REVIEW: SummerFest concert finds synergy in art, music and technology
August 20, 2021
Tamar Muskal finds musical opportunity in artist Daniel Rozin’s interactive sculpture, resulting in dynamic display and performance at La Jolla Music Society concert
Percussionist Steven Schick has used many unorthodox things to make compelling music: pebbles, tuned flowerpots, water — even his bare chest and face.
But on Thursday evening’s SummerFest concert in the La Jolla Music Society’s Baker-Baum Concert Hall, Schick played on a work of art. Without striking it.
Standing a few feet in front of a large — approximately 7 feet by 7 feet — square panel made up of hundreds of square wooden tiles, he extended an arm to its full length, and the squares behind him immediately duplicated his gesture in a pixelated Schick silhouette.
Daniel Rozin’s interactive sculpture, “Wooden Mirror,” used a camera-controlled computer to replicate Schick’s movement in front of the artwork.
Each tile of “Wooden Mirror” had a light side and a dark side, with an intermediate position between those gradations. With immediate mechanical response, tiles flipped into one of these positions. When hundreds of tiles acted together, Rozin’s sculpture was literally a mirror made of wood.
When a tile changes position, it makes a dry clacking sound. Tamar Muskal saw musical opportunity in this. Her composition “Facing the Automaton” stands out above other SummerFest commissions in its synergistic merger of art, music and technology.
Known for the theatricality of his performances, Schick was an inspired choice for soloist in this work. Working with a vibraphone, marimba, cymbals, tam tam, wood blocks, various drums and tambourine — for a Schick concerto, a rather modest setup — he was accompanied by piano, clarinet, bassoon, horn and string quintet, and of course, Rozin’s “Wooden Mirror.”
“Facing the Automaton” used major triads in unpredictable ways but also allowed crunchy chords. If you write major chords jumping around in parallel motion, comparisons with Conlon Nancarrow may occur, but Muskal’s rhythmic vocabulary was much more straightforward.
The work began with loud chords in the vibraphone and piano. Then Schick waved his arms, shook his head and stopped the other musicians. He couldn’t hear a click track necessary for the performance.
What followed was the longest pause in a concert I have ever experienced. Nearly an hour passed before a performance commenced. Why the delay? The click track was sent to every performer’s Bluetooth headphone; anyone who had not turned off their phones interfered with the transmission.
Fortunately, Muskal’s and Rozin’s collaboration was worth the wait. The first movement featured Schick and the instrumentalists alone. The music was forceful, but balances between percussion and the instrumental ensemble on the other side of the stage were not ideal, with the vibraphone and drum parts frequently overpowering the other instruments.
Schick’s normal theatricality was diminished in having his back to the audience playing vibes. All the more striking then, when the movement ended and he quietly strode around his setup to stand in front of what looked like a tiled wooden wall.
His first gesture was immediately replicated by the tiles, causing some to loudly gasp.
This was music theater alchemy. The entire second movement was improvised by Schick with Rozin’s sculpture. The tiniest wiggle of Schick’s fingers found a response in the mirror. Waving his arms from side to side cause tiles to loudly cascade. At one point, he sunk to his side, just an arm and a leg sticking up.
Accustoming us to the mirror capturing his gestures, Schick then walked from one side to the other. Nothing happened at first. Then his silhouette walked across the panel, eliciting surprise from the audience.
In the last movement, Schick went back to his setup, and the mirror played pre-programmed rhythms. Stripes suddenly appeared, moved across the mirror, vanished, all in metronomic time. The balances between Schick and the ensemble were better here, and the interplay between mirror, soloist and ensemble was dazzling.
Bursts of tiles like fireworks signaled a grand finale, and when it all stopped, many in the audience jumped up and cheered.
Festival director Inon Barnatan’s programming has been wonderfully thought-provoking. This concert was built around the ideas of concertos with a joyful performance of an anonymous string sextet arrangement of Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante” and Chausson’s “Concert” (which featured stunning playing by James Ehnes on violin and Barnatan on piano).
Barnatan brought new performers to SummerFest’s stage and found wonderful composers like Muskal and Gabriela Lena Frank. We hope he continues to oversee SummerFest and bring more magic for years to come.
Watch this concert online until Sept. 7.