We see Lady Macbeth in a dozen crooning silhouettes washing blood out of rags in a bathroom; hear Stravinsky pouring out of an abandoned warehouse; watch a violinist cutting himself out of duct tape with a razor as his amplified violin sits gathering feedback; and witness as a long lost John Adams suite comes alive at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Conductor and composer CHRISTOPHER ROUNTREE is standing at the intersection of classical music, new music, performance art and pop.
Rountree, 32, is the founder, conductor and creative director of the pathbreaking L.A. chamber orchestra wild Up. The group has been called “Searing. Penetrating. And Thrilling” by NPR’s Performance Today and named “Best Classical Music of 2015” by the New York Times. wild Up started in 2010 with no funding and no musicians, driven only by Rountree’s vision of a world-class orchestra that creates visceral, provocative experiences that are unmoored from classical traditions.
Whether he’s conducting, composing or curating a program, Rountree’s approach – with its “infectious enthusiasm” (L.A. Times) and “elegant clarity” (New York Times) – is united by extremely high energy and a deeply engaged relationship between a score, musicians and audience.
“For most people, programming and conducting are about restraint, intellect. I want to get rid of restraint: I want to go all the way there. To make something searing, on fire, and raw. The authentic thing, with its soul bared and teeth gritted.” Rountree says. “I want to empower musicians. I want to energize an audience. It’s not that I’m a ‘conduit for the score’ – everyone in the hall is a part of a circuit that connects the conductor, the musicians, the score and the listeners. A concert shouldn’t leave people when people leave the concert hall.”
If there is a dam separating establishment classical music from more adventurous forms, Rountree finds himself spilling over both sides – conducting Opera Omaha here, and writing experimental metal for the group gnarwhallaby there.
This year, Rountree makes his Chicago Symphony, LA Opera and Atlanta Opera debuts, returns to the Music Academy of the West and twice to the San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox series, conducts the Interlochen World Youth Orchestra on the New York Philharmonic's 2016 Biennial, joins Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner with wild Up at the Laguna Beach Music Festival, and conducts Diavolo’s new show “L'Espace du Temps: Glass, Adams, and Salonen.” As a composer, his recent premieres and commissions include a new piece for The Crossing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a re-orchestration of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Foreign Bodies, a choral work for Bjork’s choir Graduale Nobili in Reykjavik, Iceland, and two new pieces for Jennifer Koh: a short theater piece on the New York Philharmonic's Biennial, and a large scale concerto co-commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for Jenny and wild Up.
Last year, Rountree founded an education intensive with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, continued an education partnership at the Colburn School, and taught “Creativity and Consciousness” at Bard College’s Longy School. He joined the production company Chromatic, conducted Opera Omaha performing John Adams’ “A Flowering Tree,” debuted on the San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox series, and started a three-year stint as guest conductor of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
With his eclectic style and résumé, he’s been tapped to curate and create events for contemporary art institutions including the Getty Museum, MCA Denver, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and UCLA’s Hammer Museum, where a long-running wild Up residency brought the group to national prominence.
Through it all, Rountree is guided by his vision of a more engaging classical music culture that blows up the old boxes.
“I don’t have enough tattoos to be the badboy provocateur of classical music,” Rountree jokes. “But is the goal to dismantle the barriers to the artform, and to build something entirely new - something bursting with life, contemporary relevance, and deep mindfulness? That is exactly what we’re doing.”