Eric Coates and John Wilson

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BBC Concert Orchestra
John Wilson, Conductor

Since at least the age of 25 my beloved John Wilson has been associated with the prolific, ubiquitous English composer Eric Coates (1886-1957). In Town Tonight…Desert Island Discs…Music While You Work…The Forsyte Saga…all these BBC programs’ familiar signature tunes were taken from original works by Coates; while his most famous film music score, The Dam Busters, is well-known, and not just to British concertgoers or aficionados of British WWII pictures. There’s a safe, comforting familiarity about his brisk/inspirational but rather repetitive marches, suites etc that must make them as pleasant to play as they are to hear.

I can only wonder how frequent exposure to Coates’s work must affect John’s “ear”, and actually I’d love to talk to him about it sometime (that date at the Metropole?). As it turns out, I actually studied a few of Coates’s songs in voice class when I was 14: “Green Hills o’Somerset”—”The Fairy Tales of Ireland”—”I Heard You Singing”—and my favorite, “Bird Songs at Eventide”, all of which are sung in the 2008 recording above by baritone Sir Thomas Allen.

If it were solely a matter of musical quality it would be his vocal music, more than his orchestral, that would attract me to Coates’s work overall, but you know and I know I’m really here for my bonny…

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Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote In Jules Massenet’s Opera La Cendrillon At the Met, 2018

Cheshire-born Alice Coote and Kansan Joyce DiDonato, both lyric mezzos, play Prince Charming and Cinderella in The Met’s production of Massenet’s whimsical opera.

Le Cendrillion

Actor/director Fiona Shaw’s production of La Cendrillon makes its Glynbourne Festival debut summer 2019, conducted by John Wilson, with Australian-American soprano Danielle de Niese in the title role. (Later on in the year De Niese will be starring, with Kelsey Grammer, in the first West End staging of Man of La Mancha in fifty-three years, produced by the man who was the first to bring me to climax when I was 18.)

Emperor Waltz, Conducted by Daniel Barenboim with the Berliner Philharmoniker, 2013

In the Revolution of 1848, Johann Strauss Jr had sided with the dissidents—the anti-Habsburg faction—while Strauss Sr his father had been an avowed royalist, composing the Radetsky March in honor of the great general who played a large part in suppressing the Revolution. For some time the court looked with misgivings and suspicion at Strauss Jr, however important he proved to the Austrian image.

There’s a file of a police interrogation where the younger Strauss was asked why he had dared to play the ‘Marseillaise’. In an Austria of strict censorship, that was a loaded question. Strauss answered, ‘Because it is good music and good music is what concerns me’.”

But the wounds of the revolution gradually healed. Soon Austria had a new emperor. When the emperor celebrated the 40th anniversary of his accession in 1888, Strauss composed a waltz in honor of Franz Josef.

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My signal, my flame, my beloved John Wilson is slated to conduct this piece in Stockholm 29 March 2019.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Played by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Conducted by Neeme Järvi

My beloved John Wilson conducted this masterpiece with the London Symphony Orchestra in 2017.

Said Classical Source: “The LSO was behind Wilson in every particular; the conductor’s technique is immaculate, expressive and detailed, and curiously—for this member of the audience—the one conductor Wilson reminded me of was André Previn: clear, crisp and beautifully controlled. The result was a performance of considerable and consistent stature: one is often amazed at the quality of the LSO—on this occasion, as just one example, the woodwind chording was breathtaking, though I found the timpani more than a shade overbearing—it was difficult to identify which note was being played.”

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Mamoulian, The Drunken Woman in the Other Room, and Laura by David Raksin Conducted by John Wilson

This is what I mean when I say that John Wilson has invaded every nook and cranny of my inner life. I hadn’t thought of Mamoulian in years until I recently came upon an excerpt of a concert conducted by John in Glasgow, September 2011. The program was Music to be Murdered By with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. (The BBC yanked that clip from YouTube, but here’s the exact same arrangement in a better recording with The New Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by the composer himself and produced by Charles Gerhardt.)

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Azadia Newman next to her painting of Joan Crawford for The Last of Mrs Cheney (1937) Azadia’s famous portrait of Laura (that is to say, her portrait of Gene Tierney portraying the character, Laura) hung in the Mamoulians’ bedroom.

“You know I directed Laura,” said Mr Mamoulian to me matter-of-factly one day as we sat in his alcove-cum-study.

Now, I had seen the movie Laura several times—on TV and in the art house—and I remembered practically all the credits, which included one for Otto Preminger, Director…but no Mamoulian. But here was The Old Man sitting knee to knee with me, announcing right out that he was (what’s the Variety word?) the helmer of that glamorous but nutsy picture with Gene Tierney.

So what did I do? I was twenty-three. I was on a job. I nodded.

He sat back, took a couple of puffs from that awful cigar of his and smiled wistfully. “You know, Gene introduced me to my wife.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” I said. That would be Azadia, who Mamoulian called Zayde (a giggle, as zayde means grandfather in Yiddish); she was a woman I never saw except once. She was always in the Other Room.

[more later]