A Schick Above

According to Steven Schick — new artistic director and
conductor for the community- and student-built La Jolla Symphony — just about
anyone with a musical sensibility can do the things he does before the
orchestra, back to the audience, stenciling out swells of sound in the open air
above the conductor’s stand.

“I could teach you to be a conductor in ten minutes,” he
said Monday, amid the peaceful collection of percussion instruments that
consume his Warren Lecture Hall office. “Not even. I could teach you the motion
in three minutes. I think if you listen and try to make things better, you can
be good — even if you’ve never conducted before.”

Schick defines a conductor’s responsibility as
“communication by gesture” — a kind of sign language for the sonically gifted,
if you will — and most surely underestimates his rare and individual gift for
the art of conducting. Rehearsing in Mandeville on Wednesday night for the
weekend performances that will officially introduce him to UCSD and its
surrounding community, his intuitive interactions with the symphony’s parts were
softly intellectual yet always firm, settling small complications arising in
the sea of music stands and instruments (“Let’s get the string section to slide
back toward the brass”), requesting tweaks to performative interpretation (“At
five, full half notes, so we can really hear the release”) and letting each
instrument — the harp, the oboe, the clarinet — play alone until it’s ready to
become a perfect part of the sum.

And everything must be perfect. After all, the mantelpiece
of Schick’s self-welcoming performance is also the American premiere of “Cello
Concerto,” penned by contemporary legend
Philip Glass, best known for avant-garde minimalism that electrocuted the 1970s
and most popular for collaborations with public innovators like Brian Eno and
Aphex Twin. “It’s very interesting about being starstruck by the people you
work with,” Schick said. “Immediately, you have to get down to work, and it
becomes something very, very different.”

Here at UCSD, Schick is a dorm-room name for one reason more
than others: Up until this year, he’s helmed the wildly sought-after Beatles
course, which has always been more of a stepping stone to 20th-century music
theory than a character study of the Fab Four. “I don’t actually care about the
Beatles that much,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t even like the Beatles — but the
spectrum that they cover is so huge.”

Now, after over 20 years of the same stepping stone, Schick
is moving on to a personal boulder. While starring cellist Wendy Sutter jerked
and sawed through Glass’ surprisingly gorgeous composition during rehearsal — a
bodily visual of the composer’s vigorous repitition — Schick towered above,
finally putting his lecturer’s countenance and percussive background to
all-encompassing use.

Steven Schick will debut as music director for the La Jolla
Symphony on Nov. 3 and 4 at Mandeville Auditorium. The symphony will perform
John Luther Adams’ The Light That Fills the World, Philip Glass’s Cello
Concerto and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. Philip Glass is expected to attend.

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