In a leap of faith, Steven Schick ends his 15-year tenure as Music Director of La Jolla Symphony & Chorus

Steven Schick has punctuated his life with dramatic career choices.

Raised on a farm in Iowa, he went from pre-med to college to study the then almost non-existent field of solo percussion. Success as an internationally renowned performer and professor of music at the University of California, San Diego followed.

Then, in 2006, having little experience conducting small ensembles, he made the bold decision to guest conduct La Jolla Symphony & Chorus. A year later, Schick made an even bolder decision. He applied and became its musical director. Fourteen years later, he received the prestigious Ditson Conductor’s Award from Columbia University.

Today, Schick has chosen to leave his position as orchestra and choir to explore new musical horizons. He will also expand his percussive profile by recording a series of adventurous albums for Islandia Music Records, starting with “A Hard Rain”, which will be released on Friday.

“What does a teenage leap of faith feel like to someone who’s almost 70?” Schick, 68, asked rhetorically.

“Because it is. It was the same for me to become the musical director of La Jolla Symphony & Chorus at 53 years old. A jump takes two people, and when I decided to do it in 2006, the orchestra caught up with me. I will always be grateful.

The nonprofit arts organization, founded in 1957, has a 90-person volunteer orchestra and a 100-person choir. When asked what he would miss most about being his musical director, Schick answered without hesitation.

“It’s very easy,” he said from his studio at UCSD, where he holds the Reed Family Presidential Chair in Music.

“I will miss my regular work with these extraordinary musicians. They have busy lives and families. For the love of music, they have the dedication to come to rehearsals and play their instruments at the highest level. It’s a gift. There’s no way I can replace that in my life.

Steven Schick, distinguished University of California San Diego music professor and Presidential Chairman of the Reed family, will focus on his solo percussion work with a new series of albums for Islandia Music Records.

(Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Between history and adventure

Schick’s final concerts as the symphony’s musical director will be June 3-4 at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in University City. He will then become emeritus musical director of the symphony.

Both June programs, titled “Onward,” will feature the recipient of the Nee Commission, which is awarded annually to a graduate-level composition student at UCSD. The 2021 winner is Anthony Vine, who wrote “The Song of St. Bazetta.”

The program also includes Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 1, performed by renowned violinist David Bowlin, and Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, bringing the concert to an optimistic close.

From 2006 to last year, Schick conducted here and abroad pieces by more than 230 composers. About 140 were firsts. Works by Beethoven, Copland, Mozart and Stravinsky mingle with those of living composers such as John Luther Adams, Chaya Czernowin, Missy Mazzoli and UCSD’s Lei Liang.

Lead bassist Christine Allen, a 30-year La Jolla Symphony veteran, credits Schick with fostering the orchestra’s eclectic mix.

“We played new music before Steve, but he took it to the next level, said Allen, who drives from her home in Orange County for rehearsals and performances. “We played such new stuff, sometimes the ink was still wet!”

Hima Joshi, member of La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, resident of Clairemont who teaches at Grossmont College, joined in 1995.

“I really love our adventurous spirit and understanding of musical history,” the soprano said. “It’s a very nice mix. As soon as you get tired of the standards, we’ll be working on something new and wacky.

Schick believes that variety of pieces and composers is an essential part of an orchestra’s advocacy to bring meaningful music to the community.

“It’s not about playing orchestral hits and hoping for good ticket sales,” he said. “For me, our advocacy has always meant showcasing living composers and composers who reflect the diversity of the world we wish to live in.”

Another element of this, the orchestra’s annual youth concerts, brought out Schick’s sense of humor even more than usual.

“These concerts were high points for me,” he said. “I love these kids!”

Schick also cited the symphony and choir performing large-scale works, such as John Adams’ Harmonium to Requiems by Verdi and Berlioz, as “the most glorious moments of musical creation“.

Steven Schick

In addition to conducting orchestras, Steven Schick has performed with ensembles around the world. In 2015, he was musical director of the Ojai Festival. In 2018, he hosted the San Diego Symphony Orchestra’s month-long “It’s About Time” festival.

