What was popular in the 1930s and ’40s is finding new audiences in the 21st century under the baton of John Wilson, but his skills and interests are appreciated by colleagues as well. Whether leading his John Wilson Orchestra or guest conducting with major orchestras around the world, Wilson’s love of Hollywood and Broadway shine in his programming.
Wilson was born in 1972 in Gateshead, England. He graduated from the Royal College of Music in London in 1995, having gathered all the school’s major conducting prizes along the way, as well as founding the John Wilson Orchestra while still a student. His particular interests in film music and English light music are what drives the orchestra’s programs and appeals to its listeners at the BBC Proms. A couple of his early successes were the orchestrations of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s music for the miniseries Gormenghast and Howard Goodall’s score for The Gathering Storm. His talents as a scholar and arranger were noted by MGM Studios, which asked him to reconstruct the orchestrations from its major musicals, such as Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris. This led to live orchestral accompaniment for screenings of The Wizard of Oz with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra (with which Wilson was principal guest conductor from 2014-2016) in 2007, and of Singin’ in the Rain with the Philharmonia in 2010. He also arranged the music for the film Beyond the Sea (2004), which was later nominated for a Grammy Award.
Wilson’s commitment to British music is just as strong, especially the light music of the first half of the 20th century and orchestral jazz. He’s made several recordings for Dutton Laboratories featuring concert and film music of Robert Farnon, Eric Coates, Angela Morley, and others. He was named a co-principal conductor of the Royal Northern Sinfonia (2009-2015) and frequently works with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony, and Philharmonia orchestras, plus several of the BBC’s ensembles and groups in Scandinavia and other European countries. Wilson has developed a professional relationship with Paul McCartney, arranging and conducting McCartney’s music for the London Symphony Orchestra and conducting the recording of the 2011 ballet Ocean's Kingdom. In 2010, Wilson conducted his first operetta, Gilbert & Sullivan’s Ruddigore, with Opera North.
Wilson has recorded for several labels, most notably Naxos, EMI Classics, and Chandos. In 2012, he conducted his orchestra in the recording of the album Rogers and Hammerstein at the Movies on EMI Classics. Wilson was named the associate guest conductor for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in 2016. In 2018, he re-established the Sinfonia of London, leading that group in a recording of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Symphony in F sharp major, Op. 40, which earned an award from BBC Music Magazine. The following year, Wilson was awarded the ISM Distinguished Musician Award. He was appointed the Henry Wood Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in 2021, and in 2022, he led the Sinfonia of London on a Chandos recording of Ravel's ballet music. ~ Patsy Morita & Keith Finke