von Dir in mich von mir in Dich… ~Richard Dehmel

Look, how brightly the universe shines! / Splendour falls on everything around / you are voyaging with me on a cold sea / but there is the glow of an inner warmth from you in me / from me in you…

John InterviewAbove my beloved: Leopold Stokowski conducts the 1943, final and most popular composer’s edit of the string orchestra version of this exquisite one-movement sextet based on Richard Dehmel’s poem. (The 1924 version was conducted by Edward Clark of the BBC in Newcastle that year.) Find the Hollywood String Quartet’s version here.

I adore John and The John Wilson Orchestra at the BBC Proms. Honest I do. All that thrill and spectacle. That fetching full dress. And a third of the numbers he’s plucked from The Great American Songbook no one could do better. But last January 2020 I got my wish when my bonny conducted a program of Dean, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky at London’s Royal Academy of Music and for the very first time I got to watch him work entirely as a conductor rather than a showman. (The cover of JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR is himself preparing for the 4th movement of the RAM’s rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique”. The magazine picture above is from the 23 October concert at RAM.)

It was not a revelation, I knew John was going to be wonderful and the orchestra was going to be wonderful. I’d heard the “Mars” part of Holst’s The Planets that he conducted in Leeds with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (see John above wearing the bright blue NYOGB hoodie) and was impressed with its energy. RAM trumpet Rebecca Toal (heard in Brett Dean’s “Komarov’s Fall”) had this to say about my dear one:

John is particularly generous with his energy and he’s so committed. I think I’ve done one project with him before, and both times he’s just thrown himself into the projects. It’s so nice to have people come in from the outside and completely splash their energy everywhere and leave you feeling on a high and motivated, even after they’ve left.”

And I think this young player has hit it. John [continued at “John Wilson Conducts the Royal Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra in Barber, Delius and Ravel, July 2021 Live/Streamcast on YouTube”]


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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 2020 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:

(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). It’s also in Rouben Mamoulian’s classic film musical Love Me Tonight (complete film here) courtesy of Paramount’s musical director Nat Finston, who understood what he was talking about when, in a certain musical scene, he said he wanted “crying violins”. 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.


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My Beloved Conductor John Wilson’s First Orchestral Gig Since February 2020: Tallis, Saint-Saens with the Philharmonia Online, July 2020

Great to see my bonny back in the saddle, beard and all. This is the first concert of a series of 3 by the Philharmonia which was underwritten by a private family trust and partnered with Classic-FM, but it wouldn’t hurt to throw them a few extra dollars around this time. John Wilson Philharmonia BatterseaAbove the Great Hall at the Battersea Arts Centre, July 2020: The complete audio recording of this concert. John’s last appearance before an orchestra was at the Royal Festival Hall back on 27 February,  when he conducted Samuel Barber’s Essay No 1, along with Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major and Elgar’s Sketches for Symphony No 3.
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Marquess of the Gardens of Aranjuez, His Finest Work in the 1995 UK Film, Brassed Off

As I once pledged, I will go almost anywhere my beloved conductor John Wilson leads me; and so it was a remark of his that led me to this movie, which in the mid-90s was an estimable hit in the UK, though not so much here in the States. When asked by The Telegraph about his early musical influences, said John, “Brass bands. Coming from a working-class background, the tradition of amateur music-making was important to me…” brassed-off.jpegIn this scene where the ensemble plays the famous Adagio of the Concierto, Tara Fitzgerald shows the lads her superior proficiency on the flugelhorn, inspiring their conductor, played by Lancashire-born Peter Postlethwaite, to consider taking the band on a competition tour and win some desperately needed prize money for their out-of-work members. Above: Joaquin Rodrigo’s entire Concierto de Aranjuez (1939), Richard Gallen, guitar, Moscow 2012. There’ve been a couple of other, better known (in the US) British films, The Full Monty and Billy Elliot, which also address the economic/unemployment crisis in Britain that, back in the 80s, did its part to whittle away at arts education throughout the country, particularly in the north. Like I said, my beloved conductor’s remarks in recent interviews about his early influences started me thinking not only about his musical but general education growing up in Gateshead in the 80s. I’ll take this on in an upcoming post. The contrasts / similarities between his musical influences and school training—as a northern Brit through most of the 80s—and mine—as a midwestern American in Minneapolis through the mid 60s-early 70s—I find worth examining, and not just because I’m hopelessly in love with the bloke. For now, this is what I take away from anecdotal evidence like Brassed Off and John’s childhood memories: The British, in general, seem to be more used to the sound of brass ensembles than Americans. Now, we like to think we know all about brass ensemble music because, being Americans, military marches and Sousa seem to stalk us everywhere we go in this great land of ours. But really, it’s not the same kind of music. I’ll discuss this in my review. But let me just say this here: I will try to cut John a little more slack when it comes to his choices in orchestration for The Great American Songbook. I mean, if that’s really the way he hears it in his head…
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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.


