'It's About Time' for ear-bending, eye-popping, borders-leaping music festival

An ear-bending, eye-popping, borders-leaping music marathon, “It’s About Time” will include a series of groundbreaking firsts for San Diego and Tijuana.

To be held Thursday through Feb. 11, the percussion-driven music and cultural festival will feature 27 events at a dozen locations. The styles will range from classical and jazz to Latin and cutting-edge, plus many points in between. (The complete performance schedule appears below.)

Billed as “A Festival of Rhythm, Sound and Place,” “It’s About Time” is being presented by the San Diego Symphony. It is being curated by UC San Diego music professor and La Jolla Symphony & Chorus Music Director Steven Schick. An acclaimed polymath, he is uniquely qualified for such a far-reaching enterprise.

The symphony’s most ambitious undertaking ever, the festival is a collaboration with a dozen other area arts organizations, including Fresh Sound, San Diego Opera, La Jolla Music Society, Athenaeum Music & Arts Library and Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT). For casual listeners and devotees alike, the array of performances promise to be dizzyingly appealing.

One concert, Roland Auzet’s “Bare Hands” on Jan. 31, will feature — as its main musical instrument — a fully functioning automobile.

Another, Toru Takemitsu’s “From me flows what you call Time” on Jan. 26, will utilize 12 sets of metal wind chimes, each 6 inches to 3 feet in length. They will all be suspended above the Copley Symphony Hall audience and attached to long, colorful ribbons. Percussionists on stage will pull the ribbons to make the chimes sound throughout the venue.

Then there’s the San Diego Opera’s four Jan. 26-28 performances (three already sold-out) of “Maria de Buenos Airies,” nuevo tango master Astor Piazzolla’s opera about a murdered prostitute who returns to haunt the streets she once walked.

More striking still is the free outdoor Jan. 27 performance of John Luther Adams’ “Inuksuit – A Cross-Border Presentation.” To be held at International Friendship Park, it will feature two piccolo players and 58 percussionists. They’ll simultaneously perform on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border for an audience that, likewise, will straddle the two countries.

Further underscoring this geographic proximity, the New York-based Mingus Dynasty band will perform jazz legend Charles Mingus’ landmark “Tijuana Moods” at Tijuana’s Cultural Center (CECUT) Jan. 21 and at La Jolla’s TSRI Auditorium Jan. 22. (A preview of the concerts and a Mingus-related symposium will run Jan. 18 in Night&Day.)

Inflamed chest bruises

The festival is also hip enough to include top Afro-Latin music percussionist John Santos — who performs Jan. 27 at Copley Symphony Hall — and his near namesake, San Diego Symphony and Harry Partch Ensemble veteran Jon Szanto, who performs at the Jan. 25 “Percussion Lovefest” concert at Bread & Salt.

For good measure, the Jan. 16 performance of Vinko Globokar’s “?Corporel” will feature a shirtless Schick drumming — very carefully — on his chest, stomach, legs and head.

“It’s not really too painful,” Schick said with a laugh. “Although, when I first started learning this piece 20 years ago, I’d get bruises in the center of my chest and it would get kind of puffy and start to change the sound. So I’d have to find a spot I hadn’t inflamed.”

More than a year in the making, “It’s About Time” is the dual brainchild of Schick and San Diego Symphony CEO Martha Gilmer.

“When I took this job with the symphony in 2014, many people said: ‘You have to work with Steve!’ ” Gilmer recalled. “He was very helpful in framing the climate here for me — not the weather climate! And, obviously, his connection to UCSD is important.”

Gilmer was able to witness Schick’s exceptional eclecticism and tireless work ethic up close at the Ojai Music Festival in 2015, when he served as the music director and maintained a nonstop pace.

“I talked to Steve and said: ‘I want to do a festival based around you and rhythm.’ We started planning it well over a year ago and Steve came up with a fully blown concept. We’d talk more and then he’d come up with another fully blown concept. It just emerged from his vast experience and connections.

“Steve is a really connective person! He knows people around the world and around San Diego. He’s a gatherer; that’s his strength in this festival. He’s passionate about raising the level of the arts. And elevating arts and culture here is what this festival is about. Programming to a wide range of people who live here — and showcasing the vastness of cultures that are represented in San Diego — has been the premise for Steve and me from the beginning.”

Out of the conch shell, into the frying pan

An unusually skilled conductor and conceptualist, Schick is also a masterful musician on seemingly any percussion instrument. When called for, he also adeptly plays such unconventional instruments as a conch shell and a frying pan.

As he demonstrated at Ojai in 2015 — and reinforces each year when leading the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus and the UCSD percussion ensemble red fish blue fish — Schick’s catholic tastes and unusually broad stylistic range make him uniquely qualified to guide a festival as multifaceted as “It’s About Time.”

“My goal with Martha is to make a festival which responds to this place and this time,” he said. “And, naturally, since I’m involved, there’s a fair amount of percussion. But it’s about more than that. It’s about where we live, the cultural and human landscapes, the sound of those textures, of language, of heritage. And it is our goal to reflect all that, in this month-long festival, in the context of a symphony orchestra.”

