A charismatic figure on the concert stage, John Wilson is known for the vivid nature of his interpretations and the intensely colourful sound that he draws from orchestras. An outstanding communicator and a recognised builder of audiences, Wilson inspires listeners with his intelligent programming and on-stage presentations. He regularly appears on radio and television.
In the UK, Wilson has developed particularly close relationships with the Philharmonia, BBC Philharmonic and BBC Scottish Symphony orchestras and has long-term affiliations with many other British orchestras, including the BBC Symphony, City of Birmingham Symphony, The Hallé and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestras. He is Principal Conductor of the Royal Northern Sinfonia and Principal Conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Dublin.
Wilson has a particular affinity with British music, with a flair for interpreting music by Vaughan Williams and Elgar, among many others. He also exercises a deep understanding of the core classical repertoire, with an enthusiasm for composers from Ravel and Stravinsky to John Adams. He has a catalogue of over 40 recordings, the most recent of which is a disc of Elgar’s The Spirit of England and With Proud Thanksgiving with the Philharmonia Orchestra and London Symphony Chorus on SOMM. In other recent recordings he has conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (on Avie and Naxos) and the Hallé (on its own label).
Highlights in the 2014/15 season include a new series of concerts with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, as part of its Classic FM Concert Series. He returns to the Royal Festival Hall, London, to conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra in a programme that continues his cycle of Vaughan Williams symphonies. Much in demand as an inspirational figure for young musicians, Wilson conducts the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain for their winter residency, with concerts in Leeds and in London.
Wilson has worked with some of the world’s finest singers, including Sir Thomas Allen, Joyce DiDonato, Simon Keenlyside and Renée Fleming. He made his operatic debut in 2010 with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore at Opera North. With the Philharmonia Orchestra in concert, he conducted Léhar’s The Merry Widow in 2012 and Strauss’s Die Fledermaus in 2014.
Born in Gateshead, England, John Wilson studied composition and conducting at the Royal College of Music, where he was taught by Joseph Horovitz and Neil Thomson. He won all the major conducting prizes there, as well as the coveted Tagore Gold Medal for the most outstanding student; in 2011 he was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Music. In 1994, Wilson formed his own orchestra, the John Wilson Orchestra, dedicated to performing film music of Hollywood’s golden age. He has appeared annually with the orchestra at the BBC Proms following the huge success of his debut in 2009. Following a hugely successful summer tour of British festivals, as well as to the Grafenegg Music Festival in Austria, he and the orchestra undertake an extensive UK tour in autumn 2014. The John Wilson Orchestra records exclusively for Warner Classics (formerly EMI Classics).
John Wilson is represented by Intermusica.
2014/15 biography / 496 words. Not to be altered without permission. Please destroy all previous biographical material.
National Youth Orchestra / Barbican Hall
Elgar, Respighi, Bach
“John Wilson is developing a reputation for his affinity with British music and this was instantly apparent; he coaxed an idiomatic performance, at times poetic and at others electrifying, from his youthful charges, who responded passionately to every emotion laden gesture.”
Leon Bosch, Seen and Heard International, January 2015
Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 / RTÉ Concert Orchestra / National Concert Hall
“… John Wilson’s superb ‘Essential Classics’ series at the NCH and what a pleasure to hear it played with exhilarating panache… The orchestra was in peak condition under Wilson’s baton. He really worked his players hard throughout and delivered a splendid result. The remainder of the series is an exciting prospect.”
Dick O'Riordan, Sunday Business Post Magazine, October 2014
Carmen / RTÉ Concert Orchestra / National Concert Hall
“Since John Wilson took up the post of Principal Conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, things at the National Concert Hall have been buzzing. His first venture into opera came on May 31 with an inspired concert performance of Carmen…”
Ian Fox, Opera Magazine, October 2014
Die Fledermaus / Philharmonia Orchestra, Royal Festival Hall
“John Wilson’s conducting was stylish and affectionate throughout, doing the music proud, the pit-sized Philharmonia enjoying itself, and we began with a lively and swaying Overture.”
Colin Anderson, Classical Source, April 2014
“Conductor John Wilson is best known for his work in resurrecting ‘lost’ music from MGM and other Hollywood classics. It has always been clear, however, that what he has brought to his exploration of musicals is nothing other than outstanding all-round musicianship…. In this concert performance of Die Fledermaus things worked perhaps the other way around in that Wilson introduced his excellent knowledge of musicals in terms of understanding the type of sounds that have visceral appeal. In this way, he nailed the score by imbuing it with exuberance and a mighty punch, while never sacrificing an ounce of detail or rhythmic precision."
Sam Smith, Music OMH, April 2014
“John Wilson was in balletic form on the podium and the Philharmonia responded in stylish fashion”
Mark Pullinger, Bachtrack, April 2014
Gilbert & Sullivan concert / City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
“Put together the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and brilliant conductor John Wilson and you are guaranteed a concert of special quality.
Somehow Wilson always seems to raise the bar, and hundreds of Gilbert and Sullivan fans in the large audience couldn't help noticing the extra quality he and the musicians brought to some of the much-loved classics.”
Birmingham Mail, February 2014
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Royal Concert Hall
Elgar, Walton, Williams
“Conductor John Wilson never seems to put a foot wrong. Now known to millions as director of his hand-picked orchestra dedicated to breathing new life into Hollywood musicals, he is equally adept at crafting deeply thoughtful performances of English classical music.