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The Tippett Quartet Play Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho at Kings Place, London, 2011

Most people* seem to discount the idea that Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho is actually a near-perfect work for strings (given that it was written exclusively for strings anyway) and that, given the right setting, is a very listenable chamber piece that doesn’t need to reference the film. Here’s the Tippett Quartet performing this arrangement by Richard Birchall at Kings Place, 2011.

Tippett Quartet PsychoJohn Mills, Jeremy Isaac, Lydia Lowndes-Northcott, and Bozidar Vukotic: the London-based Tippett Quartet.

* Like Mister Grumble. This is the second-most heated debate** between us: whether or not movie music (for narrative films not musicals) can be considered truly concert-worthy.

** (The most heated debate between us is whether Oswald did it or not. This one gets us both really het up, as one of us has a slight connection with the actual case.)

The leader of the Tippitt Quartet (circa 2011), John Mills, is also the leader of The John Wilson Orchestra to date.


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Camille Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No 1 in A-minor, Performed by Jacqueline du Pré and Conducted by Daniel Barenboim

On the 12th of September, 2019 my beloved John Wilson appeared at the Koncerthuset in Copenhagen conducting the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, starting off with cellist Andreas Brantelid performing the Saint-Saëns concerto, and finishing off the evening with Holst’s The Planets, which John has perfected to his satisfaction, conducting as he did in 2013 the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in Leeds in 4 of the 7 Planets.

Here’s the Goddess’s chosen one, Jacqueline du Pré, playing the concerto with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, her husband Daniel Barenboim at the podium. In the time they had, they did not squander the gift that was given to them to make music together.

Jacqueline dupre big laugh
Part 1 [duration 10:15] / Part 2 [duration 10:06]


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My First Music: “Padanggo Sa Ilaw”, Another Tricky Filipino Dance

I’m not going to talk about the Tinikling here as it brings back unpleasant memories of having my ankles banged with bamboo poles, but I will mention the Pandanggo (from the Spanish word “fandango”). This is very elegant dance where dancers wear not the formal Maria Clara, which is hard to get around in, but the patadyong, which is a simple cotton dress with butterfly sleeves. My aunt Wilhelmina looked very nice doing this dance, with the candles on the backs of her hands and the candle on her head. You try balancing that. I almost started a fire.

Pandanggo Sa Ilaw (Marty McCorkle, 2016)Above “Pandanggo Sa Ilaw” by Visayan resident Marty McCorkle (2016) the title dance to this posting, performed by Juan Silos Jr and his orchestra.

Pandanggo traditionally is danced to rondalla music, which is a sort of serenade played by an ensemble of guitars and mandolins and other stringed instruments. It originated in Spain during the Middle Ages. You can also hear the rondalla sound in Mexican and Central and South American music, which should show that Filipinos are more cultural kin to the Hispanic world than the mainland Asian. But we claim both.


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A Great American Songbook Song for My Beloved John Wilson, Conductor: Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine” from Jubilee (1935) Sung and Played by Pete Townshend

BBC’s resident singer/interviewer Clare Teal welcomes Proms stalwart and all-around “shouty scary” (her description) conductor John Wilson to the studio to talk about his new CD album Cole Porter in Hollywood and his orchestra’s 2014 tour, as well as spin a few swing platters, none of which we hear in entirety. Toward the end of the interview John Wilson Orchestra drummer Matt Skelton rips through “Begin the Beguine”.

John and ClaireClare Teal and Conductor John Wilson, 28 September 2014. Above John and Clare: Pete Townshend sings “Begin the Beguine“.

“Begin the Beguine” is a song written by Cole Porter (a song is music with WORDS John, you know?) who composed it at the piano in the bar of the Ritz Hotel in Paris. The beguine comes from the Caribbean; it’s a combination of French ballroom dance and Latin folk dance and was popular in Paris at the time Porter was writing.

The song is notable for its 108-measure length, departing drastically from the conventional thirty-two-bar form. Where a typical standard popular song of its time was written in a fairly strict 32-measure form consisting of two or three eight-measure subjects generally arranged in the form A-A-B-A or A-B-A-C, “Begin the Beguine” employs the form A-A-B-A-C1-C2 with each phrase being sixteen measures in length rather than the usual eight. The final C2 section is stretched beyond its 16 measures an additional twelve bars for a total of 28 measures, with the twelve additional measures providing a sense of finality to the long form. The slight differences in each of the A sections, along with the song’s long phrases and final elongated C2 section at the end, give it unique character and complexity. The fact that the song’s individual parts hold up melodically and harmonically over such a long form also attests to Porter’s talent and ability as a songwriter.

