Los Angeles indie-classical ensemble wild Up got its start, the story goes, when Christopher Rountree, the group’s artistic director and conductor, came home after grad school looking to form a new band that would reject outdated traditions and embrace unusual venues, and assembled programs that viewed classical music through the broader context of contemporary art and pop culture.
Now, just six years later, Rountree and wild Up are at the center of a whirlwind of creative activity in Los Angeles – an artistic swirl that New Yorkers will have a chance to witness firsthand in three separate events at National Sawdust this weekend, mounted in collaboration with Beth Morrison Projects and collectively billed “LA in Brooklyn”
First up on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. is “Memory / Nostalgia / Somesuch Thing,” a collaboration with composer and sound artist Ellen Reid. A reflection on memory, identity, and home, the program includes Reid’s music alongside selections by Samuel Barber, Franz Schubert, Richard Valitutto, Andrew Tholl, Pete Seeger, the Books, Björk, and others.
On Nov. 19 at 7 p.m., composer Ted Hearne joins Rountree and wildUp for “Ascension,” an audacious collage of pieces spanning period and genre, assembled in tribute to the epochal titular work by John Coltrane. At 9 p.m., wild Up joins singer-composer Jodie Landau in the East Coast live premiere of You of All Things, released on a critically acclaimed Bedroom Community recording in 2015. (Rountree and wild Up will also join the Brooklyn Youth Chorus for a Sunday matinee on Nov. 20.)
Those concerts indicate an explosive creative energy at play in Los Angeles lately, infusing a community that includes plenty of increasingly visible colleagues – both established institutions freshly invigorated and emerging upstart performers and organizations. In advance of wild Up’s weekend performances, we asked Rountree to share his thoughts about what makes Los Angeles tick. In response, he waxed poetic.
a six year old kid at who plays in his dad’s Smiths-cover salsa band at the best damn goat mole place in the world. In Koreatown. Shaking his metal shaker, viciously in sick-in-time double offbeats, dropping nothing. Staring at his older brother, the bass player in the band, with glee, and giggling without stopping for a second.
somewhere where most people’s connection to music is in chanting during their spiritual practice.
20 thirty-somethings climbing on a giant adult jungle-gym sized geodesic dome in someone’s backyard to get a better view of the Independence fireworks in the arroyo below and the snow capping the mountains above.
it’s activism in choice. About being the West, the other, the frontier. And wide open space.
full of queer people and immigrants, and we like it that way.
it’s CalArts and the lineage of Baldessari.
planning what neighborhood you’re going to be in all day, staying there, never leaving at rush hour, for any reason, under any circumstances. Coffee / coffee / beer / coffee / tacos / beer, repeat.
sound baths in after-hours yoga studios, and poncho-draped dancers recording their footfalls, naked jumping over a fire in the desert.
a place where the major institutions in town foster the idea-making of young grassroots organizations, pointing at them and saying: you do the things we can’t, you’re the home of innovation, and dammit, if we’re doing our jobs right you’ll succeed and we’ll follow you.
where music is simply: “music.” We barely have a “downtown” to go to, and “uptown” would be Pasadena, and let’s face it: nobody goes there.
it’s a deception. Because it’s not the broseph gymrat M.A.W. (“model actor whatever”) you think it is. It’s the person at the party, you’ve seen before. Whose features are subtle and outfit impeccably considered (probably dark colors and stark accessories), and the light has caught their hair, and there this person is: and they just noticed you.
it’s a community that actively is recruiting more people to join it. Do you know anyone?
it’s following in the curatorial lineage of Ernest Fleischmann, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Chad Smith, and John Adams.
it’s somewhere where most of my meetings take place eating a coconut popsicle, walking around a lake, with dozens of people in pedal boats on it, during winter. And there aren’t even dead bodies in there (we checked), just a bunch of skateboards.
everyone in a car, that doubles as: their office, cubicle, nap zone, food eating isolation chamber, fortress of solitude, makeup studio, speaker system, getaway device, and excuse to be late.
it’s a place of optimism, of daily activism. A place of kombucha.
it’s the elderly seamstress who’s a closet erhu virtuoso, playing on Wednesdays at the boat noodle place (Sapp Coffee) on Hollywood Blvd.
a place that grew Moon Juice, the Cool School, and the Eameses. Snoop and Weird Al, Joan Didion, David Lynch, TM, John Cage, Walt Disney, James Tenney, and the Dorito Taco Locos.
it’s a place where all new music is seen in the context of performance art. Where the lighting matters. And where, most often, in rehearsal we’ve asked the question: But why? and why now? As much as we’ve answered the axis-questions: higher/lower, faster/slower, longer/shorter, louder/softer. (At least when we’re getting it right.)
it’s a place where we never run into our teammates on the street, and all the restaurants close early, but we actively send out messages of gratitude and love, daily.
where school kids learn about John Cage beside Beethoven, (Because both of them believed music was all around us) and because generally we should know the music of our neighbors.
it’s a place where people are actively in touch with their bodies, aware of how they’re feeling, from the inside out. And a place where people consciously fuel their physical lives. A place where sex exists, and we acknowledge that.
where art is a spiritual practice. A scientific endeavor. Our loathsome daily chore. A revelation (about our world and all the people in it). A gnarly homunculus rendition, of ourselves; our psyche strewn out. A garden to get our hands dirty in (and where we’ve sometimes got a green thumb). A place for us to undress — armor off, bit by bit. A subtle means for us to change the world: (and: it needs it) changing it by changing ourselves first.
Los Angeles is the place I think about when I feel the first snow in Brooklyn.
it’s a place where earnestness is: in. Gaining ground even.
it’s our community, our sangha, our nomadic city, our home. Sprawl and all.
Conductor and composer Christopher Rountree is the founder, conductor, and creative director of the groundbreaking L.A. chamber orchestra wild Up. Other engagements this year include his San Diego Opera debut and performances with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Opera Omaha. Rountree and wild Up perform Nov. 18 and 19 at National Sawdust; www.nationalsawdust.org