John Wilson and his Orchestra – one of the highlights in the Prom Schedule, no doubt about that.
I personally first got hooked on this extraordinary orchestra by pure coincidence about 3 years ago. They were doing their Hollywood Rhapsody Prom and at the time I was hooked on film music and I had the day off so I thought, let’s call up and see if there are any returns, as it was a sell out concert. Thankfully I got lucky – and also got hooked onto John Wilson. He is one of the most passionate musicians you will come across – he painstakingly listened to old records from MGM soundtracks and wrote the scores down again as the originals were all burnt. For his orchestra he handpicks his musicians – every now and then you will stumble across a familiar face in another concert – for example one of his harp players also plays at the Royal Opera House.
Enough of the chatting – now to tonight’s concert…
The hall was packed and buzzing with anticipation – the concert was titled George and Ira Gershwin Rediscovered. Ira, the older one of the brothers, would’ve had his 120th birthday this year.
To put a programme together from such a vast selection of music that both Ira and George wrote must have been quite the challenge. It was a mix of different pieces, some well know, some less know…two hours of concert don’t do this repertoire any justice though… In the programme notes John mentions that only six of the 18 pieces that were on the programme actually survived in full orchestration. The remainder was lovingly arranged with the help of a few friends of his.
The orchestra was joined by soloists Louise Dearman, Matthew Ford and Julian Ovenden, alongside the Maida Vale Singers. The three soloists are all very well known names within the theatre and/or the jazz world and they could sing! It was a joy listening to them.
John Wilson has such a presence on the podium – it’s a mix of a Swiss precision clockwork and an elegant figure skater… He is driving his musicians quite hard but it absolutely pays off! The dynamics and the timing are absolutely impeccable, down to the last semiquaver… As mentioned before a few musicians are a little more known to my by now and one of them is Mike Lovatt, principal trumpet. He has played with Jessye Norman on one of her CDs and I quite like his style. Tonight, his shining moment came in the last piece – Ballet from An American in Paris. There is the most beautiful blues theme with a trumpet solo and this just gave me the goose bumps!
It was another stunning concert even though I really didn’t like where I was sitting – but that’s self inflicted… Whilst normally I choose either the side stalls or the choir seats to be as close to the orchestra as possible I sat in the Rousing Circle this time – just way too far away from the orchestra! This lack of interaction due to the distance left me personally a little underwhelmed and it definitely didn’t top the concert from 2013. Looking forward to returning to the choir seats for the next Prom….