But it is his performances with his own John Wilson Orchestra that have introduced him to the widest audiences. Celebrated for his immensely popular annual appearances at the BBC Proms, his 2009 Prom celebrating 75 years of MGM musicals took him from being a highly respected conductor across an unusually broad spectrum of music to an overnight sensation. Televised live on BBC2 and watched by 3.5 million viewers, it generated so much public demand that it was repeated three times, released on DVD and led directly to an exclusive recording contract with his eponymous orchestra on EMI.
He and his handpicked collection of leading players from orchestras across the UK, founded in 1994, returned to the Proms in 2010 with a salute to the film musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. In 2011 he conducted further highlights of the Hollywood Golden Age and, in 2012, the complete score of My Fair Lady plus a further concert of music from Broadway.
His dedication to this repertoire is evidenced by his painstaking, bar-by-bar reconstruction of “lost” orchestral scores of MGM musicals. But his taste in song is broader than this suggests. He made his operatic debut in 2010 with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore at Opera North, the production subsequently touring the UK. He has also recently conducted semi-staged performances of The Yeomen of the Guard with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, RLPO and the Philharmonia. He has conducted André Previn and Johnny Mercer’s neglected musical The Good Companions, a brand-new production of West Side Story at The Sage Gateshead and a concert version of Singin’ in the Rain at the Royal Festival Hall with the Philharmonia to be followed in December 2012 by The Merry Widow.
He has maintained a life-long love of British music. The latter was kindled at the age of twelve upon hearing Sir John Barbirolli’s EMI recording of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, and much of his own catalogue of over 40 discs is devoted to English Romantics. He has recorded works by John Ireland, including the Piano Concerto, with both the RLPO and Halle and an Elgar disc for SOMM. Across a range of orchestras he is currently conducting all nine symphonies of Vaughan Williams.