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 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’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 violin 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 3John’s CD comes out February 2020 (Chandos #5252, Escales)

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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 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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“If Ever I Would Leave You” from Camelot by Lerner & Loewe, Played by The John Wilson Orchestra and Conducted by John Wilson, BBC Proms, 2019

I don’t think I’ve ever been more in love with John than now, watching him surrender to the exquisiteness of Alfred Newman’s orchestral arrangement. From the 2019 BBC Proms, just a few months ago. So recent I can see the silver in my bonny’s hair.

John Wilson Tryptich 2

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Conductor John Wilson’s Toothache and Holly Does Hollywood in Body Double, Written and Directed by Brian De Palma (Columbia, 1984)

The flick Holly Does Hollywood is fictional, of course, a fictional movie in the world of a real movie called Body Double, which was conceived and executed by the man who in an ideal world would be king of Hollywood, Brian De Palma.

De Palma’s affectionately knowing, utterly non-patronizing visit to pornland is a bit of a fantasy, of course. No flick I ever did or saw had a budget big enough to afford a mirror ball, let alone an MGM-sized dance floor (though Damiano’s later movies came close). But scale aside, De Palma understood the thing that kept nearly all of us, cast and crew, jazzed while we were being pushed to get out product, and that is: When you are making a porn movie, you are making a movie.

Now, every so often I’d remember this. I’d be in the middle of a take, and like a klieg wash switching on I’d suddenly become very aware of everything around me: the lights, the mikes, the crew, the director, the luxuriously gorgeous surroundings (half my films were done in those sumptuous private homes in Marin County), the smooth-skinned, sweet-smelling people touching me, the amused audience (most of the homeowners would hang around watching us film)—and the realization would thrill me so perceptibly I would be open to the moment and I’d like to think it showed up in my performance.

Which is the same jazzed-up open-to-the-momentness I thought I saw in John Wilson one evening when I was trawling online for classic show tunes and stumbled onto my bonny in a 2012 BBC-TV clip, commanding the podium in the middle of the Royal Albert, surrounded by an orchestra of eighty and an audience of 6,000, conducting a hot piece of Jule Styne and shimmying like a brazen hussy. And when I say shimmying like a brazen hussy, understand: I’m the brazen hussy he was shimmying like. I fell in love with him because I recognized him. I got his number. Or so it felt like…

Body Double 3.jpgFeatured in Holly Does Hollywood is the Liverpool group Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who made their initial splash in 1984 (dig it) with the best stroke song ever written, “Relax”. Of course it was banned by the BBC.

And so for the past year and a half or so I’ve been following my Tyneside lad‘s career and person, not as a fan, really, but as an…interested party. So you know I’m going to sit up and take notice like I did a couple of months ago when John, conducting possibly the last John Wilson Orchestra concert ever at the Royal Albert for the BBC Proms, looked deadly serious, almost toothache-grim, when he commanded the stage. Especially when you compare him to that cocky whippersnapper who took the podium back in 2011

I don’t mean to read a lot into this, maybe he did have a migraine or a toothache. (If so, he soldiered on magnificently.) More probably he’s thinking differently (that is, more “seriously”) about things nowadays. Eight years have passed between those two appearances, after all, and I’m sure he’s gone through scads of internal changes during that time and some interesting decisions we’ll all find out about, sooner or later. It’d be sad if it’s John himself who thinks it’s now “unseemly” for him to shimmy in public anymore (I’m way not the only one to have noticed his gorgeous limey shimmy); but it’d be a sadder thing if John’s taking the nudge-nudge hints and advice of others to heart.

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Closing Thought on “The Trolley Song” from A Celebration of Classic MGM Film Musicals with Conductor John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, BBC Proms 2009

Dearest John Wilson, Conductor, I don’t care whether some guy at Warners made you up because he had to optimize the assets in his department, you’re real enough to me. And it doesn’t matter a damn bit how you got the gig. What matters is you did the work.

