Introducing: Principal Conductor Ryan McAdams

Five Questions for our Incoming Principal Conductor

1.         What’s your story?

My mother was an opera singer and my father was a businessman whose heart was in directing theater. I literally grew up sitting in the wings of an opera house in St. Louis watching my mother on stage; they used to trot me out at cast parties when I was seven to sing all the tunes from "Peter Grimes." As I got older, I started accompanying for my mother's voice studio, which later turned into an amateur opera company. I can't remember the moment I decided to be a conductor, but my best guess is that was right after watching Leontyne Price sing the final scene from “Salome” with Mehta and the New York Philharmonic on television. That really struck the match.

After Juilliard, in my early twenties, I had four part-time jobs on my hands: Associate Conductor of New York City Ballet and City Opera, Music Director of a great youth orchestra on the East Coast (the New York Youth Symphony), and freelance conducting a lot of new music in NYC. Bouncing between all those styles on an hourly basis was intensely decadent, so I've worked throughout my career to keep my hand in everything that excites me. Pre-pandemic, I was hopping around the world with my wife and son making art, baking, reading, hosting play readings, playing nerdy, book-based party games, and trying to figure out how best to serve the communities I work with. Post-pandemic, who knows what our stories are going to be? What will our audiences and communities want and need from us? How can music-makers be of service in the coming era? One of the great pleasures of working with Crash is that they are constantly asking themselves these same essential questions. 

2.         What is your favourite sound experience?

I remember the formative ones very clearly: playing a low, wide-spaced A major chord over and over again on my piano in a dark room when I was eight, that room in the Haus der Musik in Vienna that simulates being in the womb, my first Wagner opera in Munich, listening to “Music for 18 Musicians” on my first pair of good headphones.

At present, two sounds are regularly triggering intense responses. First, the tide going out near my apartment in Brighton. It's a pebble beach, and the tide sloshes the thousands of chunky pebbles over each other. It is some sonic deep-tissue massage. Second, my two-year-old son babbling excited nonsense while playing by himself. It is the sound of his creativity, and I could eavesdrop on him for hours.  

3.         Describe the music you love without naming an artist or genre.

Meisner once said something to the effect of: "It is the artist's fascination that makes art fascinating." For me, any music written with a passion for detail, the joy of possibility, and a desire to captivate the audience gets it done.

4.         If you could wave a magic wand and collaborate with anyone, who would it be and why? 

If we're talking resurrection: without a second thought, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. She is the most extraordinary performer I have experienced in person, a conduit of deep earth wisdom. I would have learned so much from her.

In the world of the living, there are too many to name. Off the top of my head, I'd love to be part of any new project with Julia Bullock, one of our most brilliant singer/creators, or Laura Mvula, who has written about ten songs that make me absolutely weep. Bjork, certainly; who wouldn't want to hear her Pierrot or Luonnotar? Have you heard Nathalie Joachim's album, "Fanm d'Ayiti?" I adore Pekka Kuusisto's playing and would love to do something crazy with him. I’m fascinated by two stage directors: the Canadian Chris Abraham, who did the most perfect "Midsummer Night's Dream" I will ever see, and the British director/choreographer Jonathan Watkins, whose BBC dance-theatre version of "Kes" is a thing of beauty. And I can't wait to get back in a room with Enda Walsh.  

I find that I'm happiest as part of a team, where I get to learn from others, where we get to collectively define how music-making shapes a larger narrative.

But my favorite collaborator is my wife, the dancer/actress Laura Careless. We've created a few one-woman shows together, the last of which had a brilliant run in Edinburgh two summers ago, and I jump at any chance to make something new with her.  

5.         What excites you right now?

Havel wrote that hope is not prognostication, it is an orientation of the spirit, right? There every reason right now to orient towards optimism. I believe that the art coming in the wake of COVID is going to be startling. Collaborating with Crash is always like a joyful fever dream, the world is slowly starting to open back up, I have projects slated for the next few years that I am very hungry to get started on. I'm excited to see how the arts evolve now that we've all had this enforced time away to look at our industry from a distance, to recalibrate our identities and priorities, to learn new skills. A lot is already starting to transform, especially when it comes to representation and inclusion, and I'm thrilled to be part of it. How do we maintain those changes? How do we encourage arts organizations to take big swings while the floor is lava? There are so many great voices out there. Giving them a platform is the best part of my job.