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THIS ARTICLE in newmusicbox is the most thoughtful examination of The Composer Is Dead.  Now that I no longer live in SF, it makes me nostalgic for the creative crew who live there.  But I’ll be there in a few weeks so beer, sausages, and amoeba await!

New Stuff!

Finally I’ve gotten this season’s SCHEDULE up on the site, so if you want to check out where I’m conducting this season it’s all there.  Come and say hi!

Right now I’m in Las Vegas doing Sgt. Pepper with Cheap Trick again.  I have to say that one of the more eclectic experiences of my life was leaving the run here to do a show with Frederica von Stade in Canada, then getting on a private jet the next day and flying back for Cheap Trick the following night.

First of all, Flicka was sublime and she sang a world premiere by our very own Nathaniel Stookey called Into the Bright Lights.  Flicka wrote the words herself and they are personal to the point of being confessional.  It is such a wonderful thing to sing on her farewell tour and I hope she keeps doing them.

Flicka is such a consummate musician, and standing next to her while she sang “Baïléro” and other gems like that was of course unforgettable.  It’s this incredible combination of beauty and humanity and truth that is unique to her.  I’m glad our paths crossed on stage, if only for a brief moment.

Then back to the Cheap Trick show — we did this at the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago, and it’s taken on a life of its own.  This time they’ve put the orchestra directly above the band and me dead center on stage.  Robin Zander gave me this cool jacket to wear, and it occurred to me right away that I’d better do something different.  I’ve seen enough rock-orchestra shows where the orchestra looks disengaged and the conductor is a big ol’ nerd compared to the band.  So I decided to be part of the band and do all of the rock stuff: dance around, look at the audience, smile, sing along, play cowbell, and so on.  I think this works very well!  And it’s fun!  The Vegas orchestra players are very aware they are being watched, and don’t have terribly difficult parts to play, so they want to get involved.  As we were rehearsing to coda to “I am the Walrus” there are these huge downbows in the orchestra parts and the concert master offered me the so-called “LA Flail,” in which the entire string section flails their head on every downbow!  Yes!  One of the reviewers said listening to “I am the Walrus” live made him want to “drop acid and pick up a cello.”  Now that’s a good review, and if you haven’t payed attention to the cello parts on this song, you should.

And finally …

Someone emailed me a little while ago and asked me what I was listening to these days. So here are two things I keep coming back to over and over …

First of all, anything by JORDI SAVALL.  He is an endless well of musical genius and basically I listen to him all the time and wish orchestras played that way.  For instance check this out:

And then on the other side of things I just can’t stop listening to The Bird and the Bee. The songs are so elegant and witty, the voice is so sexy.

Michael Steinberg

I spent many summers with Michael Steinberg and his wife Jorja Fleezanis at the wonderful music festival in Round Top, Texas.  One day, on my way to town, I was stopped by Michael who asked if I might be able to pick up a bottle of Campari.  “I’m going to sit on the porch and drink a Salieri, which is Campari with orange juice.  It’s quite a lovely drink, and you’re welcome to join me.”   I did, and we talked about music, poetry, and life.  We did this many times over the years, and I was never the same.  Michael had a slow, lilting rhythm when he spoke, always calm in sound, but occasionally sharp and critical in content.  Those flashes always made me wonder what the early Michael was like, if those words had mellowed considerably with age.  When I knew him, he seemed incredibly calm and clear about what was important to him, and that was poetry.  He would gather groups of students together for poetry readings.  Then, after a few years, he began to coach the students on how to read poems: the meter, the rhyme, the click of a “k”, the sexiness of an “l,” the perfect pause, the expression of it all.  Michael believed that the clearest manifestation of poetry was in poems, and that if musicians read poems, away from the hard work of practicing their instruments, they would naturally find poetry in notes.  I remember the feeling of reading in public for the first time, away from the podium, or from my bass.  Just me and beautiful words and naked expression.  It was scary and thrilling, and it’s where I try to get now when I perform.  It’s not easy, it doesn’t always happen, but it’s a worthy goal, and it’s one that Michael revealed to me.

So Michael, thank you, and I’ll miss you.  You’ve become a part of me after all of those years, sipping Salieris on the porch.  I’m glad you left so much for me to read, and I turn to your books often. They’re program notes, but I’m not looking for the history or the facts when I read your work.  I’m looking for those magical turns of phrase that reveal something profound about a piece, words that inspire me and ignite my imagination.  I’m looking for your poetic vision of the music.  Who knew program notes could be poetry?  But then again, I think your lesson was that everything could be poetry.