The Trolley Song
from Meet Me In St Louis (MGM, 1944)
orchestrated by Conrad Salinger
reconstructed by John Wilson
played by The John Wilson Orchestra
conducted by John Wilson
from the album That’s Entertainment!
A Celebration of MGM Musicals
Kim Criswell, vocalist
Warner Classics, 2012

John Wilson Orchestra, Criswell, RLPO 2012 .jpg
Kim Criswell and John Wilson rehearsing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. [Photo by Eric the Fish King, 2012]

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On Conductor John Wilson’s Orchestral Sabbatical and The First Porn Movie I Ever Did, Part 3

Dearest John Wilson, Conductor, it makes me happy to be in your audience and I don’t require you at all to be in mine—mostly because, as Mister Grumble just pointed out, my flicks would probably give you a heart attack. And hand to God, I do not want to add to your anxieties in this, your time of transitioning.

It also makes me doubly happy that you’re going to be concentrating more on The Classic Repertoire this season, although it means leaving your faithful John Wilson Orchestra fans for a time. (I’m in your fan club because Claire’s a nice lady and she asked me twice, so I’m there up close noting people’s disappointment that you and your orchestra won’t be touring your native country this year.) Because when you’re not touring with American film music on the program, you’re not on the podium making the kind of quasi-witty comments that would make even me wince, and I used to be Arthur Godfrey’s gag man back in the fifties.

Now VoyagerNow, Voyager (1942): Bette Davis as brave Charlotte Vale and Paul Henreid as her handsome weenie of a lover in this BBC2 Saturday Afternoon Movie I’ll bet John saw once upon a time on a rainy day when he was a kid and couldn’t make head nor tail of, except for the music. Above: That’s Charles Gerhardt conducting the Max Steiner score, including the Warners Bros studio theme, which Steiner also wrote.

By the way John my beloved Geordie lad, I’m getting a kick out of imagining you form the word “porn”. Pohhhrnnn.

On that note, I just want to let all of you know that I realize it’s not hard to find me. Really. I’m in the freakin’ IMDb. I don’t even have to fill you in on what my screen name is because IMDb seems to have switched pretty much every one of my credits back to my legal name anyway, so it would be kind of pointless… All right. It’s Simona Wing. My castmates in my first movie, Dork & Sindy aka Playthings, gave it to me, and I consider it quite a lagniappe. Mister Grumble used it for my character’s name in his first novel (Tales from the Last Resort, Brave New Books, 2002) and no one has been able to get better use out of it since.

I have pleasant memories of that shoot. For one thing, it was shot in Marin County. In Sausalito! In a house overlooking the Bay. Do you see in that pic those houses up in the hills? The white house above the red roof, that’s where we shot.

For another thing, Craft Services was fantastic. You could graze all day.

And it was a friendly, clean shoot. Does anyone here who saw the flick remember what I was wearing before the guy in sunglasses stripped me naked, threw me into the hot tub and started chewing on my behind? That white blouse, that long black skirt, those pumps? That was my secretarial outfit, the one I wore a few months earlier when I worked for Rouben Mamoulian. Practically every freakin’ day, I was that poor (took Sunset bus to foot of Schuyler Road, got off, wearing sneakers climbed hill, at Mamoulian’s door removed sneakers, put on pumps which I carried in my handbag). I remember I had one line which has since been coming back to me regularly, because whenever I run into an occasional fan, he (and it’s always a he) tends to quote it to me:

“Marin County been bery, bery good to me.”

Now, you have to be a real Saturday Night Live geek to recognize that line, and I’m not going to decipher it for you. But I suppose this showed people I could do voices, because I got a lot of work from this film, almost all of it involving fakey foreign-sounding accents. Like Fatima, woman of Borneo, in the hardcore version of Sadie Thompson (aka Somerset Maugham’s short story, “Rain”). I’m not kidding.

Part 1 “Full Dress” here.
Part 2 “Zombie Love Slave” here.
Part 4 “Lovelace” 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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