Greek Beat

    While most middle schoolers filed awkwardly into the band room for the first time, blindly picking from the array of polished gadgets that lined the walls, UCSD Masters of Performance candidate Stephen Solook was fully aware of his destiny. 

    “I started playing percussion in 4th grade,” Solook told the Guardian in an email interview. “I can still recall the day before we were told we could select instruments to take lessons for in school, and remember specifically thinking that I knew exactly what instrument I wanted to play.”

    Solook continued playing percussion, first in high school and then again at Ithaca College, where he played mallets in the pit ensemble with the now-defunct Rochester Patriots. 

    “Because it was not a Division-I corp, other members seemed to treat it more like a high school drama fest rather than a competing organization,” Solook said. “I took it extremely seriously, and people throughout the organization singled me out in a positive manner for the effort.”

    After moving to New York City and receiving his Masters at Mannes College of Music, Solook had already built a reputable career as a full-time performing musician, playing with various orchestras and world music ensembles in the city. But Solook had another career path in mind.

    “I’ve had a goal and dream of having my own percussion studio at the collegiate level,” Solook said. “So it was time to come back to school before I wouldn’t want to. UCSD was one of the only schools in the world I wanted to go to, and fortunately it worked out.”

    Steven Schick’s world-famous graduate percussion studio and Red Fish Blue Fish ensemble accepted Solook in 2009. At UCSD, Solook has worked on a variety of projects with Red Fish Blue Fish, including this Sunday’s performance at Conrad Prebys Music Center, also curated by Solook. The program will include percussion works by Chinary Ung, Philippe Manoury and Katharina Rosenberger, as well as Roger Reynolds’ theatre/musical piece Justice, which was commissioned for the celebration of the Library of Congress’ Bicentennial in 2000. 

    “Katharina Rosenberger’s Settings of E.E. Cummings are a world premiere and are amazing examples of how percussion and voice can and do become similar on a phonetic and rudimental level,” Solook said. “Chinary Ung’s Cinnabar Heart is scored for solo singing marimbist and is loosely inspired by Cambodian folk music.”

    The centerpiece of the evening, however, is Reynolds’ Justice — a fully staged, Greek-inspired dramatic piece written for percussionist (Solook), soprano (Tiffany Du Mouchelle), actress (Alice Teyssier) and computer musician (Paul Hembree). 

    Justice is based on the ancient Greek tragedy Clytemnestra, and the nightmare-reality of her husband, Agamemnon, killing their daughter, Iphigenia, for permission to go to war, leading her to action against his injustices,” Solook said. “Starting on Thursday a sound installation will run 24 hours a day until the performance with musical elements that are from Illusion, the work that follows Justice chronologically. llusion deals with the ancient Greek figure Kassandra and her dealings of premonitions.”

    But Justice is only the first of Solook’s several upcoming projects.

    “Related to the concert, I have a duo, Aurora Borealis, with Tiffany Du Mouchelle who is performing the soprano part in Justice.  We have several new compositions being written for us to help highlight our new focus of equally composed works for voice and percussion. Another long term project that is with a non-profit organization, Pacific Blue Foundation, to document and locate pre-contact/pre-colonial music in Fiji.”

    Solook has built quite an eclectic body of work — a testament to the diverse role percussion can have in an ensemble, which is something Solook believes is fundamental to the craft.

    “In regards to the role I think a percussionist plays, I would like to not comment on that,” Solook said. “There is such a variety of ensemble types and styles of percussion that I would easily leave off more than I would mention. But what I will say is that percussion is an extremely broad area that can allow a person to delve into many different areas, and the only thing that limits what you do is yourself.”

    The performance is free and will begin at 3 p.m. this Sunday at the Conrad Prebys Music Center Black Box. 

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