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Steve Schick Astonishes at Miller Theatre


All photos: Karli Cadel

Steve Schick proved last night at Miller Theatre that he is far more than just a talented musician. He is a deeply sensitive, thoughtful human being who tells stories of walking from San Diego to San Francisco just to experience the sounds along the way, strips down to the waist to perform a piece using nothing other than his body, and memorizes an entire poem—Wendell Berry's "The Mad Farmer Liberation Front"—to recite as an "encore." I mean, who does that?

Schick arrived at a packed house last night for the first of two concerts surveying the solo percussion repertoire, of which Steve is one of the world's undisputed masters. (Part two is Saturday night.) As with the poem, Schick performed last night's program—which lasted more than two hours—entirely from memory, allowing for both greater flexibility of movement and unfettered access to the audience. It also made it easier for us to witness his extraordinary physical energy, twisting behind his back or wheeling around blindly to hit just the right spot on his dizzying array of cowbells and tam tams, set up in three stations across the stage.


For all the pyrotechnics of Stockhausen's groundbreaking Zyklus (1959) or Xenakis' Psappha (1975) and Rebonds (1989), some of last night's most astonishing moments were the quiet ones. Schick played Morton Feldman's The King of Denmark (1964) "at the very threshold of inaudibility," as Feldman instructs, with just the lightest touch of his bare hands on a battery of massive gongs and bass drums. Even simpler was Alvin Lucier's Silver Streetcar for Orchestra (1982), consisting of Schick tapping repeatedly on a single amplified triangle which vibrated against itself to create strange overtones and feedback.  

Schick also showed his theatrical flair in two works by the French composer and trombonist Vinko Globokar. Toucher (1972) had Schick reciting rapid-fire Bertolt Brecht's play The Life of Galileo (in French), replacing the vowel sounds with finger taps on a battery of percussion instruments. And ?Corporeal (1982) featured the aforementioned half-naked beatboxing while exploring physical challenges that would be extreme for just about anyone, much less someone about to turn 60. Hands down, one of the bravest, boldest solo performances I've ever seen.

If you're up near Columbia this afternoon, Schick will be hosting a free roundtable discussion at 3:00 p.m. with composer Kaija Saariaho, So Percussion's Adam Sliwinski, vibes player Stefon Harris, and others. And, tickets are still available for tomorrow night's performance featuring works commissioned by Schick, including world premieres by Nathan Davis and Lei Liang; details here.