Edwin Outwater conducts members of the San Francisco Symphony in a SoundBox program.
Edwin Outwater is catching his breath before he takes on one of the biggest projects of his life.
Just two weeks out from conducting the San Francisco Symphony as it joins Metallica for the grand opening of Chase Center on Friday, Sept. 6 (plus a fan club concert on Sunday, Sept. 8), The Chronicle caught up with Outwater during a leisurely hike in Sun Valley, Idaho.
“I may be chilling now, but once I’m back in San Francisco, we go straight into rehearsal,” Outwater said. “There will be a lot of rehearsals.”
The concerts, conducted by Outwater, with a special appearance by Symphony Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas, mark the 20th anniversary of Metallica’s first performance with the Symphony at the Berkeley Community Theater in 1999 (that show was conducted by the late Michael Kamen). A film of the new collaboration called “S&M2” is scheduled to be released in theaters worldwide on Oct. 9.
Outwater talks about the thrill and challenges of working with the world’s biggest hard rock band.
Q: Michael Tilson Thomas appeared at the big Chase Center announcement with Metallica and the mayor and all those people, but it sounds like you’re doing all of the work.
A: I know that Michael was at the press conference, but I was always tapped to conduct the majority of the show.
This is a kind of a new project, and as it developed it became clear that I would need to take on more of a producer role — it’s just such a massive project. I’ll be conducting 95% of it. Michael is making a pretty amazing appearance as well, so he’ll definitely be involved. He’s just coming off heart surgery.
Q: How difficult is it to get everything organized while Metallica is off touring stadiums in Europe?
A: It’s actually very efficient. I talk with Greg Fidelman, who is Metallica’s producer, almost every day for quite a few hours, and I have talked to James (Hetfield) and Lars (Ulrich). The Symphony organization and the Metallica organization are such total pros that even though it’s a little bit of a game of telephone, the information is just flowing really amazingly well.
Q: Were you much of a Metallica fan before this project came up, or was it a crash course in “Master of Puppets” for you?
A: I grew up in a rock music family. My dad was head of engineering at Warner Records. His mother worked for Ella Fitzgerald. My first rock concert was Alice Cooper. I grew up listening to metal. Then I got into other kinds of super eclectic music.
Once I got the Metallica gig, I decided to really immerse myself. I’ve been listening to nonstop thrash metal for the past few months.
Q: And you survived!
A: I want to feel it. I want to know not only what Metallica did but what Slayer did, and what people after them have done. I actually love that music more than I ever have now.
I have a friend who plays in a band called Electric Citizen. Last weekend I was at the Psycho Las Vegas festival, which is kind of a big stoner metal festival, and I got to see Electric Wizard and Goatwhore and all these bands.
Q: Were you moshing in the swimming pool?
A: I did not mosh. But it was great to be surrounded by metal.
Q: Metallica’s music is quite noisy. One of the criticisms against the ’99 “S&M” show was that the band basically steamrolled over the Symphony. Do you feel like there’s a better balance this time around?
A: There’s one issue in the sense that Metallica is Metallica. It’s a lot of noise and sound. Trying to fit an orchestra over it, like in the first “S&M,” it became turbocharged. That worked for a lot of people.
I would say we went further this time. Even with the stage setup — which I don’t want to give too much away — it tells a different story than the first “S&M” concert. There are some moments for the orchestra and Metallica to collaborate in ways that they have not. In fact, a lot of Michael’s portion on stage has to do with that, so it’s definitely going to be some new ways, new textures, kind of pushing that collaboration forward.
When I saw the old film, the orchestra was all the way in the back. It’s something you’ve seen before, just a band backed by an orchestra. In metal, it was pretty revolutionary at the time, but I don’t think you will have seen or heard some of the new stuff we’re doing this time. I’m pretty confident when I say that.
Q: How do you feel about playing in a sports arena?
A: Obviously, that’s a tremendous challenge. We mocked up the entire stage at an undisclosed location for the orchestra, so that’s the amount of effort going into the show. That’s what’s thrilling for me. This is one of the biggest undertakings you can imagine for an orchestra, and just the logistics have been fascinating and fun. After months of planning, it’s super exciting.
Q: And it’s all for just two nights?
A: Yep, two nights.
Q: That’s a lot of work for two nights.
A: We’re filming it and it’s going to be in movie theaters. Obviously, the concert was quite popular because you know how it sold. I’m sure we’re prepared to do it again after this.
Q: If the movie and album sell as well as the tickets, you can dine out on this concert for the next 20 years.
A: I definitely feel like I’m a part of something iconic. I do lots of amazing concerts and lots of great music, but there’s something when you know it’s history in the making. It’s a different feeling.
Metallica and San Francisco Symphony: 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6. $475-$2,070. Chase Center, 500 Terry A. Francois Blvd., S.F. www.chasecenter.com
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