Metro Weekly

Emil de Cou on Rufus Wainwright

As told to Randy Shulman

Rufus Wainwright - Photo: TinaTyrell
Rufus Wainwright – Photo: TinaTyrell

“I think Rufus Wainwright straddles two worlds. A lot of his influences came from Judy Garland and from Edith Piaf, two torch song singers who basically sang about their lives. There’s something autobiographical in his work that really connects with an audience, which is why I think he’s had such a huge following. A lot of his music — he sings a lot of ballads, some kind of arch, some deeply emotional — comes from his perspective.

“But also you have this beautiful old sound — it reminds me a little bit of Burt Bacharach. Quirky French harmonies and unusual melodies and phrases. He’ll be sitting center stage. I’ll be right behind him. There’s an intimacy about it that really comes across. It’s an old school way of performing.

“When you’re accompanying an artist like this, you’re kind of like a dance partner, in a way. Some people like to lead and some like to follow. Some like to backphrase — which means you’re slightly behind the music and you catch up — and some people like you to be very steady. You just have to gauge how they like to have the music. I sense from his music that he seems very easygoing — he seems so likeable and nice and seemingly uncomplicated. I think that’s also part of his charm, because he comes across as very boyish. And then you hear these world weary songs behind his life story.

“Some artists’ music is made more expressive, made better with having orchestral accompaniment. And so many pop performers are just so much better with piano and a combo. With Rufus’s music, his accompaniments are always so orchestral, that even just with the piano, or a small combo, you hear more.”

Emil de Cou, music director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the official NSO at Wolf Trap Festival Conductor, will conduct the National Symphony Orchestra’s portions of Rufus Wainwright’s concert at Wolf Trap.

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