Happily, there is nothing stuffy about “It’s About Time.”

The three consecutive Thursday “Percussion Lovefest” concerts at Bread & Salt — which Shick is co-curating with top San Diego drummer Duncan Moore — will all include open jam sessions in which audience members are free to grab sticks or mallets and join in.

The Jan. 27, late-night multimedia performance of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps (“The Rite of Spring”) will be held at the Music Box, a venue more accustomed to hosting rock, reggae and hip-hop acts.

Showcasing unexpected collaborations, illuminating cultural connections and exploring surprising twists and juxtapositions are the norm for this festival. That’s all according to plan.

“We’re working on next year’s festival now,” Gilmer said. “There are elements this year that should become common to each future festival we do, no matter what the theme is, and that’s important.”

Welcome duality to ‘It’s About Time’s” name

Above and beyond the music, the inclusion of 27 events at a dozen locations — combined with the equally unprecedented partnerships with a dozen area arts organizations — suggests a welcome dual meaning in the festival’s “It’s About Time” title.

“Absolutely, absolutely!” Gilmer replied. “There are so many institutions collaborating in this festival — and it’s about time. I know there’s collaborations going on in this city all the time. There are various ways we can collaborate and January always seems like an optimal time to start the new year in exciting ways.

“Collaboration, in this case is the abiding theme,” she continued. And by doing programming that takes place under the umbrellas of other institutions, this festival draws focus to all these different places. My hope is audience that go to the ‘Percussion Lovefest” concerts at Bread & Salt will also come to San Diego Symphony concerts, and that symphony audiences will go to UCSD ArtPower events, and explore La Jolla Music Society performances, and so on, so that there’s a real cross-pollination.

“This will hold especially true with the the Thursday night ‘Percussion Lovefest’ concerts. They will feature a wide range of local artists, who come from so many different backgrounds, and underscore what is similar and how our differences are overcome by the arts and communication,”

Growing up in Vermont, Gilmer played bassoon and tympani in her high school orchestra in Burlington. She also played glockenspiel and xylophone in the marching band at games by the school’s football team, the Demons.

Gilmer laughed when asked if she, too, had been a “Demon.”

“Sort of!” she said, laughing again.

Does Gilmer have a good sense of time?

“I think I do,” she said. “When I was a pianist, I was really focused on color, pitch and rhythm. I may have tended to rush (tempos), but that was a long time ago in my past.

“I consider myself a professional audience member. I learn to listen every day when I sit in rehearsals or performances. I just try to be open, and understand and be moved by the richness and variety of music, including the interpretations by different peole of a familiar piece of music and hearing it like it was the first time.”

Now, with “It’s About Time” — and its collaborations with so many other different arts organizations — the Gilmer-led San Diego Symphony is about to embark on it most ambitious undertaking to date.

Does this proudly eclectic festival’s multiple components make it a marketing challenge?

“I don’t think our team sees it’s as a challenge,” Gilmer said. “I think they see it as an opportunity. Because inherent in this is the fact that you have all these institutions who are putting this (festival’s events) in their brochures, as we are in ours. And I think that’s a big win for everybody in San Diego.”

“It’s About Time” schedule of events

7:30 Thursday: “Percussion Lovefest 1,” with the Richard Sellers Trio, Mike Holguin & Charlie Chavez, Mark Lamson and Sol e Mar, and San Diego Symphony percussionists Greg Cohen, Erin Dowrey, Andy Watkins & Ryan DiLisi. Bread & Salt, 1955 Julian Ave., Logan Heights. $20 (general), $10 (students). 619-987-6214 or freshsoundmusic.com

8 p.m., Saturday and 2 p.m., Sunday: “Fascinating Rhythm,” with conductor Rafael Payare, percussionist Steven Schick & the San Diego Symphony, Copley Symphony Hall at Jacobs Music Center, 750 B St., downtown. $25- $72. (619) 235-0804 or sandiegosymphony.org

7:30 p.m., Tuesday: “Percussion: A Listener’s Guide,” with Steven Schick, red fish blue fish, kallisti and percussionists Gregory Cohen, Ryan DiLisi, Andrew Watkins & Erin Douglas Dowrey. Copley Symphony Hall at Jacobs Music Center, 750 B St., downtown $35 (general), (619) 235-0804, sandiegosymphony.org

7:30 p.m., Jan 18: “Percussion Lovefest 2,” with Leah Bowden, Tim McMahon, Milad Jahadi & Euphoria Bass Band. Bread & Salt, 1955 Julian Ave., Logan Heights. $20 (general), $10 (students). (619) 987-6214 or freshsoundmusic.com

11 a.m., Jan 20: Stuart Collection Audio Tour, hosted by Steven Schick and Mary Beebe, explores “what sculpture sounds like.” Begins at Conrad Prebys Music Center, UC San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla. $15.50 (students admitted free). (858) 534-2117 or stuartcollection.ucsd.edu/

2 p.m., Jan 20: UC San Diego Helen Edison Lecture Series presents a panel discussion on Charles Mingus and “Tijuana Moods,” moderated by Ashley Kahn, with Charles McPherson, Anthony Davis and Steven Schick. Neil Morgan Auditorium, San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Blvd., downtown. Free. (858) 822-2026 or helendison.ucsd.edu

