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UC San Diego percussionist Fiona Digney to welcome music lovers to her Ph.D. recital, Jan. 8 in La Jolla

Fiona Digney in performance
(Photo courtesy of Salt Arts Documentation)

Fiona Digney, the Australian percussionist who has been a star performer at UC San Diego for the past six years, is about to do her Ph.D. recital 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 at the Conrad Prebys Music Center on campus. If you haven’t seen and heard her before, now is your chance.

Digney first played the marimba across from master percussionist Steve Schick in Perth, Australia, where she was majoring in percussion; 10 years later, she was playing across from him at UCSD. Schick, a world-renowned performer, conductor and Distinguished Professor of Music, encouraged her to come here for her doctorate and has been her mentor ever since.

Last month, along with percussionists from redfishbluefish, the ensemble Schick founded three decades ago, she was playing the marimba across from him again, in a thrilling performance of Steve Reich’s “Drumming.” It was actually her fourth time doing “Drumming” with Schick: the first time was in Australia, then twice more in 2014, at her initial UCSD concert and another in Mexico.

She has been Schick’s artistic associate at the Banff Arts Center and the Ojai Music Festival, and recently became managing director of Art of Elan, helping Artistic Director Kate Hatmaker bring contemporary chamber music to diverse audiences around San Diego. On Jan. 10, two days after her Ph.D. recital, she will be performing with cellist Alex Greenbaum in a pop-up, 20-minute Art of Elan concert at San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.

But back to the recital. It’s a free performance, featuring George Crumb’s “Music for a Summer Evening,” a piece for an exotic array of percussion instruments and two pianos, as the main event. It may not be seasonally appropriate, but it will be exciting. Schick will join Digney onstage, each of them playing about 20 instruments, including xylophones, glockenspiels, sleigh-bells, a metal thunder-sheet, an African log drum and a Tibetan prayer stone. Music professor Aleck Karris and Kyle Adam Blair, a music department Ph.D., will accompany them on amplified pianos.

“It’s crazy, the sort of piece you couldn’t do anywhere but at a university,” Digney told said. “And it’s been a dream of mine to do it for years.”

At 90, George Crumb is one of the most performed composers of new music. In his program notes for the 1974 “Music for a Summer Evening,” he stressed the critically important role of the performer: “New music, with its enormous technical and expressive demands, depends for its very existence on a type of pioneer performer, who, in fact, is engaged in creating ... the performance practice of our own time. The number of such dedicated performers is perhaps not large; fortunately, however, they do exist.”

They do exist at UCSD, and they’ll be part of Fiona Digney’s recital, which will also include “and then we run,” a theatrical piece she co-wrote with music department composer Kyle Johnson that will be making its debut. No tickets or RSVPs required; all you have to do is show up for this adventuresome musical feast.

IF YOU GO: For directions, parking locations and a UC San Diego map to Fiona Digney‘s 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020 performance at UCSD’s Conrad Prebys Music Center, visit music-cms.ucsd.edu/about/directions.html