Acclaimed vocalist and songwriter Rufus Wainwright returns to Davies Symphony Hall Sunday, June 9 at 8 pm, accompanying himself on piano and guitar. Affectionately referred to by Elton John as “the greatest songwriter on the planet” and praised by The New York Times for his “genuine originality,” Grammy nominee Wainwright has established himself as one of the great male vocalists and songwriters of his generation. The son of folk singers Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle and brother of Martha Wainwright, Wainwright has achieved his success by carving out his own singular sound in the worlds of rock, opera, theater, dance and film.
A frequent performer in Bay Area venues including Davies Symphony Hall throughout his career, Wainwright performed with the SF Symphony in 2010 under conductor Michael Francis, premiering Five Shakespeare Sonnets, his own large scale orchestrations of five of the eleven songs he composed for a theatrical adaptation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets with director Robert Wilson. Following several significant and dramatic events in his life—the birth of his daughter, Viva, the death of his mother, and his engagement to partner Jorn Weisbrodt—his seventh studio album, Out of the Game, was released in 2012 with the input of a new collaborator, celebrated producer Mark Ronson. The results are the loosest, most accessible music of Wainwright’s career, retaining his distinctive narrative sense and wry wit while adding classic pop pleasures.
“What I wanted was a warmth and a depth in terms of quality of sound, and a certain clarity that’s still easy on the ears,” Wainwright says. “I’ve done that whole ponderous, pseudo-genius thing, so it was fun to get in there and work really fast and do something that was more about the songs.”
Wainwright’s catalog includes eight albums and two DVDs, and he has appeared on numerous soundtracks and compilations, as well as collaborating with artists like Elton John, David Byrne, Rosanne Cash and Keane. His album All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu was released in 2010 with People Magazine noting, “[Wainwright] brings the album to a beautifully intimate level with just voice, piano and some deeply personal lyrics. Bravo.” Billboard Magazine said Wainwright’s “solo piano accompaniment highlights his extremely adaptable voice…a single piano is all that’s needed to show off his immense vocal talent.” Two live recordings (Milwaukee At Last!!! and Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall) were nominated for Grammy awards and released concurrently with a live DVD, Rufus! Rufus! Rufus! Does Judy! Judy! Judy! The disc captured his celebrated Judy Garland tribute performance at the London Palladium in 2007. His album Release the Stars went gold in Canada and the U.K. A career-spanning box set, House of Rufus, was released in 2011. Wainwright received Juno Awards for Best Alternative Album in 1999 and 2002 for Rufus Wainwright and Poses, respectively, and nominations for his albums Want Two (2005) and Release the Stars (2008). He was nominated for the Juno Award for Songwriter of the Year in 2008 for Release the Stars.
Wainwright’s first opera, Prima Donna, premiered at the Manchester International Festival in 2009, made its London debut at Sadler’s Wells, and its North American debut in Toronto at the Luminato Festival in 2010. Excerpts have been performed with the Oregon Symphony for The Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Time-Based Art Festival and at the Royal Opera House in London. The work received a 2011 Dora Award for Outstanding New Musical/Opera and made its U.S. debut in 2012 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House.
In addition to Wainwright’s musical pursuits, he has also made his mark onscreen. He has acted in Academy Award-winning director Deny Arcand’s film, L’Age des Tenebres (2007), the Merchan-Ivory film Heights (2005), and the major blockbuster The Aviator (2004), directed by Martin Scorsese.