On Wednesday 15 February we'll be welcoming John Wilson as he steps in at short notice to conduct the LSO for the first time in a main season concert. Here are five things that you might not know about the intrepid saviour of our Wednesday night.
He doesn’t hang around
John Wilson started his musical career when he was 16, when he founded the Newcastle Symphony Orchestra. At 18 he attended the Royal College of Music and by age of just 22 he was arranging music for BBC Radio 2’s Friday Night is Music Night, and had formed the John Wilson Orchestra which now boasts some of the country’s top musicians (including a few from the LSO!)
He’s in the process of reconstructing orchestrations of all the major MGM musicals
Many of MGM’s original film scores were destroyed in 1969, leaving only the short or piano versions of some of Hollywood’s most iconic soundtracks. Wilson’s lifelong interest in historical film scores led him to accept the challenge of using these remaining fragments to reconstruct the orchestrations of all the major MGM musicals including High Society, Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, An American in Paris and The Wizard of Oz.
He described the work in an interview accompanying his 2011 release That’s Entertainment: A Celebration of the MGM Film Musical: ‘transcribing music from the soundtrack is an incredibly laborious process and sometimes it’s very, very slow going. The cyclone sequence from The Wizard Of Oz took forever. I remember spending a whole Sunday doing three or four seconds worth of music, so complex is that scene, with notes flying all over the page!’
He’s a regular face at the BBC Proms
John Wilson and his orchestra have played in every BBC Proms season since their debut in 2009. They’ve celebrated the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sinatra, Bernstein, Gershwin and given semi-staged performances of Lerner and Loewes’ My Fair Lady and Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate.
For one Guardian reviewer, with the John Wilson Orchestra ‘you hear the real sound of Broadway, alternately strident and soulful’.
His orchestra is custom built to recreate the golden sounds of Hollywood
In an interview with BBC Music Magazine before the 2010 BBC Proms season, Wilson explained how The John Wilson Orchestra is made up, including its nine-piece percussion section and full jazz big band!
‘It’s modelled on the old contract movie orchestras in America. And that's basically the combination of a dance-band brass, rhythm and saxophone section, so four trumpets, four trombones, five saxes who all double, and a rhythm section, who are all very specific specialists in this style. And then on top of that you have a woodwind and French horn section.
But I think the key thing is getting the right string players. It has to be a very high octane, high gloss, soloist sort of player. The string sound isn’t blended down, it’s blended up. You play up to the best. It’s a very in-your-face, expensive sort of string sound and it takes a lot of playing. You have to have the best players, but we're spoilt in this country for terrific orchestral performers.’
Last weekend Wilson continued his Vaughan Williams symphony cycle at the Royal Festival Hall with A London Symphony. According to MusicOMH, ‘Wilson and The Philharmonia gave a masterly account of it, bringing out to the full the intense emotional range of the work, from the crisp martial silver-band theme in the first movement … to the hauntingly quiet, almost unresolved ending.’
Wilson is the new Associate Guest Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and he conducted the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in performance of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2 in January (the same piece he’ll be conducting with the LSO this Wednesday 15 February). In the autumn he made his debut with Glyndebourne Festival Opera with the theatre’s first ever production of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly and his most recent CD release in September 2016 was a disc of symphonies by the American composer Aaron Copland. All in all, it’s quite the mix!
John Wilson makes his main season debut with the London Symphony Orchestra this Wednesday 15 February, performing the UK premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Håkan and Rachmaninov’s luscious Symphony No 2.