8 p.m., Jan 20: Paul Taylor Dance Company, with Men’s Quartet, Steven Schick & red fish blue fish. Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, downtown $20-$75, (858) 459-3728 or ljms.org

8 p.m., Jan 20: and 2 p.m., Jan 21: “Places in Time,” features works by Rossini, Martucci and Respighi, with conductor Jader Bignamini & the San Diego Symphony. Copley Symphony Hall at Jacobs Music Center, 750 B St., downtown. $25-$72. (619) 235-0804 or sandiegosymphony.org

5 p.m., Jan 21: Mingus Dynasty: “Tijuana Moods,” with trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, saxophonists Wayne Escoffery and Brandon Wright, trombonist and vocalist Ku-umba Frank Lacy, pianist Theo Hill, bassist Boris Kozlov and drummer Adam Cruz. Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT), Paseo de los Heroes No. 9350, Zona Urbana Rio, Tijuana. Free. cecut.gob.mx

7:30 p.m., Jan 22: Mingus Dynasty: “Tijuana Moods.” Athenaeum Jazz at TSRI Auditorium, 10620 John Jay Hopkins Drive, La Jolla. $30 (members) $35 (non-members). (858) 454-5872 or ljathenaeum.org

7:30 p.m., Jan 25: “Percussion Lovefest 3,” with Jon Szanto, Rahis Kahn, Matt DiBiassi & Monette Marino. Bread & Salt, 1955 Julian Ave., Logan Heights. $20 (general), $10 (students). (619) 987-6214 or freshsoundmusic.com

8 p.m., Jan 26 and 2 p.m., Jan. 28: “Stories in Time,” with conductor Steven Schick, the San Diego Symphony and percussionists Aiyun Huang, Gregory Cohen, Ryan DiLisi, Andrew Watkins & Erin Douglas Dowrey. Copley Symphony Hall at Jacobs Music Center, 750 B St., downtown. $25-$72. (619) 235-0804 or sandiegosymphony.org

Jan 26-28: The San Diego Opera presents Ástor Piazzolla’s “Maria de Buenos Aires,” directed by John de los Santos, with conductor Bruce Stasyna and singers Audrey Babcock & Paul LaRosa. Lyceum Theater, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown. All performances are sold out, except at 10 p.m. on Jan. 27, for which tickets are $41-$166. (619) 533-7000 or sdopera.org

12:30 p.m., Jan 27: John Luther Adams’ “Inuksuit – A Cross-Border Presentation,” with Steven Schick and an ensemble of approximately 60 Mexican and American musicians performing on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. International Friendship Park, 1500 Monument Road, San Diego. Free. (619) 235-0804 or sandiegosymphony.org

8 p.m., Jan 27: “The Roots of Rhythm,” with percussionists Clayton Cameron, John Santos, Slap Jazz Danny, Monette Marino, Carlos Chavez, Taku Hirano and Matt DiBiase, plus pianist Irving Flores, pianist/saxophonist Kamau Kenyatta and bassist Mackenzie Leighton. Copley Symphony Hall at Jacobs Music Center, 750 B St., downtown. $30-$60. (619) 235-0804 or sandiegosymphony.org

10 p.m., Jan 27: Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps (“The Rite of Spring”), with conductor Steven Schick and members of the San Diego Symphony. The Music Box, 1337 India St., downtown. $27 (must be 18 or older to attend). (619) 795-1337 or musicboxsd.frontgate.com

7:30 p.m.Jan. 31: “Bare Hands” solo sound performance by French composer, percussionist and theater director Roland Auzet. Mandeville Auditorium, UC San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla. $15-$25. (858) 534-8497 or artpower.ucsd.edu

7 p.m., Feb. 1: UC San Diego Helen Edison Lecture Series presents Mexican-American author, poet and essayist Luis Urrea. Neil Morgan Auditorium, San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Blvd., downtown. Free. (858) 822-2026 or helendison.ucsd.edu

7:30 p.m., Feb 2: Michael Pisaro’s “asleep, forest, melody, path,” with percussionist Gregory Stuart and violinist Erik Carlson. Conrad Prebys Concert Hall, UC San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla. $15.50 (students admitted free). (858) 534-3448 or musicweb.ucsd.edu

7:30 p.m., Feb 3: Reed Family Concert: Igor Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire Du Soldat,” with conductor Steven Schick, Lux Boreal Dances, flutist Wilfrido Terrazas and text by Luis Urrea. Mandeville Auditorium, UC San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla,. $15 (general public); students (free). (858) 534-3448 or musicweb.ucsd.edu

7:30 p.m., Feb 10 and 2 p.m., Feb. 11: “Cross Winds,” featuring Roland Auzet’s “M.Alone: A theatre and percussion concerto for Fiona Digney,” with conductor Steven Schick, percussionist Fiona Digney, soprano Tasha Koontz and the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus. Mandeville Auditorium, UC San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla. $35 (adults), $30 (seniors), $15 (students). (858) 459-3728 or lajollasymphony.com

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