Porter reportedly once said of the song, “I can never remember it—if I want to play I need to see the music in front of me!” Alec Wilder described it in his book American Popular Song: The Great Innovators 1900-1950 as “a maverick, an unprecedented experiment and one which, to this day, after hearing it hundreds of times, I cannot sing or whistle or play from start to finish without the printed music”.

Pete Townshend
Begin the Beguine
Cole Porter, words+music
Another Scoop (1987)
Pete Townshend Catalog

When they begin the beguine
It brings back the sound of music so tender
It brings back a night of tropical splendor
It brings back a memory ever green

I’m with you once more under the stars
And down by the shore an orchestra’s playing
And even the palms seem to be swaying
When they begin the beguine

To live it again is past all endeavor
Except when that tune clutches my heart
And there we are, swearing to love forever
And promising never, never to part

What moments divine, what rapture serene
Til clouds came along to disperse the joys we had tasted
And now when I hear people curse the chance that was wasted
I know but too well what they mean

So don’t let them begin the beguine
Let the love that was once a fire remain an ember
Let it sleep like the dead desire I only remember
When they begin the beguine

Oh yes, let them begin the beguine, make them play
‘Til the stars that were there before return above you
‘Til you whisper to me once more
Darling, I love you

And we suddenly know what heaven we’re in
When they begin the beguine
When they begin the beguine


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Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Played by Isaac Stern with the New York Philharmonic and Conducted by Leonard Bernstein

Behold the worst review my bonny John ever got and I cherish it because it’s so on the money. But first things first. Samuel Barber completed this Violin Concerto in 1939; a work in three movements, it lasts about 22 minutes. I’ve got this classic 1964 recording and it’s one of my yummier ones.

Barber Violin Concerto

From Bachtrack: Exaggeration and Disinterest Mar John Wilson’s CBSO Programme

Simon Cummings, 08 April 2019. Great composers—or, rather, their greatest compositions—have a tendency to be able to shine through less than ideal performances. This was the situation that faced us in Symphony Hall last Saturday, though it’s important to stress that the root cause lay not with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, or their Chorus, or with either of the evening’s two soloists, but with conductor John Wilson.

Wilson’s approach to all three works on the programme could be summarised as ‘filmic’. It was as if each piece wasn’t quite adequate on its own terms but needed to be given the kind of superficial gloss that might make it suitable for Hollywood. The resulting effect of this was two-fold: exaggeration of the works’ more obviously lyrical or bombastic high points, and a kind of disinterested flattening of their less show-stopping sequences.

Thus, the contrasting episodes of Copland’s Appalachian Spring felt less like components of a single, overarching continuity than the vagaries of a narrative that kept changing its mind. At its most relaxed, as in the deliciously sleepy, dawn- and dusk-like music with which the works begins and ends, Wilson seemed to have little idea what to do, allowing its inherent prettiness to sound with indifference to pacing, shape and nuance. Only when the material became conspicuously excited did Wilson do the same, leading to a more appealing rendition of the assorted Allegro sections, which were lively and fun. (It’s interesting to note that Symphony Hall’s renowned acoustics, supposedly good for everything, audibly struggle when presented with small orchestras performing tight, crisp rhythms such as those in the Copland, on this occasion making the CBSO sound more than a little swamped.) But in hindsight these only made it more apparent how flat was the rest of the work, with clunky gear changes and a weak sense of connection.

The nature of the material in Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto played much more into Wilson’s wheelhouse. The lyrical first two movements contain much that is redolent of silent film scores, which therefore suited the cinematic treatment they received. The sweetness in the music often felt rather cloying and over-earnest—where Copland had been likeable, Barber seemed to be spending all his time desperately trying to get us to like him–but the sense of dialogue between soloist James Ehnes and the orchestra, clearly heard here as equals, was highly engaging.

The Violin Concerto is a problematic work at the best of times, due to its weird structural combination of two emotionally-charged movements followed by an evidently bolted-on presto finale that appears to stem more from a desire to satisfy the demands of the original violinist than from the same creative impulse as the rest of the work. Yet on this occasion, Ehnes’ enthusiasm in the finale was a huge relief, his breakneck fingerwork rising above the robotic pulse laid down by Wilson. Best of all, though, was Ehnes’ even more unstoppable encore, a performance of Eugène Ysaÿe’s Violin Sonata no 3 that took real risks, resulting in such nail-biting excitement that the concerto was almost immediately forgotten.

For all the issues that had manifested in the Copland and Barber, nothing and no-one can stand in the way of the juggernaut that is Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. Wilson’s tendency to exaggeration was matched by Walton’s own overblown response to Osbert Sitwell’s libretto. To stunning effect, particularly in the first half of the work: testifying again that the devil has the best tunes, the combination of orchestra and chorus (who, on this occasion, augmented by the University of Birmingham Voices, were simply enormous) during Belshazzar’s unbound, sacrilegious revelries was an absolute riot and hugely involving. Considering the downfall that we all knew was coming next, one almost felt guilty for enjoying it so much.

