Monday, February 16, 2004
11:00 a.m.-noon at the American Music Center
Videotaped and transcribed by Randy Nordschow
Last November, I went down to the World Financial Center to hear Steven Schick play John Luther Adams’s The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies. In all honesty, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m a big fan of JLA’s music and have followed Schick’s performances since he was the percussionist in the Bang On A Can All-Stars, but the thought of sitting through a more-than-an-hour-long solo percussion performance in an uncomfortable seat in the middle of the WFC’s mall-like atrium, which periodically gets transformed into a hip new music venue despite the endless chatter of shoppers and people going home from work, was less than 100 percent appealing to me.
But, during the course of the hour, time stopped, the chatter was drowned out, the chair floated away, the lone person on the stage playing sonorities of indeterminate pitch became an orchestra of timbre, melody, AND harmony. Or, to put it more directly, I was transported. I had to find out more about the piece, the composition process and how the performer brought it to life. I rushed to look at a score but the alchemical secrets locked in there remained hidden to me. I thought about talking to JLA about how he was able to pull this off, but on further reflection thought it would be even more interesting to talk with Steven Schick about how he pulled it off. As both a composer and a writer about music, I talk with other composers all the time and JLA is someone I talk with a lot already. The performer’s perspective here seemed to be the skeleton key toward a greater understanding of the process.
What happened, ultimately, was a conversation about what it means to be a percussionist and how that has evolved in our lifetimes. Without the baggage of standard repertoire or teachers steering them away from things that are “outside the mainstream” (read “anything new”), percussionists, whose entire repertoire save transcriptions has to be contemporary, are the foot soldiers of new music. And, as someone dedicated to spawning a whole new solo repertoire for percussion, Steven Schick is something of a five-star general. Just as composers have yet to exhaust the possibilities of writing for percussion, soloists like Schick are constantly finding new ways to bring it to life, whether it’s extracting harmonic riches from an air raid siren or realizing that the unique triangular shape of a Glenfiddich bottle keeps it from rolling away!