The San Francisco Symphony will host a free outdoor concert on July 12 from noon – 2pm at Pier 27 with Bryce Dessner, guitarist and composer from indie rock band The National.
July 8 UPDATE: We asked Bryce about how he began collaborating with the symphony began, his love for San Francisco, and writing music. See his responses further below.
SF Symphony Director of Summer Concerts Edwin Outwater, leading the Orchestra, joins Bryce, a classically-trained musician and has written many orchestral/classical pieces, to perform one of Bryce’s own orchestral compositions, “St. Carolyn by the Sea.” The collaboration combines a traditional orchestra with two electric guitars, the other played by San Francisco guitarist Travis Andrews.
Attendees can bring blankets, picnic baskets, and drinks to enjoy a concert on the grassy plaza in front of the new James R. Herman Cruise Terminal, located along the waterfront at Embarcadero near the foot of Lombard Street.
Valet bike parking will be available and a solar trailer from sponsor PG&E will provide a portion of the electricity used at the free community concert. There will also be performances of classical works like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 and Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite, as well as a piece called “mountain” by another young composer named David Lang.
Check out a fun ‘making of’ video with Bryce talking about the composition.
How did you formalize the collaboration with the SF Symphony?
A few years ago I was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra and the Copenhagen Philharmonic to write a concerto for two electric guitars and Orchestra. Around that time I was reading Jack Kerouac’s ‘Big Sur’ and was traveling in Northern California. The book and the place ended up inspiring the piece I wrote, St. Carolyn by the Sea, which is an image from the book of Kerouac’s lover wading out into the sea at Big Sur.
My work often takes inspiration from visual art and literature, and in this case I found that Kerouac’s writing had sweeping power to it that reminded me of the sound of the orchestra. He also mentions a lot of music in the book, including Beethoven, Stravinsky and Charlie Parker. The electric guitar is not traditionally used with orchestra, but I decided to treat the guitars as a section within the ensemble, as opposed to soloists playing on top. The piece is 15 minutes long, and it traces the arc of Kerouac’s book and is inspired by the tremendous beauty of the Big Sur coast. When the SF Symphony approached me about performing the work on the harbor I was deeply honored to work with such an amazing American orchestra, and to perform this piece so close to its original inspiration.
What do you like most about San Francisco?
I moved to San Francisco for 3 months shortly after I finished college in the late 90’s. I fell in love with the pace of life and the nature of the city, as well as the great music scene. The city is the most physically beautiful city in America, like Paris or Sydney Australia, I can endlessly wander around and just enjoy the beauty of the place.
It is also the birthplace and home to so many important American artists and movements. To have Kronos Quartet, American composers John Adams and Terry Riley, and the Grateful Dead all nearby is pretty incredible and speaks to the creative spirit of San Francisco.
Is it harder to write a classical piece or an indie rock song?
Writing music is hard, whether it’s a three-minute pop song or a 20-minute orchestra piece. The process is very different—in the band we write music collaboratively. We bring simple ideas for a song, and then the development of those ideas happens primarily in the studio through a collaborative process. In my orchestral music and classical compositions, I notate everything ahead of time. Working with so many musicians, it’s important to be very clear in the score.
The beauty of contemporary music is also that there is more room for adventurous ideas and longer forms. I am often able to explore musical ideas further in my classical work, in ways that might not work in a shorter song.