The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC) hosts stellar performers from all over the world, and every so often an East Ender steps onto that stage to celebrate our artistic community. One such success story is that of Rufus Wainwright who will be performing at WHBPAC on Saturday, August 18.
Wainwright considers the East End to be his home. He enjoyed childhood visits to his father’s house on Shelter Island; his grandfather was raised in East Hampton and is now buried there; and he and his husband, Jörn Weisbrodt, married at their beautiful Montauk home in 2012. “There’s a strange veil of familiarity that I feel in this part of the world,” he says. “This will always be my center, and playing in Westhampton is part of that celebration.”
Born in Rhinebeck, New York to singer-songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, music is in Wainwright’s blood. After his parents’ divorce, he was raised by his mother in Montreal, Canada. They traveled the country with his sister Martha and aunt Anna as the folk group The McGarrigle Sisters and Family.
Wainwright’s first moment in the spotlight came at age 12, when he wrote and performed the song “I’m a-Runnin’” in the Canadian children’s film Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller. The song was nominated for both a Juno and a Genie Award. By age 24, he released his eponymous debut album under the DreamWorks label, which earned him the title of Rolling Stone’s Best New Artist of 1998, as well as his first Juno Award. Now 20 years later, he has established himself as one of the great singer-songwriters of his generation. He’s released eight studio albums, three DVDs and three live albums, and has collaborated with myriad popular artists, including Sir Elton John, David Byrne, Robbie Williams, Boy George, Mark Ronson, Joni Mitchell, Burt Bacharach and the Pet Shop Boys. “Musically, I’ve always been pretty adventurous,” he remarks.
In addition to being an acclaimed contemporary pop artist, Wainwright has established himself in the classical world with his debut opera, Prima Donna. Premiering at the Manchester International Festival in 2009, the production was hailed by reviewers as “a love song to opera” and a “mysterious, stylistically eclectic work.” His second opera, Hadrian, is set to premiere at the Canadian Opera Company this fall. Wainwright describes writing an opera as “dynamically opposed” to writing a pop album, with the former requiring him to “forget about [himself],” and instead, focus on “what’s best for the character.”
Praised by Sir Elton John as “the greatest songwriter on the planet,” Wainwright believes that “being a great lyricist is a higher honor than being a great musician,” adding that “lyrics are the most important aspect of any song.” Although, he no doubt enjoys the flattery from the music legend, he remarks, “I’ve gotten deeper as I’ve gotten older, but…quality lyrics are in the ear of the beholder.”
Like his songwriting capabilities, his singing ability is ever-evolving. According to Wainwright, “My voice has improved over time, dramatically through hard work and dedication.” The 45-year-old music icon also credits age as a major factor, “As a singer, you hit your stride later in life, and I’m in my prime.”
Wainwright is excited to take his Hamptons audience on a journey to find the “spiritual quality of music,” a trek he takes often. “I treat each performance on an equal level, [no matter the venue.] When I close my eyes, I’m transformed, escaping to what matters,” he says. “[When I perform] I’m overtaken by this trance…I love losing myself in the music.”
Get lost in the music of East Ender Rufus Wainwright at the WHBPAC on Saturday, August 18 at 8 p.m. For tickets, visit whbpac.org or call the box office at 631-288-1500. Act fast, only a few tickets remain.