Here’s a poem that you read to me that I’ll never forget.  In fact, it reminds me of you.  The rhythm reminds me of your voice, the words of a certain kind of music and music-making.  And of course you were a Romantic, in love.

Romantics: Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann
by Lisel Mueller

The modern biographers worry
“how far it went,” their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone’s eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving us nothing to overhear.

In which my hair is mentioned in a national newspaper

OPEN EARS started last night. You should be sad if you’re not here with us, you really should. Buy a ticket to Kitchener-Waterloo now!

We started with an orchestral concert which began with a tribute to David Byrne and Stop Making Sense. I stood alone onstage for about 15 minutes while a powerpoint flashed over my head alternating words about classical music and the natural landscape. “Viola” “Cloud” “Crescendo” “Lake” etc. etc. The concert was about the Romantic Landscape in music and featured Mendelssohn’s HebridesOverture, Frank Bridge’s The Sea, and R. Murray Schafer’s The Darkly Splendid Earth: The Lonely Traveler, a violin concerto played by our amazing concertmaster, Stephen Sitarski. In the lobby before the show, students from Wilfrid Laurier University did a lively performance of In C. We also performed 4’33” which I had never done before. It was amazing to hear people settle into the silence after a while, when their nervousness about the piece faded.

This festival is about sound and environment. Yes I mean THE environment (oceans, trees, and so on), but also the environments in which music can take place (concert hall, jazz club, lobby, forest, factory, bathtub). I think in the world of symphony orchestras, environment is key. We’re taking a good, fun look at this.

There’s still some YouTube symphony press floating around. Particularly amusing is MEASHA BRUEGGERGOSMAN’S ACCOUNT of preparing John Cage’s Aria, which was performed simultaneously with the same composer’s piece Renga. She also mentions my musical integrity and hair in the same sentence. Which is so Measha.

YouTube Symphony

Ok so it happened. I conducted part of it. It was really really really fun. Here is part 1:

The responses were amazing to read …

There was a GOOD REVIEW


A blogger and “industry professional” WHO TOTALLY LOSES IT… sample quotes: “And really, I think I’ll stop now, because I’m feeling more than a little cruel right now, even though (to be perfectly honest), I’ve pulled a few punches in what I’ve just said, no matter how critical I might have seemed.” and “During intermission, I talked to some orchestra professionals I know, and none of them were happy. Two even left, one out of boredom, the other with a sense (I think it’s right to put it this way) of faint disgust.”

I love the idea of “orchestra professionals” walking out of the building with “faint disgust.” What would they do if they were “deeply disgusted” at a concert? Maybe someday all “orchestral professionals” will unite and save classical music. Oh yeah, they’re already in charge. (just kidding, some of my best friends are “orchestra professionals” haha).

So how was the MUSIC? I think generally what was written was true: not fully refined, but enthusiastic. Some of it was even quite rough at times, like the Harrison piece I conducted. But it all sounded way better than when we started it a day or two earlier. All of my colleagues who were helping to prepare this concert were impressed and moved by the process, even if it didn’t meet the highest technical standards. We all knew it wasn’t going to be perfect, and that was an unusual and liberating feeling. For those of us involved, meeting these intrepid musicians was inspiring — and it was a privilege to help them get their orchestra rolling. There was deep joy in the process.

I think that’s what we all were so excited about. It was a moment in history, a bold experiment, well-funded (for once). The fact that it came together as it did on the musical, technical (meaning stage-changes, lights, video), personal, and audience level was exhilarating. I’ve never seen an undertaking that complex come together so fast, and so well.

Finally, the orchestra itself had a special quality, different than, say, some of the other brilliant young orchestras at conservatories and music festivals around the world. It think what set these musicians apart is that they actually took the time (and had the nerve) to audition on YouTube. To me, that implies a certain sense of adventure, lack of cynicism, and desire to have fun. I wonder if I would have done it? If I hadn’t, it probably would have been for cynical reasons.

So yes I was moved, inspired, energized, and more. I’m so glad I was a part of it, even if it was far from perfect. Looking at the faces of the orchestra and my musician colleagues, I don’t think I was alone. It was fun. And in classical music, believe me, we need more fun.

It seems to me that music-making in the classical world is a struggle between joy and perfection. That’s because those rare peak performances are instances of joyous perfection (maybe that’s because Bach has been such a huge influence on all of us). But what about those moments when we don’t reach the top? They usually fall into one of two sub-categories: “rough and joyful” or “perfect and lifeless.” I’m afraid “perfect and lifeless” is the more common category of the two, because it’s safer, and implies hard work. The YouTube Symphony made a case for more “rough and joyful,” music making I think. And that’s a good thing.

