Conductor, music director, curator, composer, and orchestra founder Christopher Rountree has distinguished himself as one of classical music’s most forward-thinking innovators in programming, conducting and community building. Whether presenting his beloved chamber group Wild Up in a museum bathroom, or leading the country’s most renowned ensembles through new music’s most exciting works at the world’s greatest concert halls, Rountree is the lynchpin between orchestral music and the future of performance.
“I think of scenarios that will change people’s mind about something, then set them up, and see what happens,” Rountree, 35, says of his approach. “If I can imagine how a program will live in a space and that thought makes me smile, then I’m ready to start.”
Rountree is well-known for creating the renegade 24-piece ensemble Wild Up in 2010. The group’s eccentric mix of new music, pop and performance art quickly jumped from raucous DIY bar shows to being lauded as the vanguard for classical music by critics for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and public radio’s Performance Today. Now an institution in its own right, the success of Wild Up has led Rountree to collaborations with Björk, John Adams, David Lang, Scott Walker, and many of the planet’s greatest orchestras and ensembles.
Rountree’s vision is fully realized this year and next as he curates and conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s FLUXUS Festival, the experimental music component of the Phil’s 100th season in collaboration with the Getty Research Institute. The 16-concert FLUXUS Festival unites icons of contemporary art with classical music for the first time, placing Yoko Ono next to Ryoji Ikeda; La Monte Young next to Steven Takasugi next to John Cage. Ragnar Kjartansson’s “Bliss,” an ecstatic 12-hour rendering of Mozart, stands next to Alison Knowles’ “Make a Salad,” performed by 1,700 people. Lang’s “crowd out” takes over a block in downtown L.A., as orchestra musicians launch the watermelons of Ken Friedman’s “Sonata for Melons and Gravity” off the top of Walt Disney Concert Hall.
As he’s become regarded as one of the most exciting and iconoclastic conductors and programmers in the field, Rountree’s inimitable style has taken him to revered concert halls the world over. In September 2018, Rountree debuted with Martha Graham Dance Company and Opéra national de Paris, conducting “Rite of Spring,” Samuel Barber’s “Medea,” and the Paris premiere of the Graham/Copland “Appalachian Spring” at Palais Garnier. Over the last couple of years, Rountree made his Lincoln Center debut premiering Ashley Fure’s Pulitzer finalist piece “Bound to the Bow” on the New York Philharmonic’s Biennale; conducted Ted Hearne’s 21st century masterwork “Law of Mosaics” with the Chicago Symphony; gave the world premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s opera about the death of the American Dream, “Proving Up,” at Washington National Opera; made multiple returns to the San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox series; conducted the world premiere of David Lang’s opera “anatomy theater” at LA Opera; and premiered Annie Gosfield and Yuval Sharon’s magnum opus “War of the Worlds” with Sigourney Weaver, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA Phil, simultaneously performed all over downtown Los Angeles and at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
In the coming year Rountree debuts with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conducting John Adams’ “The Dharma at Big Sur,” and with the Berkeley Symphony conducting Sofia Gubaidulina’s rarely performed “Concerto for Two Orchestras” and Duke Ellington’s “Black, Brown and Beige.” He will also give the New York premiere of Missy Mazzoli’s “Proving Up” at Miller Theater, and make his subscription debut with the LA Phil leading Berio’s “Sinfonia” and John Cage’s “Apartment House 1776” with Roomful of Teeth. He takes Wild Up on tour with audience interactive programs celebrating local communities and the intersection of art and social justice; premieres new pieces by Julianna Barwick and Andrew Greenwald at Walt Disney Concert Hall; unveils “Ascension,” an evening length program with Ted Hearne, George Lewis, Jen Hill and Weston Olencki about religion, space and the Internet; makes his debut on the Ecstatic Music Festival with new work by William Brittelle and Zola Jesus; plays a live radio show at the ACE Hotel with Nadia Sirota, Andrew Norman and Caroline Shaw; curates a joint program with LA Chamber Orchestra and Four Larks at Hauser & Wirth; and conducts a new program called “Eve” with Martha Graham Dance Company at The Soraya.
“I envision the audience first: their experience watching whatever it is that the band is doing up there on stage, and their conversations when they leave the hall,” Rountree says. “Then I see the space the way I want it to be: the light, the air, the taste of the room. Then the band: I see all the challenges, fights and elation they’re going to have in rehearsal and I imagine the way that we’ll all feel when the time is right and we make that choice to walk on stage to start the show.”
A seventh-generation California native descended from Santa Cruz County sheriffs, Rountree lives in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.