John Wilson conductor
Gerald Finzi (1901-1956)
Clarinet Concerto, Op 31
Adagio ma senza rigore
Rondo. Allegro giocoso
James Gilbert clarinet
Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
All performers at this event are conforming to our safety requirements of being at least two metres apart.
Gerald Finzi is largely remembered today as a song composer, mainly setting poems by Thomas Hardy. There is something of the beauty and savagery of Hardy’s Wessex in the Clarinet Concerto, first performed in 1949. Written for Stephen Trier and the largely amateur Newbury String Players, the concerto exemplifies the bittersweet nature of Finzi’s musical language, combining long, lugubrious melodies with jarring rhythmic and harmonic disruption.
During the Second World War, while working at the Ministry of War Transport, Finzi issued a set of bagatelles for clarinet and piano, which became enormously popular. In her biography of the composer, Diana McVeagh notes that the first edition sold out within a year, and Finzi begrudged this success as disproportionate to the pieces’ worth. This irritation must have only been superficial, because it was only a few years before Finzi began work on the concerto.
It is a peculiar national cliché to focus on what makes music ‘English’, but the use of a string orchestra was one of the fingerprints of composers such as Finzi, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Peter Warlock. Finzi’s vocal works By Footpath and Stile and Dies Natalis feature accompaniment from string quartet and string orchestra respectively, and the Clarinet Concerto follows naturally on from these, helped largely by the songlike nature of the clarinet’s timbre. The first movement begins stormily, and surprisingly dissonantly, but the second and third movements are far less threatening; the concerto ends bucolically and joyfully, far removed from the threat of the opening.
Despite having never uttered anything on the subject, Richard Strauss’s deeply melancholic Metamorphosenis rich with potential interpretations and allusions. Composed in the closing months of the Second World War, it can (rather simplistically) be seen as a lament to Romanticism, to the Old Ways and, by extension, the Old Germany. 1944 and 1945 did see extensive ‘carpet bombing’ of cultural centres such as Munich and, most notoriously, Dresden, but Strauss was far too complex a figure to respond to one or two events in isolation. Metamorphosen is built on a tapestry of musical allusions, principally to the funeral march from Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony. Cryptically, Strauss appended ‘In Memoriam’ to this passage in the score, raising questions as to who or what was being mourned.
Perhaps the most equitable suggestion for Metamorphosen is that it is an elegy for whatever the listener, or indeed performer, wants it to be. Indeed, the work is scored for 23 solo strings, each bringing their own emotional and musical perspective. One should resist the temptation to apply a very specific historical parallel, while also recognising the historical and cultural context in which Strauss had been working. Strauss had worked from 1933 until 1935 as the head of the Reichsmusikkammer and as musical director of the Bayreuth Festival, although he was dismissed due to his continued professional relationship with Jewish writer Stefan Zweig. While Strauss was critical of Hitler and of the Nazi regime, it is hard not to consider a reading of Metamorphosen as mourning the demise of German culture, which had been thoroughly debased through fascism. Strauss’s work allows for individuals to bring their own experiences to bear, but one should also appreciate the socio-cultural milieu in which it was written.
John Wilson is in demand at the highest level across the globe, working with some of the finest orchestras and opera houses. In the UK, he performs regularly at festivals such as Aldeburgh, Glyndebourne and the BBC Proms with ensembles such as the London Symphony, London Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony and City of Birmingham Symphony orchestras. Elsewhere, he has conducted the Royal Concertgebouw, Budapest Festival, Swedish Radio Symphony, Oslo Philharmonic and Sydney Symphony orchestras. In the 2019/20 season, Wilson made his debut with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, Danish National Symphony and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic orchestras, and his return engagements included performances with the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Wilson made his opera debut in 2016 conducting Puccini's Madama Butterfly at Glyndebourne Festival Opera on their autumn tour and has since conducted Gershwin's Porgy and Bess at English National Opera and returned to Glyndebourne to conduct Massenet's Cendrillon. He will be making his debut at the Metropolitan Opera New York in a future season.
Wilson has a large and varied discography, which includes a series of discs with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra exploring the works of Richard Rodney Bennett, with the BBC Philharmonic devoted to the symphonic works of Aaron Copland and numerous recordings with the John Wilson Orchestra. In 2019 Chandos released Wilson’s first recording with the Sinfonia of London, featuring Korngold’s Symphony in F Sharp.
Born in Gateshead, Wilson studied composition and conducting at the Royal College of Music, where in 2011 he was made a Fellow. In 1994, he formed his own orchestra, the John Wilson Orchestra, dedicated to performing music from the golden age of Hollywood and Broadway, and with whom he has appeared regularly across the UK. In March 2019, Wilson was awarded the prestigious ISM Distinguished Musician Award for his services to music.
James is a London based clarinettist and is studying for a Master of Arts degree at the Royal Academy of Music as an ABRSM Scholar. He has recently graduated from the Academy with First Class Honours from his Bachelor's degree, studying with Mark Van de Wiel, Christopher Richards, Chi-Yu Mo and Laurent Ben Slimane.
James enjoys most performing within orchestras, and has regularly appeared with ensembles such as the London Sinfonietta, and the Philharmonia and London Chamber orchestras, as well as trialling for the Principal Clarinet position of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. With these and other ensembles, James has performed at the Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall and Cadogan Hall, as well as throughout Europe and Japan.
As an undergraduate student, James appeared as Principal and Principal Bass Clarinet with the Academy Symphony Orchestra, working on a wide range of repertoire with Mark Elder, Edward Gardner and Oliver Knussen. James performed Knussen's Trumpets as memorial to the composer at the 2018 British Composer Awards, and also performed as Guest Principal with the newly-formed Knussen Chamber Orchestra led by Ryan Wigglesworth at the BBC Proms in 2019.
As a soloist, James has given recitals at The Venue, Leeds as part of the Leeds International Concert Season and in 2017 performed as part of a Finzi celebratory concert. He very much looks forward to continuing his performing relationship with Finzi with this performance of his Clarinet Concerto. In the past year, James has also enjoyed performing Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No 1 with St John’s Chamber Orchestra and Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No 2 with the Isca Ensemble. James is very grateful to the ABRSM, Countess of Munster Musical Trust and Help Musicians UK for generously supporting his postgraduate studies at the Academy with the Home Postgraduate Scholarship, and the Derek Butler and Harrison awards respectively.
José Cabrita Matias
Amelie von Württemberg
– Leandro Bisiach violin (1900) + Kaspar Pankow violin bow (2019)
– Sam Zygmuntowicz violin (2017)
– Nicolò Gagliano violin (c 1746)
– W E Hill violin (1895)
María Espino Codes
– Caussin School violin (c 1840)
– Carlo Ferdinando Landolfi viola (1765)
– Panormo School viola (c 1790)
– Mario Miralles viola (2012) + English School viola bow (c 1950)
– Giovanni Francesco Celoniatus cello (c 1740) + William Tubbs cello bow (c 1850)
– Betts/Panormo School cello (c 1800)
– William Forster II cello (c 1790)
– Peter Walmsley double bass (c 1730)
Lon Fon Law