PS check out Jeremy Denk’s YouTube Symphony VLOGS. They capture the vibe really well. Plus I’m in them! making quips. I’ve included part one below.


On my way to NYC for the YouTube Symphony.

As I was packing, I was listening to Radio David Byrne. There’s a lot of new, interesting stuff on, including the new Dirty Projectors album which hasn’t come out yet. (They are my favorites these days along with some others on the playlist: St. Vincent, Final Fantasy, The Bird and The Bee). What’s great is how Byrne-influenced all this music is. The Children of Byrne & Eno have grown up and continued the tradition of artsy, beautiful, witty, world-influenced, electronic music! Yay!

And I discovered a recipe for Chicken Fried Bacon.

And I’m now on twitter (eoutwater), if you’d like to keep track of me that way.

End Transmission.

Open Ears

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony’s biennial OPEN EARS FESTIVAL has launched its 2009 website. Candadian composer Peter Hatch and I have put together an eclectic musical world to explore: super-engaging music crossing many genres.

Some highlights:

R. Murray Schafer residency (he’s a great, truly great, Canadian composer)
The Music of Lou Harrison
The Books (one of my favorite electronic music groups)
Turtle Island String Quartet
David Lang
Francisco Lopez (Spanish sound artist who blindfolds the audience!)
Hard Rubber Orchestra (a new music big band from Vancouver)

… and the list goes on. Check it out! It’s all worth hearing, and even worth a flight to Kitchener!

The Composer is Dead … is out!

The Composer is Dead, an incredible project I did with Lemony Snicket and Nathaniel Stookey is out in stores! It’s a book with a CD of the San Francisco Symphony conducted by yours truly. I’m so so so proud of this project. Here’s a nice YouTube promo that was done. I’m even in a few shots!!

What is Intersections, anyway?

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m decompressing. It was a busy week.

We had TIME FOR THREE here this week, who played in our Intersections series. They got a good REVIEW in our local paper, The Record. The end of the review is really funny to me though. The reviewer comments that the orchestra didn’t have enough to do during the concert:

“Perhaps this show belonged with the symphony’s Pops series (where I would probably go see Tf3 again for all the froth and fun). While applauding Outwater’s efforts to challenge the boundaries of symphonic music in this series, I vote for more intersection and less wallpaper.”

Now I happen to agree strongly with the reviewer that the orchestra didn’t do enough. It’s a problem with Time for Three … they don’t have enough charts yet. They’re working on it. Even so, I couldn’t resist bringing them to KW asap., despite the fact that the orchestra would be sitting most of the time. In an ideal situation, the orchestra should have had more to do. No doubt.

But what’s funny to me is that he’s suggesting what does and doesn’t belong in the INTERSECTIONS series, a format I INVENTED only four concerts ago! That’s kind of cool — it must mean that the four shows that we’ve done already have a common vibe …

The real intention is that INTERSECTIONS is a completely flexible format, and that includes some concerts where the orchestra plays a lot (like the electronica show earlier this year) and sometimes not so much. It’s about whatever is new, interesting. In the case of Time for Three, the music they play is an intersection: it’s impossible to categorize as bluegrass, classical, country, hip-hop, etc. That’s why I think they belong in this series.

At any rate, this particular critical response shows the human need to categorize art, which is not what art is about, ultimately. But that tension has been around since the beginning of criticism.

There were some extra events around this concert, including an apres-concert gathering at the Jane Bond in Waterloo. Good turnout of musicians, staff, and audience. And we had a party at my place earlier in the week to attract new folks to the KWS. It was a younger crowd, and they got to hear Time for Three up close. Here’s a video of them playing for the party. It was their first time as a group in Canada, but they chose the right music to impress the Canadians! Soon they’ll figure out it’s not “Tom Horton’s” and then they’ll really be in business.

What I wear onstage — Update

So I have a cool board of directors at the KW Symphony. For my electronica concert with Mason Bates last night, I was given THIS SHIRT. Which I wore during the concert. We also started the show with the lights down and Mason spinning and giving a moody introduction before we launched into Aphex Twin’s “Cock/Ver 10,” arranged by Stefan Freund for Alarm Will Sound’s“Acoustica” CD. The orchestra and I snuck onstage under dim lights — it was full rock concert mode. The concert was recorded and will be broadcast in a little while by the CBC, with lots of good interview material with me and Mason.