Classical music has begun a resurgence in contemporary popular culture, as upstart troupes re-interpret old works, and finding new breath in the revered composers' creations. Conductor Christopher Roundtree is leading the pack in this new renaissance of classical music. Founder of wild Up, Roundtree, 31, hopes to open up a wider discourse on music in general, with specific attention to the mastery that is classical music and rock and roll. And, although Los Angeles is the Mecca for culture and creativity, Santa Ana is coming up as an alternative hub for experimentation and creative expression in the arts, in visual arts, performing arts and in music.
Santa Ana Sites, a young pop-up series of concerts and performances, has created a platform for experimental groups like wild Up to participate in non-traditional events and engage unsuspecting viewers or visitors to witness and participate in a new way to consider performing arts, dance and music. Founded by Allen Moon and John Spiak, Santa Ana Sites is revitalizing the Orange County area with a brighter, fresher, non-traditional art scene, engaging artists, dancers and musicians in a variety of events that move around this creative hub city.
This week, Santa Ana Sites presents wild Up at the new Logan Creative art center in downtown Santa Ana, the eighth event under the umbrella of Santa Ana Sites. Focusing on modernizing old classics, this installment of Sites will focus on modern music for strings. The Logan Creative space is a new addition to the downtown Santa Ana scene that houses a handful of artists, has artist studios, exhibition spaces, work areas, and hosts a number of art-related events.
Santa Ana Sites Artistic Director and co-Founder Allen Moon hopes that the presentation in a non-traditional concert venue will highlight the vitality of contemporary music and performance with wild Up and Pacific Symphony. "I think it's a particularly relevant theme when discussing the future of modern music (or modern art)," Moon says. "Both threads are equally valid and inspiring, but come from different places, yet both end up striving towards the same end."
wild Up's founder and director, Christopher Roundtree is excited about performing at the industrial loft-style Logan Creative space. "I grew up in L.A. but also in Irvine, so this is kind of home for me;" Roundtree explains, "and to make it weirder, taking classical music out of a hall that may have cost tens of thousands of dollars and put it into an industrial place that used to make staircases and now houses a bunch of artists, like that's really exciting."
Though wild Up has been diligently surprising and inspiring people with their unique brand of re-interpreted modern-classical music, their hard work has only recently paid off. "Three years ago, we all couldn't pay our rent, and now, we are all working with the L.A. Philharmonic and traveling and having managers," Roundtree said. "It's a totally different world where really the classical music community has really embraced us as the experimenters and the future of the genre is. It's a really great feeling."
wild Up will be partnering with the Pacific Symphony, a well-established classical orchestra for the Santa Ana performance to explore a mix of contemporary music inspired by the old masters.
"As a conductor, what I love about this collaboration is that our 'chops' are all in different areas," says Roundtree. "wild Up: They're explorers, they all love making sounds, tearing their instruments apart (sometimes literally) and doing things that no one else can, because they are totally fearless. To combine that energy with the immense precision, clarity, intention and brilliance of the Pacific Symphony players--what a collaboration."
The boundaries of what classical music is shifting and changing with help from ensembles like wild Up. Collaborating with traditional symphonies and orchestras helps grow their impact and inspire a wider variety of people to explore both classical music and rock music. Roundtree attributes his obsession with melding the two seemingly disparate genres together to his youthful days of playing in rock bands when he was a teenager. Through his formal classical training in music, he was able to see the similarities in the heart of the two different musical styles. "I started playing classical music because of pieces like those of Shostakovich Chamber Symphony, where, when the strings really dig into their instruments--this might as well be punk rock," he says. "Some of this music might as well be Black Flag or Anthrax, I think it's is like pre-metal, pre-punk rock."
Roundtree compares the wild Up creations and performances to a platypus, "the weirdest combination between a duck and a beaver -- it's like that," he says. It may strike some people as weird, to find beauty in strange sounds and finding parallels in strange ways.
As far as their name goes, Roundtree says it was inspired by an E.E. Cummings poem, though no one can recall its exact origin. He attributes it more to a group effort in the spirit of the endeavor. "We just couldn't call it 'Unabashed Joy-Making,' so I think 'wild' and 'Up' became the synonym for that," he explains.
wild Up is speeding up, not slowing down. They're currently preparing for a show in April at UCLA and collaborating with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in May for the Next on Grand Composition Intensive, where 16 young composers and a faculty of eight legendary composers collaborate on new work.
wild Up's more experimental and indie music collaborations include working with Bjork's choir Graduale Nobili and Valgeir Sigurðsson in Reykjavik Iceland; playing with Ellis Ludwig-Leone and rock band San Fermin under a tyrannosaurus rex at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles; premiering and recording Lewis Pesacov of band Fool's Gold's opera about the end of the Mayan Calendar; and forthcoming premieres of works by Domino Records recording artist Julia Holter and Jane's Addiction's bassist Eric Avery.
The upcoming Santa Ana performance is just one of many interesting expressions of the obsessive and inspired experiments and collaborations that wild Up is known for. The group decided on a specific grouping of songs, finding special twists and turns in the set list to enhance the juxtaposition and similarities between the different pieces. The concert will feature music by two classically trained musicians and icons of the contemporary rock scene: "Popcorn Superhet Receiver" by Jonny Greenwood, the lead guitar player in Radiohead, and "Lachrimae" by Bryce Dessner, guitar player in the indie band The National. Other pieces to be performed include Andrew Norman's "Gran Turismo," Arvo Pärt's "Summa," John Dowland's "Flow My Tears" and Dmitri Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony for Strings in C Minor, Op. 110a. Roundtree said that he met with the Pacific Symphony directors and had to really talk every decision and transition through with them, to perfect and explain the subtle and strange selections he designed, which always proves to be a bit challenging for both parties. "I really interface in the way of us being a rock band and kind of doing whatever we want," Roundtree says, "and there's this long canon of classical music, and the way that that works, some of the ethos of a rock band goes straight against that."
"On the surface, we all play the same instruments, and we all have masters degrees and professional training and similar experience, but I think the way we approach the work is totally different, and so that's what really excited me about it. We get to make music that Pacific Symphony probably wouldn't pick on their own, especially in this grouping of pieces."
To cross the bridges between rock music and classic music, the choices must be exquisite and unique or it can become very trite and obvious. Roundtree explains that it is all about having each piece affect the approach to the opposite, letting the skills, techniques and style of sound influence its opposing genre or style. "When you play [classical music] next to music that is like rock or punk rock music, you can let the noises from that music influence earlier music, and vise versa--each one influencing the other in an equal way."
Santa Ana Sites presents Pacific Symphony / wild Up at Logan Creative February 28, 2015, 8PM.