Bass-baritone Božidar Smiljanić was by turns mesmerising, moving and borderline prophetic as soloist. His take on the introduction to Babylon was masterful, moving abruptly from proudly rattling off a list of valuable commodities to a stern, almost witheringly prolonged articulation of the word “slaves”, concluding with a tender lament for the “souls of men”. Likewise, the almost laughably undramatic moment when the libretto sums up almighty judgement in the wake of all the ungodly merriment in just a single sentence, Smiljanić made profound, as if he were heralding not merely the end of Belshazzar’s days but everyone’s.

Again, though, the music’s more inverted, painful episodes lacked weight, Wilson making them brisk and functional, mere lulls before the storms. When these came, they were overwhelming—how could they not be? But it was just such a shame that the most powerful moments of the concert, such as these, were for the most part in spite of John Wilson’s best efforts, rather than because of them.


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The Nat King Cole Trio Does “Blame It On My Youth” by Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman (1934)

King Cole Trio
Oscar Moore, guitar and Joe Comfort, double bass. The creamy Nat Cole at the piano.

If I cried a little bit
When first I learned the truth
Don’t blame it on my heart
Blame it on my youth

You wouldn’t look at him to think that Levant, the eternal loafer/boy genius, was a fine tunesmith as well, would you? But here’s his plaintive standard sung by one of the most identifiable singers in American music. From After Midnight, Capitol Records.


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Schelomo by Ernest Bloch, Played by George Neikrug (1919 – 2019) and the Symphony of the Air, Conducted by Leopold Stokowski

Counted among one of the greatest cellists in the Golden Age of String Players, George Neikrug has died, the day after turning 100.

Born in New York, at age 24, Neikrug met D.C. Dounis, a Greek pedagogue, whose revolutionary approach had a profound influence on the young cellist. “Trying to tell you about Dounis’s teaching is like asking me to tell you about a whole science like biology,” Neikrug said. “Dounis put very much emphasis on the most basic things I did like how I played a down bow and an up bow. He would show me how to play a down bow and an up bow and then I would play through a whole piece and he would sit there and practise with me. If he caught me doing one thing wrong I’d have to do it over again so I learned this tremendous amount of concentration…”

It was thanks to his studies with Dounis that Neikrug resolved to devote his life to teaching at schools including Detmold, Oberlin, the University of Texas-Austin and Boston University, whose arts faculty he joined in 1971.

In 1960, Neikrug performed “Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque“, the final work in Swiss composer Ernest Bloch’s 1916 Jewish Cycle.  with the NBC Symphony at Carnegie Hall and Leopold Stokowski, who described the cellist’s performance as “unforgettable”.

George NeikrugPart 1 “Schelomo” [duration 9:46] / Part 2 “Schelomo” [duration 11:49]

Thanks to old friend, violist Vivi Erickson, for remembering her former Boston University teacher for me.


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A Rodgers & Hammerstein Moment 3: Jack Benny Plays “Getting to Know You” with Giselle MacKenzie

jack-benny-giselle-mackenzie.jpegReally you mooks, in case you miss it below, HERE’s the clip on YT.

The audience didn’t even need the words to get the humor in this bit, so well-known is this song from The King and I (Broadway 1951, film 1956). From somewhere in the mid-50s on Jack’s TV show.


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The Hollywood String Quartet and the Hollywood Sound

John’s striving for “The Hollywood Sound” may be a new thing for his popular audience in England, but over here it’s been part of our musical history since before the Second World War. In 1939 violinist Felix Slatkin and his wife, cellist Eleanor Aller Slatkin, founded the Hollywood String Quartet. Their uniquely American style of playing strings quickly won the HSQ recognition and praise from critics around the world when they essayed works from the Classic Repertoire.

Said the Gramophone Classical Music Guide of their 1951 recording of Arnold Schoenberg‘s piece: “This was the first ever recording of ‘Verklärte Nacht‘ in its original sextet form and it remains unsurpassed.”

Hollywood String Quartet

In the liner notes of one of their other recordings, Paul Shure remembered: “Dynamics were a very big part of our work. Our discussions were always about dynamics and a little bit about tempi, and nothing else. We played with vibrato except where there was a particular effect to be had—no dead left hands were allowed.” This sounds so similar to what JWO concertmaster John Mills said in the web series Sarah’s Music: “John asks us, the strings, to play with so much vibrato that people’s family photos should fall off the TV sets. We’re effectively trying to recreate the sound of the studio orchestra.”


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