San Diego Symphony starts the new year with a rhythm fest


Boom-da-da-da-DUM-tick-BOOM. The San Diego Symphony’s got rhythm and plans to show it off during a month-long festival of fascinating rhythm called “It’s About Time” that begins Thursday, Jan. 11

Curated by UC San Diego’s superstar percussionist/conductor Steven Schick, the rhythm-fest will feature an ear-boggling array of sounds and styles and a mind-boggling lineup of musicians, performing in 12 different venues around the county.

Besides symphonic selections by familiar composers like Berlioz, Ravel and Mahler, there will be a surreal, nuevo-tango opera by Astor Piazzolla; Tijuana-inspired jazz by the late, great Charles Mingus; a sonic portrait of San Diego created from local field recordings; theatrical performances that include dance, multimedia and new-wave drumming along with musical chairs and Go-Pros; and a present-day, locally-relevant version of Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat (A Soldier’s Tale).” And then there’s “Inuksuit,” an Inuit-inspired piece by John Luther Adams, which will be given a free, outdoor performance by percussionists assembled on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border, using rhythmic music to break through the wall.

Here’s how Schick, who will conduct three of the concerts and perform in another three, described the festival: “It’s about the myriad ways percussion music connects us to the world and to nature. It’s about listening to the sounds of the outside world, to our own heartbeats, to noises of contemporary life. It’s about how sound can convey emotion and deepen the connections among us all.”

In a recent interview, Schick said the idea came from conversations he had with San Diego Symphony CEO Martha Gilmer, who approached him about doing a rhythm festival in 2016. “We realized that what interested us both was the nature of the sonic life in San Diego and what rhythm means to those of us who live here,” he explained. “As we reached out to partners in the community, we started including a broader spectrum of music.”

For the sonic portrait, UCSD music department grad students began making and collecting field recordings from sites around the county. In rehearsal, composer Michael Pisaro will choose which ones to use for his piece “asleep, forest, melody, path.” And Schick began collaborating with bestselling author Luis Urrea on a fest-specific retelling of “L’Histoire du Soldat.”“I’ve played it since I was a student, and always thought the text was inexplicably lightweight,” he said. “I did a version with a new text in San Francisco last year, but here I wanted to do something with the border, not the political side of it, but something about the daily tide of people that cross it for work or family. Those women who cross the border every day — they’re warriors, traveling far from home, like the Soldier did.”

The text, featuring excerpts from Urrea’s “Tijuana Book of the Dead,” will be read by the author, who was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an American mother. With Schick conducting, and the Tijuana dance troupe Lux Boreal adding movement, musicians will include flutist Wilfrido Terrazas, who used to cross the border to study music at UCSD and is now part of the faculty.

“I’ve lived in San Diego for 27 years,” Schick said. “This is my home. So I’m thinking about the sounds I’ve heard and the sounds I’ve made here, and the festival is a love letter to this place where I live.”

It’s About Time! 7 Festival Standouts

Jan. 13: Grand opener, “Fascinating Rhythm,” high-energy orchestral works by Berlioz and Prokofiev, plus Schick performing on a “virtual menagerie” of instruments in a percussion concerto by Roberto Sierra at Copley Symphony Hall.

Jan. 26-28: Opera, “Maria de Buenos Aires,” by Astor Piazzolla at the Lyceum Theatre.

Jan. 27: Free outdoor, cross-border presentation “Inuksuit,” by John Luther Adams at International Friendship Park.

Jan. 31: Car sound performance, “Bare Hands,” created/performed by French composer/percussionist/theater artist Roland Auzet at Mandeville Auditorium, UCSD campus.

Feb. 2: Sonic Portrait of San Diego: “asleep, forest, melody, path,” by Michael Pisaro at Prebys Concert Hall, UCSD.

Feb. 3: Igor Stravinsky’s 100-year-old “L’Histoire du Soldat,” re-imagined for our time and place by Schick and Urrea, featuring the Tijuana dance company Lux Boreal and flutist Wilfrido Terrazas at Mandeville Auditorium, UCSD.

Feb. 10-11: Theatrical percussion concerto, “Cross Winds (M.Alone),” created by Roland Auzet to showcase the talents of new-wave percussion virtuoso Fiona Digney at Mandeville Auditorium.

Festival partners include the Athenaeum, ArtPower, La Jolla Music Society, La Jolla Symphony & Chorus and the UCSD Music Department, and six of the 18 events take place at La Jolla venues. For the complete schedule and tickets, call (619) 235-0804 or visit