Who is John Wilson?

John Wilson, a BBC Proms favourite, is a British conductor, arranger and musical scholar probably best known for his hugely popular programmes of light music - which he often performs with his own ensemble, the John Wilson Orchestra. But, as a guest conductor of several leading orchestras (including Associate Guest Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra), he is also comfortable with standard classical repertoire. Last year he caused a stir at the BBC Proms with his re-established orchestra, The Sinfonia of London, and a programme conjuring up the world of fin-de-siècle Vienna. And he is outspoken about his desire to avoid being pigeonholed.


How old is John Wilson?

John Wilson was born in 1972, in Gateshead,

How did John Wilson get into music?

As a Tyneside schoolboy, Wilson fell in love with movie soundtracks. With help from his musical mother, he taught himself to play the piano, and later took up the percussion at school. Then, in the 1980s, he studied Music A level at Newcastle College, where he cut his teeth as a conductor, putting together and conducting various ensembles, including a 96-piece orchestra for a concert version of West Side Story.

Where did he train?

At the Royal College of Music, initially as a percussionist and later studying composition and conducting. In a Guardian interview from 2017 he recalls: 'I went from being almost thrown out at the end of my first year to winning the Tagore Gold Medal [the college’s most prestigious award for students]. They just let me do my thing.'

When did he found the John Wilson Orchestra?

In 1994, when he was just 22.

What kind of light music does he conduct exactly?

Mostly hits from the Golden age of Hollywood. And he argues that these are as serious in their craft as a Brahms symphony or a song by Schubert, conducting them with an attention to detail and seriousness of purpose that has done a huge amount for their reputation.

And in terms of standard repertoire?

His tastes are broad but he has a particularly soft spot for British music: Vaughan Williams, Delius, Elgar and others.

Where can I next hear him?

At the BBC Proms on Saturday 16 July, with the Sinfonia of London once again, in a programme of British music including Vaughan Williams, Watkins, Bax, Walton and Elgar.


Image by Sim Canetty-Clarke


Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.