I’m all right, Mister Grumble’s all right. We’ve lived through an East Village tenement fire, an armed coup d’etat attempt in South America and the San Francisco Earthquake of ‘89, so this [fill in current disaster] is nothing.
The John Wilson Orchestra string section warming up at the 2010 Proms.
Ah, the coup. The coup—actually the attempted coup—was part of the CIA’s plan to oust popular Ecuadorian leftist president Rafael Correa by inciting the federal police in Quito to violently demonstrate for a pay raise. Normal TV broadcasts suspended, the government broke in on a rerun of Las Zuquillo, damn; on the phone the American Embassy told us not to worry, if the borders closed they’d send a car to fetch us; and we (the downstairs neighbors—Cuban refugees—and I, Mister Grumble having entirely lost his sight by then) spent the rest of the day watching for tanks to come rolling down the Autopista Rumiñahui, a major road into the city, which got Mister Grumble all reminiscent of the time in ’68 when Soviet tanks rolled down the streets of Prague, resulting in Army Intelligence sending him into Czechoslavakia. (His mission—which turned out fatal for everyone but my sweet baby—was declassified so I guess I can tell the story, but not now.)
But listen: Some weeks before the coup, while Mister Grumble was going blind, I was desperately looking for some entertainment we could both enjoy and found online BBC Radio on Demand—this was back in the days when there was Radio 4, Radio 4 Extra and Radio 5…now all gone. It was on, I think, 23 August 2010 they advertised on their news feed a live broadcast that evening of an all-Rodgers & Hammerstein concert at the Royal Albert Hall, to be headed by a “brilliant young conductor” named John Wilson. “The music of Rodgers & Hammerstein as you’ve never heard it before!” promised the Beeb. And oh, I was hungry for a little bit of America, of home.
“Do you want to hear it?” I called to Mister Grumble across our atypically vast living room.
“Where’s it coming from?”
“England,” I told him.
“Are you kidding!?” he answered with a derisive laugh. And that was that.
A few years later I finally found the whole show online. To my chagrin, I found it absolutely undistinguished—except for this excessively fabulous number that almost completely redeems my beloved John.
Oh, the coup ended that night—troops loyal to Correa busted him out of the barracks where he was being held prisoner. It made great TV.
Free pdf of my book JOHN WILSON: AN ENGLISH CONDUCTOR here.