Golden sounds of Hollywood

Festival - The John Wilson Orchestra.
Festival - The John Wilson Orchestra.
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Conductor John Wilson has a passion about the music created for the golden age of Hollywood that he wants to share with the rest of us.

The leader of the John Wilson Orchestra has won huge acclaim for re-creating the music of Hollywood with the same type of huge orchestra that was used on sound stages to record the classic film musicals.

His work came to popular attention in 2009 when the orchestra did its first Prom concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

The orchestra’s appearances have now become a sell-out fixture in the world-famous classical music series.

John said that the orchestra has brought together classical musicians who love playing in a lush, romantic style and jazz musicians who love playing an older style of music.

“The essence of it is there is nothing like hearing a 70-odd piece orchestra playing live.

“These are truly great players. They give 100 per cent every night and on stage they are on the edge of their seats.

“It’s the first time you get to hear a lot of this stuff. It’s been reconstructed from lost materials. These are Gershwin premieres from original arrangements.”

Heexplained his fascination: “Every musician of his generation comes along and re-evaluates things that have gone on in the past.

“I don’t see Hollywood musicals as nostalgic, they’re not the entertainment of my youth as I’m in my early 40s.

“When I first discovered this music, I didn’t have any prejudice against it.”

John is a fan of all the great musical writers like Rodgers and Hammerstein but one name stands out for him.

“Surely George Gershwin was the chief among that particular group of composers.

“Gershwin was one of the few composers who died too young, when he was 38.

“He still had so much music to write, it was a great, great tragedy. He had the greatest breadth of music.”

The Proms were key to the orchestra’s success, said John. “When we did the 2009 Prom on MGM musicals on TV, four million people watched.

“After 15 years of doing any gigs, anywhere we could get our hands on, that put our music in the limelight.

“When the spotlight was on us, we could deliver the goods. It’s a very special orchestra full of people who are passionate about this music.”

There is still a lot of the music to explore, John said. “If I lived to be 300, I wouldn’t get through all the repertoire. This is a whole half a century’s worth of music.

“In 100 years’ time when we’re all dead, this popular music will be right at the heart of the standard repertoire.”

John puts its continuing popularity down to one thing. “Excellence. If you look at Fred Astaire, his work is going to be sensational to any generation.

“When they made these MGM musicals, they had the best people in the world doing everything. If you can work with the best talent in the world, you get the results.”

He added: “The great Hollywood moguls had two great attributes.They knew what the public wanted, that they could recognise, Then they let the best people get on with producing it.

“Jack Warner, Louis B Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn had their finger on the pulse. They couldn’t not realise they were creating works of art, although ultimately they wanted to make money.

“Their movies were made by craftsmen who cared. They didn’t compromise what they were doing. They left a wonderful legacy of high-class musical work that can be played in concerts.”

The John Wilson Orchestra perform Gershwin in Hollywood next Tuesday at Sheffield City Hall. Box office: call 0114 2 789 789 or go online at www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk