26 May

John Wilson's Rodgers and Hammerstein Prom Concert 2010

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Special Reports by Hamish Maclean and Tony Clayden

This was another resounding success for the John Wilson Orchestra.

The Prom was given to commemorate the death of Oscar Hammerstein 11 who died 50 years ago on the 23rd August 1960. London’s Royal Albert Hall was absolutely packed and to give you an idea how difficult it was to get tickets I went on the website just after 8:00am when booking opened, and I was in a queue of just under 4,000. I cannot say whether they were all after the Rodgers and Hammerstein Prom, but when I finally got through all I was offered was the quite poor seats in the upper circle. I have since heard all seats were sold by 12:00pm

Last year it was MGM; this year it was the turn of 20th Century Fox who produced nearly all the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals for the silver screen – in many cases the huge screen of the Todd-AO process using 70 mm film.

The spotlight was firmly on the 20th Century Fox Music Department and their director, the legendary Alfred Newman. Apart from ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ the musical scores were adapted by him and a team of brilliant orchestrators – Edward B. Powell, Gus Levene, Pete King, Herbert Spencer and Bernard Mayers.

‘Oklahoma’ was adapted by another legendary figure, Robert Russell Bennett who wrote the original orchestrations for the Broadway pit orchestra and then was asked to expand them for a full Symphony Orchestra for the 1955 film. For ‘The Sound of Music’ Irwin Kostal wrote brand new arrangements, with the approval of Richard Rodgers, for the 1965 film directed by Robert Wise.

The Prom started with selections from ‘Oklahoma’ and concluded with the ‘The Sound of Music’. In between we had further selections from ‘Carousel’, ‘South Pacific’, ‘The King and I’ and ‘Flower Drum Song’.

The superb singers were Kim Criswell, Anna-Jane Casey, Sierra Boggess, Julian Ovenden and Rod Gilfry who all gave outstanding performances.

A special mention must be made of the Maida Vale Singers. They provided excellent soloists for June is Bustin’ Out All Over, I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Outa My Hair, There is Nothing Like a Dame and Grant Avenue and their choral singing in Bali Ha’I and The Sound of Music’ was out of this world.

What can I say about the John Wilson Orchestra? Superlatives fail me but I am pretty sure of one thing: this Orchestra must be amongst - if not the best - in the world at playing this type of music. A friend who was with me at the concert could not believe the commitment they had to give of their very best - a point picked up by several press reviewers who commented several major international orchestras this season have failed to muster half the energy and commitment John drew from his players. The strings at one point I thought were going to take off along with the woodwind and the Big Band break in Grant Avenue made my hair stand on end.

The concert took place on Sunday afternoon, 22 August 2010 and it was broadcast ‘live’ on BBC Radio 3. For the TV transmission the following Saturday evening the BBC cut two wonderful songs from the programme – This Nearly Was Mine from ‘South Pacific’ and You Are Beautiful from ‘Flower Drum Song’ both sung by Rod Gilfry. I would be pretty furious if I was him, for he sung them beautifully and with such feeling. And why were they cut from the concert? Believe it or not they were removed to make way for another of the endless repeats of ‘Dad’s Army’. You couldn’t make it up.

The BBC should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, but I do have suggestions to make that would go some way to making amends. Offer The John Wilson Orchestra and singers their own series on TV and Radio so that we could all hear a lot more from this world beating ensemble and PLEASE release a DVD of this Prom before the end of the year. OK!


Tony Clayden was also present in the Royal Albert Hall:

People are still talking enthusiastically about John Wilson’s 2009 Prom concert, (reputedly the most popular of the whole season!), when he presented a programme of music from the MGM musicals. Most of that material had to be painstakingly transcribed by John by listening to the film soundtracks.

After a great clamour, the BBC have finally bowed to public pressure and released a DVD of the concert, as reported in JIM 185.

