OK, I confess: just when I should have been penning this I was sitting up 'in the gods' in a packed concert hall listening to The John Wilson Orchestra and Chorus. If you've not come across this musical phenomenon, John Wilson is a young Geordie lad who decided the MGM film scores (all destroyed when the big screen musicals had apparently had their day) were too good to lose. So he sat down with the many, many hours of soundtrack recordings and re-wrote the orchestral scores in complete detail, all by ear. Now, I've done my fair share of transcribing by ear and like to think I'm no slouch, but I can't see how one life is long enough (or one pair of ears sharp enough) to perform such a herculean task.
John Wilson looks barely out of his teens now, but he must have been conducting from a pram when he founded the orchestra in 1994. I first heard JW and his startlingly lovely band in the 2009 Proms, since when he's been featured (and televised) every year in that august festival. Tony and I were so enthused that we bought rather expensive tickets to see him live - expensive, even though they were in crammed seats behind the orchestra. When we got there, we found the legroom was so poor we simply couldn't sit down. After some discussion amongst the ushers, we were escorted through tunnels beneath the concert hall to emerge centrally in the dress circle, to what must have been the best seats in the house (and certainly beyond our means) at no extra charge. The orchestra immediately swelled into glorious life and we both shed tears of sheer bliss.
Each year now we scrape together the wherewithal to sit up in the roof when JW returns on tour. And each year he adds yet more to his leviathan orchestra. This year he had his core dance band (4 each of trumpets and trombones, 5 saxes, bass and rhythm guitars, drummer and not one but two grand pianos). Added to that he has a full symphony orchestra - woodwind, French horns, harp, an amazing toy counter of percussion including a lovely celeste, and a body of the most exquisite strings you'll ever hear. This year's new feature was a real Hollywood chorus, who added stunning vocals behind the solo singers. Where can he possibly go from that? Unless it's to introduce the full Busby Berkley dancing spectacular? At least we'd get a birds' eye view from our seats in the stratosphere!
The concert hall was heaving with fans who cheered each number to the echo. They were mostly our age - folk who remembered those movies the first time round - but also equally enthusiastic young 'uns. It goes to show that, even when pricey, tickets can sell to quality shows. I still maintain that TV exposure is the key to popularity, and TV exposure of organs has been remarkable by its absence.
Now, as the snow falls so heavily it's blocking out the light, I'd just say that John Wilson and his Orchestra and Chorus are the best winter warmer there is. If you've not seen them yet, watch out for them on the tele, click here to see them on YouTube or even book to see them in the flesh. They truly are entertainment, with a capital 'Eee' (in a Geordie manner of speaking).
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