…The drama of Wilson’s reading [of the Vaughan Williams] produced some sweeping effects from his players. One highlight was when the orchestra surges up to the first allegro: here they struck a note of terror, enhanced by savage interjections from the brass. But there were moments of grandeur and beauty too, notably in the sublime slow movement.
This instinctive grasp of atmosphere was apparent in Walton’s Cello Concerto…
Three of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches were also on the programme, played with just the right amount of snap and swagger. As a nation we may lack the confidence we had in Elgar’s day, but the music still quickens the pulse. Especially in the hands of John Wilson and the CBSO.”
Nottingham Post, January 2014
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra / National Concert Hall
“I am startled by the authority of the playing – this is the RTE NSO at its responsive and wide-ranging best…This performance has a dramatic cogency stronger than any of the several I have heard. Wilson sustains a narrative sweep based not on notions that the music creates pictures of London, but on the inherent musical qualities of its vivid contrasts. It seems that this classic of English music has been though through afresh. Everything sounds purposeful, as tight, dramatically intense and cutting-edge as when the piece was completed some 80 years ago.”
Martin Adams, Irish Times, January 2014
Belfast Music Week / Ulster Orchestra / Ulster Hall
“As for Wilson, his strong leadership and fiery stylings seemed to push the assembled musicians to ever greater heights. The maestro was equally adept at teasing out delicate passages as he was at driving on the bombast…”
Andrew Johnston, Belfast Telegraph, November 2013
The Richard Morrison Column
"Happily, several of today's leading conductors make a point of reviving unjustly neglected repertoire... three cheers to John Wilson for reminding us what fabulous melodies and craftsmanship went into classic Viennese operettas and Broadway musicals - and recruiting top-notch musicians to revive them."
Richard Morrison, BBC Music Magazine
John Wilson Orchestra / BBC Proms
Steiner, Waxman, Herrmann, Bradley, Rosza
“…he knows his audience and delivers what he promises.”
Evening Standard, August 2013
BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Barbican Centre
Walton, York Bowen, Vaughan Williams
“Another English programme under John Wilson, who is clearly well on the way to inheriting the late Richard Hickox's mantle in this repertoire; he certainly deserves to....The choral singing throughout was superb - excellently balanced with the orchestra. They were fortunate to have John Wilson in charge, accurate, clear, communicative, tingling with vitality and expressively moulding the many lyrical passages.... A truly outstanding evening.”
Classical Source, May 2013
Philharmonia Orchestra / Royal Festival Hall
Walton, Delius, Ireland, Vaughan Williams, Elgar
"The second part of the concert was totally absorbing. In Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia, Wilson achieved an almost miraculous depth of resonance (given the sonic limitations of the Royal Festival Hall) by positioning the ‘second’ orchestra at the very rear of the platform, on the right and just below front-of-choir level. He sustained the singing lines of the work marvelously well, balancing its complex strands of sonority and emotion. The Philharmonia’s strings were acutely responsive to Wilson’s every direction, and the impressive string-quartet contributions were integral to the success of the whole, Wilson always aware of the arc of the piece.
Elgar’s In the South was also given a performance of one’s dreams, which could bear comparison with the legendary one recorded by EMI forty-six years ago by Constantin Silvestri and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Wilson and his players offered an equally passionate and sensitive account, made even more lustrous by the Philharmonia’s glorious playing, which included a most expressive canto popolare viola solo from Rebecca Chambers, an elegiac horn contribution from Antonio-Geremia Iezzi, and some very affecting work from the woodwinds. All through, from the magnificent eruption of the opening, via the affecting central sections, to the blazing conclusion, Wilson shaped it all to perfection; he is clearly a musician of rare sensibility."
Classical Source, January 2013
BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Vaughan Williams, Finzi, Elgar
“Wasps overture came first, showing off the glow of the ensemble's string players… On their own in this piece [Finzi], the BBC Symphony's strings clarified its lucid textures and kept them airborne, while Wilson accompanied astutely…
Its grand sonic panoplies were presented with care by Wilson, who could rely on fearless, forthright singing from the BBC Symphony Chorus, yet their response to the music's [Elgar] recessing into the inward and the intimate was no less skilled.”
Guardian, November 2012
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (Naxos)
John Ireland Piano Concerto, Legend
“John Ireland’s Piano Concerto of 1930 receives a thoroughly sympathetic, lucid performance, as does the ominously darker Legend of three years later. A delightful disc.”
Geoffrey Norris, Daily Telegraph, five stars, September 2011
“In both works the RLPO is on first-class form under the understanding direction of John Wilson, a passionate advocate of English music."
Gramophone, December 2011
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Lichfield Festival
Vaughan Williams, Delius, Elgar and Walton Belshazzar’s Feast
"The first half was a joy. John Wilson conducted a fizzing, affectionate account of Vaughan Williams’ Wasps Overture. The strings sounded absolutely gorgeous inthe idyllic pastoral interlude and Wilson presided over a simply tremendous Elgar In the South Overture. He achieved heroics holding Belshazzar together and I heard him receiving plaudit after plaudit from orchestral players as we all left the Cathedral lit by the setting sun."
Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post, July 2011