JOHN WILSONs RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN PROM CONCERT
Special Reports by Hamish Maclean and Tony Clayden
This was another resounding success for the John Wilson
The Prom was given to commemorate the death of Oscar Hammerstein
11 who died 50 years ago on the 23rd August 1960.
Londons 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
A special mention must be made of the Maida Vale Singers.
They provided excellent soloists for June is Bustin
Out All Over, Im Gonna Wash that Man Right
Outa My Hair, There is Nothing Like a Dame
and Grant Avenue and their choral singing in Bali
HaI 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
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 Dads Army. You couldnt
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 Wilsons
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 years
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
didnt 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 didnt
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.
Johns 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
The proceedings commenced with the Overture to Oklahoma!
followed by Oh What A Beautiful Morning and People
Will Say Were In Love. This was then followed
by three items from Carousel, which was reputedly
R&Hs 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 1958s highest grossing film it
was also marked the first time that R&H became their
own producers. The titles were Im Gonna Wash That
Man Right Out Of My Hair, Bali Hai, There Is Nothing
Like A Dame, Unspoken Thoughts and finally Some Enchanted
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 Hammersteins
death and for which Rodgers provided the lyrics I
Have Confidence In Me and I Must Have Done Something
Good. The finale was Climb Evry 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".
Lets hope the BBC will be a little quicker off the
mark this time and will release a DVD soon and lets
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