Three RufuSongs at UCLA

March 10, 2006


Last night (3.10.2006) Juliana Gondek and Neal Stulberg premiered three of my transcriptions of Rufus Wainwright songs: “Damned Ladies,” “In a Graveyard,” and “Memphis Skyline.” Many were hearing Rufus for the first time and spoke highly of the songs: “now I understand why you are so obsessed!”

Several people said “I just can’t take hearing those songs sung by a woman” which I can’t really do anything about, and others thought they worked great. Some said “it’s wonderful to hear his songs in this context so that they are treated like the art songs that they are.” I was thrilled to hear the opera-smart members of the audience cracking up during “Damned Ladies” understanding all the operatic references.
Juliana, not wanting to just clone Rufus’s style, made the songs her own. I loved everything she did, but didn’t quite understand her desire to make the opening of “Memphis Skyline” perky, or, not sure what to call it, swingy? The rest of the song was fabulous.

Juliana Gondek

Neal Stulberg, our new conductor at UCLA who will premiering a Frank Zappa piece next week, accompanied Juliana. Besides a little boo boo at the beginning of “Damned Ladies” he played like a god. Neal conducted the Long Beach premiere of Thomas Ades’ opera, “Powder Your Face.” We are lucky to have him.

She announced that Rufus doesn’t read music and that’s why I made the transcriptions. Well, I don’t think that’s entirely true, all I know, is that I have never seen a single picture of Rufus with sheet music in his hands. Being impatient, I began making my own (not for sale) transcriptions for my book.

I’ll post her performances as soon as I get copies.


Oh yeah, my “Four Xmas Songs” were premiered by the same duo. They did a respectable first performance and the audience seemed to love the songs. The concert also included excellent music by my colleagues David Lefkowitz, Ian Krouse, Paul Chihara, and Mark Carlson, all who contributed music to the concert. I am blessed to be in a department with such gifted colleagues. The fact that we all get along and like each other’s music makes it even better!

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

slvrlark March 10, 2006 at 9:41 am

Ahem! Just because he plays everything by memory doesn’t mean he doesn’t read or write music; it just means he plays by memory. I don’t see how someone can be a music major for a year and a half at a major university (or any, for that matter) without reading music. Besides, he knows and plays Fauré and Berlioz songs, etc., and it’s hard to imagine him learning those just by ear (though I am sure it could be done). The complexity of his songs also suggests that he has studied harmony and counterpoint and lots and lots of music–whether in the classroom or on his own–and though not impossible to do that without reading music, it certainly would be very difficult.

I agree that is was wonderful to hear Juliana’s and Neil’s beautiful performances of the songs, as it did make it clear that they are beautiful *songs*, not just *Rufus songs*.

Mark Carlson

Roger Bourland March 10, 2006 at 5:56 pm

You’re probably right Mark, but I have yet to see a single photo of him, and I have seen thousands, where he has sheet music anywhere in sight. Lots of lyric cheat sheet, but never any music.

As you know, Danny Elfman didn’t read music for a long time, I’m not sure where he is now, but I’d assume he reads by now.

Joni Mitchell can barely articulate what chords she plays. She knows tons of tunings, but don’t ask her the names of the chords. For that matter, don’t ask ME what the names of some of those wild-ass chords are!

jan2 March 11, 2006 at 2:06 am

I seem to remember an interview where RW said that at music school but never got beyond ‘playing Mozart very slowly’ while everyone else was thundering out the Rachmaninov – so he clearly does read music. Maybe he doesn’t write down his piano/guitar music he composes, but he must surely write out the instrumental parts he writes for others to play…?

This seems a very appropriate and yet non-obvious choice of songs – it’ll be really interesting to hear how they sound in a more operatic voice (although I guess there are a number of operatic ‘voices’ one can choose to use…)


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