When an accomplished musician gives a solo recital, the performer is typically aided by a fine instrument, perhaps an 18th-century violin or cello hand-crafted in Italy or an imposing 9-foot concert grand piano. The performer’s artistry is expressed through an instrument of first-rate craftsmanship.
In an intimate solo recital Tuesday (Dec. 4) for the Carlsbad Music Festival, virtuoso percussionist Steven Schick proved he needed no such crutch to enthrall his audience. Give him a single triangle suspended on a stand, or a pair of maracas, or even four cheap flowerpots on a table, and he is Horowitz with drumsticks.
A Steven Schick recital is much more than a succesion of musical pieces followed by a polite meet and greet. It is a master class in technique, a graduate seminar on the sociology of music, and a personal testimony to music’s redemptive power. Appropriately held in Carlsbad’s historic 19th-century frame chapel of St. Michael’s by the Sea Church, Schick was there to inspire the faithful devotees of new music and gently convert anyone still sitting on the fence.
Let’s start with those four flowerpots, of differing sizes, of course, which ensured a variety of contrasting pitches for Frederic Rzewski’s “To the Earth.” Written around an English translation of an ancient Homeric ode to the sacred earth, the performer is called upon to recite the poem in clear, elegant declamatory style while tapping intricate patterns with both drumsticks and mallets. Schick gave this a subdued incantational style, which drew the listener in with hypnotic force.
Of even simpler conception was the solo triangle opus, Alvin Gussier’s “Silver Streetcar,” an etude that catalogues the variety of sounds and colors that can be drawn from striking a triangle with a regular iteration while varying both the volume and the amount of dampening—with the performer’s other hand—applied to the triangle. Schick explained that “Silver Streetcar” can last up to 30 minutes, but he gave us just the trailer to the full-length film.
His most bravura offering was Vinko Globokar’s “Toucher,” which sets some dialogue from Bertolt Brecht’s late 1930s play “Life of Galileo” (in a French translation—the composer is French) to a rapid-fire recitation of the text underscored by a battery of varied percussion instruments, including bells, gongs, a conga and a tambourine. Since each French vowel is given a particular percussion equivalent, the “soundtrack” flies by at a ferocious clip. Appropriate for a play, Schick gave a dramatic reading of the dialogue, although the array of sounds simultaneously enlivened and obscured the comprehension of the words.
Nevertheless, it was a spellbinding tour de force.
He opened his recital with Javier Álvarez’ “Pimascal” for electronic tape and maracas, an ingratiating, populist work. Although[php snippet=1] the maracas patterns sounded improvisatory, Schick assured his audience that they were notated modules that fit quite specific sections of the tape. Álvarez’ recorded sounds at first recalled the typical explosive plinks and hisses that fascinated electronic composers in the 1980s (this piece was written in 1984), but it ended with the simple and recognizable strains of the Mexican folk harp. Sweet.
The Carlsbad Music Festival will celebrate its 10th season in September 2013. In the meantime, audiences can find maestro Schick on the podium as Music Director of the La Jolla Symphony Orchestra.