THE ROAR of an admiring audience is a welcome sound for musicians, says conductor John Wilson - and in Glasgow, it can often be louder than most.
“It’s great to hear, it really inspires all of us on the stage to absolutely give our all,” he says, smiling. “I know Glasgow well and love working in the city - I have done for about 25 years, so I have great friends there too.”
On November 13, John will bring his hand-picked, 70-strong, world-class Sinfonia of London to the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall to perform Hollywood’s Greatest Hits.
The famous 50s orchestra appeared in the musical credits of more than 300 British and American films, including Hitchcock’s Vertigo, before disappearing from view. In the 80s, it reformed to record the soundtrack for animated children’s classic The Snowman, and later, for many major Hollywood films, including Batman, Tombstone and RoboCop.
In 2018, John relaunched Sinfonia of London for a series of special concerts and recording projects, giving two acclaimed televised BBC Proms performances in 2021 and 2022. Its “crack team” of leading players is drawn from UK and international orchestras, alongside notable soloists and members of distinguished chamber groups.
“The programme includes some evergreens, the hits most people will recognise, but also some less-well-known ones,” he explains. “There is a good balance, to appeal hopefully to those who feel nostalgic for this music, but also to a brand new audience.”
The hits include Singin’ in the Rain, Over the Rainbow, S’Wonderful, High Society, They Can’t Take That Away From Me, That’s Entertainment and more. These are some of the biggest hits of Hollywood’s Golden Age which may have been lost for good, thanks to a bewildering decision by one of the world’s biggest film companies.
In 1969, MGM Studios destroyed the scores to their legendary film musical catalogue, which included the likes of High Society, The Wizard of Oz, Meet Me in St Louis and An American in Paris, simply because they were taking up too much space.
John was given permission by Warner Bros to resurrect these scores, and painstakingly restitched them back together, note by note. With only a few surviving piano parts (and his own expert ear for music) to guide him, it has been a real labour of love.
“I’m doing it because I have to,” he says, simply. “These scores were lost because people just didn’t think about how important this music really is.”
John grew up in Newcastle, where his twin passions were music and cinema.
“It rained a lot,” he says, with a laugh. “I spent a lot of time indoors watching TV. On a Saturday afternoon, you could watch sport or old movies, and I didn’t like sport.”
He adds: “I loved the melodramas and the musical double-bills. All my life, I have loved cinema, and it was the music that caught my ear. I liked the sound of the films, performed by some of the great orchestras and singers of their time.”
As he got older, he explains, he discovered the likes of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern.
“These composers had such talent and skill, creating a body of work which was pure gold,” he says.
“That is why it is still popular, around 100 years later. It has earned its place. The songs of Gerswhin are as important to the 20th century as the music of Schubert.”
Hollywood’s Greatest Hits, performed by John Wilson and Sinfonia of London is at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on November 13.