It came as no surprise, therefore, that this year’s JW Prom concert was sold out within a couple of days of the tickets becoming available. My partner, Lyn, and I had ruled out any possibility of being there, but we had an amazing stroke of luck; Lyn won a prize in a local charity raffle! The prize in question was offered by a family who have a permanent box at the Royal Albert Hall, and we could select a concert of our choice - provided that the family didn’t wish to use their box on that particular day. The lady donor thought it was strange that we wanted to go to "an afternoon performance of Film Music", but yes, it was available and we ‘grabbed it with both hands’ before she changed her mind!

So it was that the afternoon of July 22nd found Lyn and I, together with David and Lillian Snell, and John Thompson, (who helps me set up the technical facilities at our London meetings), in a rather cramped box, bang in the middle of the hall, diametrically opposite the organ! The view of the orchestra was tremendous; the downside was that it became rather hot as the afternoon wore on. Still, we were much more fortunate than the poor Prommers who had to stand for a full two hours – there was no interval!

There was hardly an empty seat anywhere, (the only vacant spaces being a couple of unoccupied boxes), as John Wilson took to the podium, accompanied by a rousing cheer from the audience. This time, the programme was assembled mostly from scores which still exist – (these didn’t get binned, unlike the MGM music). The concert was planned to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the death of Oscar Hammerstein, and celebrated his partnership with Richard Rodgers, which lasted from the 1940s until Hammerstein died in 1960.

John’s aim was to present his favourite hits from the film versions of the R&H musicals; his hand-picked studio orchestra, led by Andrew Haveron, is modelled on the Hollywood Studio orchestras, which John considers to have employed the best players in the world. He chose the film - rather than the stage – versions, because he says they are more ‘opulent’ – some reviewers have commented that perhaps the sound is a bit too opulent!

The six shows featured were presented in chronological order.

The proceedings commenced with the Overture to Oklahoma! followed by Oh What A Beautiful Morning and People Will Say We’re In Love. This was then followed by three items from Carousel, which was reputedly R&H’s favourite. Following the famous Waltz, we were treated to If I Loved You and June is Bustin’ Out All Over and finally Soliloquy.

Next up were some numbers from South Pacific, which was 1958’s highest grossing film – it was also marked the first time that R&H became their own producers. The titles were I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair, Bali H’ai, There Is Nothing Like A Dame, Unspoken Thoughts and finally Some Enchanted Evening.

We then heard the Overture from The King And I. This show posed new challenges for R&H, because it was their first production containing no American characters.

The next two items were from Flower Drum Song and I believe that in this case John had to transcribe the music by ear, as the scores were not available. The 1961 film was totally overshadowed by West Side Story and this may be one of the reasons why it is much less well-known than its predecessors. The two numbers were I Enjoy Being A Girl and Grant Avenue.

The sixth and final selection was from their great enduring success, The Sound Of Music. The Main Title music segued into The Nuns’ Chorus and this was followed by two numbers which were written especially for the film version after Hammerstein’s death and for which Rodgers provided the lyrics – I Have Confidence In Me and I Must Have Done Something Good. The finale was Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

John then brought the proceedings to a rousing finish with his encore – the finale to Oklahoma!

The whole concert went extremely well, aided no doubt by the excellence of the solo performers, Sierra Boggess, Anna- Jane Casey, Julian Ovenden, Roger Gilfry and Kim Criswell, (although, in my opinion, was sometimes slightly outside her comfort zone). They were well supported by the Maida Vale Singers with some excellent ‘step-out’ soloists, including Sharon Eckman, who really deserves to be a full soloist in a concert of this kind.

Judging by the terrific response of the audience, and the many favourable comments overheard as we were leaving , this production was every bit as successful as the 2009 concert - I can do no better than quote from the Daily Telegraph, whose reporter described it as "An Enchanting Evening at the Proms with Rodgers and Hammerstein".

Let’s hope the BBC will be a little quicker off the mark this time and will release a DVD soon and let’s also hope that John Wilson will be asked back again for the 2011 Prom Season!


These reports originally appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’, December 2010

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.