It’s hard to believe, but the first piece of Western music written for solo percussion arrived in 1959 when German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen completed “Zyklus” (“Cycle for a Percussionist”). Works for Western percussion ensemble came on the scene a bit earlier, in the 1920s, when classical music began to entertain percussion as a single instrument.
On Valentine’s Day, percussionist Steven Schick presents “Origins,” an overview of this surprisingly recent embrace of solo percussion, in a concert sponsored by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.
“The recital is a kind of chronological tour of solo percussion,” says Shick, describing his first solo show in San Francisco in more than 30 years. “It starts with a few of the very first pieces, including ‘Zyklus’ and Morton Feldman’s ‘The King of Denmark’ (1964), and extends to pieces that were written very, very recently. It’s a little bit like diary journal entries for a solo percussionist who has seen the world he lives in be directly influential on the music he plays.”
It also may be an ear opener for those who associate percussion solely with loud, slam-bam pieces. For example, “The King of Denmark,” which alternates periods of silence with soft sounds played by fingertips alone, often hovers on the threshold of audibility.
Other pieces on the program involve the use of bass bows to activate sound.
“The other misconception about contemporary music is that it essentially appeals only to the head,” says Schick. “If that were true, I wouldn’t be a musician. If music does not touch me in an emotional way, I’m just not interested in it.”
Schick characterizes “Zyklus” as a questing piece. Written after World War II, when the freedoms Stockhausen gave his soloist echoed the new freedoms central Europe was experiencing, it is an offshoot of the democratic impulse that previously surfaced in Beethoven.
The soft Feldman piece tells the fictional story of an unbelievable moment in history in which people oppressed by the Nazis stood up for each other in powerful and courageous ways.
As he makes history and heart meet on the head of a drum, Schick, artistic director of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and music director of the La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, is one of a handful of classical percussionists who truly deserves the title “master.”
His résumé is lengthy. He was the founding percussionist of the Bang on a Can All-Stars (1992-2002), artistic director of the Centre International de Percussion de Genève (2000-2005), founder and artistic director of the percussion group red fish blue fish and the first artist-in-residence for the prestigious International Contemporary Ensemble. He is slated to curate 2015’s Ojai Music Festival.
IF YOU GO
Origins: A Steven Schick Recital
Where: Jewish Community Center, 3200 California St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Price: $20 to $40