Next ‘Face the Music’ concert will engage ears, eyes … and noses
By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
Steven Schick, UCSD Distinguished Professor of Music, was born and raised on an Iowa farm. There weren’t many musicians around, but his mother played piano, and he wanted to be a drummer in a rock band.
He ended up studying percussion at the University of Iowa.
“It was the drums that hooked me,” he said. “But percussion is not just drums, it was a whole new world. And we weren’t just trying to master the medium, but expand it. We were bringing down the property values of classical music!”
For the record, percussion encompasses anything that makes a sound when it’s struck, scraped or shaken, and that includes gongs, cowbells, marimbas, trashcans, and brake drums.
A renowned performer and ardent advocate of contemporary music, Schick joined the UCSD faculty in 1991. His graduate course in “new music performance” morphed into the percussion ensemble redfishbluefish, whose artistic director he remains.
“After we were invited to play at Lincoln Center, calling it Music 201C didn’t cut it anymore,” he said.
In 2007, he became music director and conductor of the all-volunteer La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, which includes musicians and singers from all walks of life, and sometimes has 300 members onstage.
“How does a percussionist become a conductor? By dropping one stick. That’s the standard joke,” he said.
And how does a percussionist manage to assemble so many devoted volunteers?
“When you play the music we’re playing with the passion we have, musicians respond to that. It’s a labor of love,” he said. “I’m a volunteer, too!”
Its season series is called “Face the Music,” and features concerts that do more than merely engage the ears. Schick calls it “music for all the senses.”
The March program sounds particularly engaging. It includes Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto, featuring 16-year-old soloist Hannah Cho (who won La Jolla Symphony’s Young Artists Competition in 2009) and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, which Schick rates as “the greatest orchestral concerto of them all.”
But the real novelty is a world premiere of Mark Applebaum’s “Concerto for Florist & Orchestra.” The composer is a UCSD alumnus, and the florist is being imported from Mississippi. According to Schick: “He’s the Yo Yo Ma of performing florists!”
Mark Applebaum, who received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Composition at UCSD, is a tenured associate professor at Stanford, which he calls “UCSD North.” Besides being known worldwide for his “serious” contemporary music, he’s an award-winning jazz pianist who often performs with his father in the Applebaum Jazz Piano Duo. He also builds electro-acoustical instruments and sound sculptures out of junk and found objects.
His idea of music performance?
“Things should sound cool and look interesting,” he said.
Applebaum first came up with the idea for a florist concerto on an airplane in 1999, when he found himself seated next to James DelPrince, head of the floristry program at Mississippi State University, where they both taught.
“I’d never heard of a floristry program, but I immediately asked if he’d ever thought of being a performance florist,” Applebaum said.
They did their first performance in 2000, with the composer and a percussionist making music while DelPrince created a 15-foot cornucopia of spruce fronds, apples, flowers, and tinsel. Once Applebaum came to Stanford, they did two more pieces there, in 2002 and 2008. Schick was part of the 2008 performance, which included an elaborate set of Dada-ist activities. Schick liked it so much that he commissioned Applebaum to make a new version for La Jolla Symphony.
“Steve is fearless, endlessly curious and excited to try new things,” Applebaum said. “Like me, he’s an experimentalist at heart. But none of those Dada-ist things are in the new concerto. It’s a 3-movement, 18-minute piece that could stand on its own, even without the florist. But the florist will take it over the top.”
As 80 musicians play, DelPrince will create three floral sculptures, each corresponding to one of the movements. His only requirement: to finish when the music ends.
If you go
What: Premiere of ‘Concerto for Florist & Orchestra,’ plus Bartók and Prokofiev from La Jolla Symphony & Chorus
When: 8 p.m. March 12; 3 p.m. March 13
Where: Mandeville Auditorium, UCSD Campus
Contact: (858) 534-4637. lajollasymphony.com
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