(Hayne Palmour IV / For San Diego Union-Tribune)

Adventurous artistic creation

La Jolla Symphony & Chorus announced this month a fund for the Steven Schick Award for Acts of Musical Imagination and Excellence. The $10,000 annual prize will recognize a musical project or performance that “highlights the value of adventurous artistic creation, with particular emphasis on raising awareness of the social, community and binational dimensions of our region and our relationship to the natural world”.

Schick emphasized that the award is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, it aims to support emerging artists who are doing great work that aligns with the social and environmental values ​​of the symphony and choir – and Schick.

To promote these values, the conductor and his wife created the Brenda and Steven Schick Commission. The commission’s first annual performance was in 2019. Brenda Schick is the founder of Singing Stream Conservation Consultants. The commission, which comes from the couple’s budget, will continue after he leaves his current position with the symphony.

“We each have 50% of the voting rights,” he said with a laugh. “Our main meetings are over drinks on the couch.”

Schick’s first brush with percussion began at Clear Lake High School in northern Iowa, when his hands-on mother discovered that kids learning to play drums didn’t need to buy an instrument. , just chopsticks. She saved some money and he found what would be his calling.

“I played in the school band and in a rock band,” he recalls, noting his parents were rightly worried when he moved from pre-med to drumming in college. university. “My first solo concert at the Kennedy Center was when my parents knew I wouldn’t live in their basement. They were relieved. »

Just as being a “kid drummer” was a stepping stone to studying percussion, Schick’s impeccable skills as an intrepid percussionist helped him become a musical director.

“Steve’s solo percussion concerts are amazing!” exclaimed Anthony Davis, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and UCSD professor. “He is able to memorize the most difficult scores and perform at the highest level. He brought all that skill to the podium as a conductor.

Schick is eager to be released as he leaves his time-consuming position at La Jolla Symphony & Chorus. In this next big leap, the springboard will be his incredibly rich portfolio of percussion works, culminating in ‘Weather Systems’, a series of Islandia Music Records releases.

He plans to resume his touring career as a percussionist. A collaboration with the Israeli-American composer Chaya Czernowin is also in preparation for a musical theater project which will begin in Paris in two years.

“In this last third of my professional life, explains Schick, I wanted to continue teaching at UCSD, working in percussion, opening up space and finding energy for things that I don’t yet know.

“I trust myself that as time and energy increase, some unforeseen and creative things will happen.”

La Jolla Symphony & Chorus: Steven Schick conducts Anthony Vine’s “The Song of St. Bazetta”, Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Brahms’ Symphony No. 2

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday June 3 and Saturday June 4

Or: Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, 4321 Eastgate Mall, University City

Tickets: $18 to $39

Call: (858) 534-4637

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Sing Schick’s praises

“Steve’s musicianship, ideas, mastery of repertoire and knowledge of programming are amazing. He’s fantastic and I always look forward to picking his mastermind. — Rafael Payare, Music Director of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra

“Steve took a community orchestra, made up of students and people from the La Jolla area, and had them take on some of the most demanding contemporary music from composers like Pierre Boulez that the New York Philharmonic would struggle to do. ” — Anthony Davis, UCSD professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer

“Steve is a miraculous musician. …He has worked so diligently and with such joy with the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus. He has been a great friend and a wonderful colleague. …His commitment to the composers of ‘today has always been one of his hallmarks, and he embodies the music so well that he can communicate complexity to the audience from the podium. — Martha Gilmer, CEO of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra

“Steve has been an incredible leader with great vision. …He has great leadership qualities. It’s one thing to stand in front of a large group when everyone is relying on you to lead. But in small meetings or one-on-ones, he makes us all feel included. He showed a lot of empathy and interpersonal skills. » — Hima Joshi, professor of chemistry at Grossmont College, La Jolla Symphony & Chorus soprano for over 23 years

“Steve’s imaginative musical genius led us to our golden age. Each season had a theme, each concert a supporting topic, and each track a relevant statement, all focused on the same goal: to elevate, make us think and feel, musicians and audiences, as part of a combined community experience. Stephen Marsh, retired lawyer, La Jolla Symphony & Chorus bassist for 18 years, former board member and chairman of the board

Corina C. Butler