Forgive me for hyperbolizing here, but it seems like you can’t throw a stone at a new music event in LA without hitting Chris Rountree. With his extremely busy conducting and teaching schedule, it’s amazing that he has time for anyone else’s shows at all, yet he seems to be there to support his fellow musicians every chance he gets.
Chris is busy indeed. He’s the artistic director/founder/conductor/manager/etc. of wild Up (who we have mentioned on here quite a bit before, with good reason), assistant conducting in Brooklyn, artistically advising the American Youth Symphony, teaching conducting at UCSB and elsewhere, releasing a record…the list goes on. With wild Up’s show at The Armory coming up this weekend, I’m lucky he found time to answer a few questions.
Right off the bat, you’ve got a show coming up this weekend, and it’s all about birds. Tell me something about that.
Birds! Yes. We’re crazy about them. (and so many composers have been!)
Ha, so they have. Your programming this season is diverse, but every show seems to have a thread holding everything together. How do you go about programming?
We’re interested in exploring ideas and exploring them from a variety of angles. Our main concern is how the audience will feel in the concert — how comfortable or uncomfortable they’ll be and how each piece creates context for the next.
So this time we started with Olivier Messiaen’s piano concerto: Oiseaux exotiques and went — stream of consciousness from there to Charlie Parker, to Haydn, to new complexity composer Brian Ferneyhough to indie rocker Andrew Bird. It’s become a crazy program.
On that front, can you identify anything that makes a piece stand out as being right for wild Up?
There’s some mystery here. I want to be able to feel the music we play in my gut. Visceral is the best description — but that doesn’t altogether do it. Also, it’s how well the piece fits into the program we’re considering — more about the fit actually than anything else.
At wild Up’s last concert I was sitting with Lacey Huszcza, the director of advancement of the LA Chamber Orchestra, when you decided to offer an autographed brick to an audience member whose had an obstructed view. She said something along the lines of “wow, I wish we could do that for our unhappy patrons.” Why do you think your audience is so much more receptive to stuff like that than a traditional classical audience? Do you think it’s about the demographic you’re attracting, or the vibe that you and the band seem to embody?
The Brick! Oh right. So, that was a last minute decision — we saw that three to five seats were very bad at Beyond Baroque. One is shared with a fire-extinguisher, one is a 1.5 person wooden love-seat-pew, one was directly behind a pole, and one was right under a trumpet bell. In honoring the audience we wanted to improve the experience of one or more of the people who happened to end up with those seats. A signed brick (signed bricks and obsolete printer the second night) did the trick.
I hope our audiences have come to expect nothing. Maybe, just to enjoy themselves. So they have to be receptive to things like this — because they didn’t expect tuxedos and coughing. It could be the aesthetic — I’m not sure. As long as it feels like we’re all characters together in some big adventure, I’ll be happy.
We once talked about feeling like we were right on the cusp of becoming professionals. That you, and the members of wild Up, were getting gigs all over town, and beginning to get some notoriety and releasing CDs and even getting paid a bit, but you were still all working extra jobs to make rent. This is a big question, but for you, where’s the line? Are you taking this concert by concert, or working toward a concrete set of goals?
We have goals. To succeed, I believe that’s a necessity. At this point, we’re planning a season at a time and moving toward being presented versus presenting ourselves — which has been wonderful and painful experience — some serious learning has taken place for all of us in the past two years.
You also teach conducting, or at least started to recently. Has teaching influenced your performance practice at all, and your working with your own performers?
I love teaching. In fact, I’ve been doing it for a decade (I’m 28) teaching: high school marching band, youth orchestra, community orchestras, pre-professional orchestras, college orchestras, middle school brass players, private conducting students, partners attempting to cook improperly and most recently students at UCSB.
Through teaching we learn so much — mostly, I’ve found, I learn about psychology — how people learn, how they want to be worked with, what collaboration looks like, what a dictatorship looks like, etc.
I know you guys are working to release a recording of the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony on limited-edition vinyl, which totally gets me nostalgic for NoFX’s 7 inch of the month club. Were you consciously drawing on the punk tradition there? Also, will you please play at Origami Vinyl for the release party?
Yeah, we’re working on releasing our album “Shostakovich and Rzewski, The Salt of the Earth” on vinyl and digitally — actually we have a kickstarter going at the moment. People can help us on Kickstarter
and we’ll give them nice gifts!
Punk rock of the month club! Not intentionally, but we’re happy to reference that.
The recording was made live at the Jensen Rec. Center Studio, recorded and mixed by Nick Tipp. We didn’t make any edits, there are still errors on the album. But we mixed the tracks to feel like your head is inside a cello.
What’s next for wild Up?
We have shows in March at Beyond Baroque: Craft: DIY Art Music. Brooklyn vs. LA and in May at the Armory again, a program called: The Armory actually, the music is Stravinsky, Palestrina, and Slayer.
And for Chris Rountree?
I’m teaching in Santa Barbara, composing in Highland Park, Assistant Conducting in Brooklyn, Advising American Youth Symphony in LA and…drinking coffee at Intelligentsia.
And since you are a native, I’m sure readers would love to know about your current favorite:
Walt Disney Concert Hall (one of my favorite buildings, period.)
Let’s do a whole other interview about this! But for now: Elf in Echo Park
4. Bar/hang out
Verdugo Bar / Intelligentsia in Pasadena (the official band hangout…and SPONSOR!)
Apple Store. RIP Steve Jobs
6. Thing to do/see
More to come, hopefully.