JOHN WILSON has developed close, long-term relationships with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Philharmonia, CBSO, and the BBC orchestras with appointments as Principal Conductor of the Northern Sinfonia and Principal Guest Conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in Dublin.
But it is his performances with his own John Wilson Orchestra that have introduced him to the widest audiences. Celebrated for his immensely popular annual appearances at the BBC Proms, his 2009 Prom celebrating 75 years of MGM musicals took him from being a highly respected conductor across an unusually broad spectrum of music to an overnight sensation. Televised live on BBC2 and watched by 3.5 million viewers, it generated so much public demand that it was repeated three times, released on DVD and led directly to an exclusive recording contract with his eponymous orchestra on EMI.
He and his handpicked collection of leading players from orchestras across the UK, founded in 1994, returned to the Proms in 2010 with a salute to the film musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. In 2011 he conducted further highlights of the Hollywood Golden Age and, in 2012, the complete score of My Fair Lady plus a further televised concert of music from Broadway.
His dedication to this repertoire is evidenced by his painstaking, bar-by-bar reconstruction of "lost” orchestral scores of MGM musicals. But his taste in song is broader than this suggests. He made his operatic debut in 2010 with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore at Opera North, the production subsequently touring the UK. He has also recently conducted semi-staged performances of The Yeomen of the Guard with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, RLPO and the Philharmonia. He has conducted André Previn and Johnny Mercer’s neglected musical The Good Companions, a brand-new production of West Side Story at The Sage Gateshead and a concert version of Singin’ in the Rain at the Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia to be followed in December 2012 by The Merry Widow.
Refusing to draw distinctions between the composers whose work he favours – "it’s all music and we have to play The Band Wagon with as much care, attention and style as we do a Mahler symphony” – he has maintained a life-long love of British music. The latter was kindled at the age of twelve upon hearing Sir John Barbirolli’s EMI recording of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, and much of his own catalogue of over 40 discs is devoted to English Romantics.
Across a range of orchestras he is currently conducting all nine symphonies of Vaughan Williams whose The Lark Ascending is included on his recently released disc Made in Britain with the RLPO which also features music by Walton, Bax, Butterworth, Delius and Edward German. He has recorded both of German’s symphonies on the Dutton label where he has also recorded English music by Eric Coates, Anthony Collins, Robert Farnon and beyond with the BBC Concert Orchestra, and music by John Ireland with the Hallé on its own label and the RLPO on Naxos. His disc of Elgar’s wartime music on SOMM was released in November.
Born in Gateshead on Tyneside, he studied composition and conducting at the Royal College of Music where his teachers were Joseph Horovitz and Neil Thomson. He won all the major conducting prizes and the coveted Tagore Gold Medal for the most outstanding student and has recently been made a Fellow.
Although he has conducted most of the core classical repertoire, his wish-list includes works by Sibelius and Szymanowski, the latter typifying his passion for refreshing and diversifying concert programmes. Indeed, his future plans include performances of Lerner & Loewe’s musical Brigadoon and concerts with the National Youth Orchestra of Holst’s The Planets and John Adams’ Guide to Strange Places.
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