The John Wilson Orchestra: That’s Entertainment, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Friday November 22nd *****
It’s unlikely that there will ever be an orchestral concert that’s as thrilling to this movie fan as the first MGM Musicals concert that conductor John Wilson and The John Wilson Orchestra gave in Glasgow in 2010, with a quartet of singers including Curtis Stigers and Seth MacFarlane. But Friday’s return to the Concert Hall with a programme drawn from the same source came close on a number of occasions.
It’s not just the fact that Wilson has lovingly reconstructed the lost orchestrations by the great arrangers and composers who worked for MGM’s Freed Unit and who gave the studio its luxurious, distinctive house style. Nor is it the fact that he always has the best musicians in his band to play them. It’s the thrill of hearing songs you have only ever heard on TV or record, in your home, being brought dynamically to life with the utmost attention to every detail of the original version of which everyone is so fond.
In 2010, Singin’ in the Rain and The Trolley Song produced this magical effect. On Friday, the stand-outs were A Couple of Swells – brilliantly performed by Anna-Jane Casey and Matthew Ford – and High Society’s I Love You Samantha, with trumpeter Mike Lovett in the Louis Armstrong role.
Other highlights included a spectacular I Got Rhythm, with the orchestra giving the fabulous Dorsey band a run for its money, numbers from Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings, and the entire An American in Paris ballet. Lowlights? The £7 programme price tag, and the borderline scary crush as a good proportion of the full house tried to leave the Concert Hall onto Killermont Street – via one exit.
First published in The Herald, Monday November 25th
Back in February I curated an exhibition for the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, of photographs (from The Herald newspaper’s archive) of stars of the movie, music and entertainment worlds who visited the city between 1920 and 1990. It’s been a great success – so much so that the run has been extended indefinitely. The extension coincided with my brother offering his video-making skills to me for my blogs. So, here is a film about the exhibition – which features a cast including Gene Kelly, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, Mae West, Danny Kaye, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant, and Glasgow’s own Hollywood star, Mary Gordon.
Many readers have been asking if I reviewed the MGM movie musicals concert I previewed here. Yes, I did – for The Herald – and this is what I wrote:
A Celebration of Classic MGM Film Musicals, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (November 28, 2010)
It’s impossible to think about Sunday’s concert by the John Wilson Orchestra without paraphrasing some classic MGM songs. After all, for two-and-a-half hours a packed Concert Hall revelled in the glorious feeling of hearing such iconic numbers as Singin’ in the Rain and The Trolley Song being performed live.
Hearing the songs was treat enough; hearing them being played with the panache and enthusiasm that Wilson and his crew bring to proceedings left me – to quote Brigadoon – with a smile on my face for the whole human race. And I wasn’t alone. The mood throughout was euphoric. The musicians were beaming, and the singers were having a ball with songs which are clearly a joy to sing. And as for conductor John Wilson, it was his energy and delight that you could see bouncing off what was the most animated orchestra I’ve ever seen.
Every number was unforgettable, from the opening Jubilee Overture medley, which established the lush MGM house style and the way in which every section of the orchestra gets a work-out in every arrangement, through to the absolutely sensational Broadway Melody, which brought the audience to its feet.
Kim Criswell (the department of Judy Garland), Sarah Fox (Jane Powell, Kathryn Grayson etc) and Seth MacFarlane (Sinatra, Louis Jourdan, etc) didn’t mimic the original singers but each evoked some aspect of them. Curtis Stigers’s contributions – notably on Steppin’ Out With My Baby, The Heather on the Hill and the terrific duet with Seth MacFarlane on Well, Did You Evah? – were stand-outs; Stigers having a Gene Kelly-style swagger about him. In all, the most swellegant party of the year.