Percussionist Fiona Digney closes out ‘It’s About Time’ festival
It’s no surprise that acclaimed percussionist Fiona Digney has the spirit of a performance artist, given that her many credits range from an opera in the Netherlands and many orchestral performances to the London premiere of a musical inspired by “The Simpsons.”
“I’ve always been drawn to the highly gestural aspects of percussion,” said Digney, a doctoral candidate at the University of California San Diego. “We play such a wide range of instruments that we can’t use just one technique. We are moving around a lot, picking instruments up and putting them down. It’s very physical.”
Digney is understandably excited about performing as the solo percussionist in “Cross Winds,” a pair of La Jolla Symphony & Chorus concerts on Saturday and Sunday. It concludes the “It’s About Time” festival, sponsored by the San Diego Symphony, in conjunction with many partners, including the La Jollay Symphony & Chorus.
“I’m thankful to (symphony CEO) Martha Gilmer, (festival director) Steve Schick and all the partners for putting this together,” said Digney, who participated in several “It’s About Time” events, including a concert at the U.S.-Mexico border, performances with the symphony’s percussionists, and playing live music for the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
“The title is so accurate because it’s about time we celebrate how percussion brings people together from all cultures and backgrounds.”
Digney, 32, started playing violin when she was 5. She decided on drums at 8 and, within a few years, began studying percussion. She left her hometown of Perth, Australia, at the age of 19. Since then, she has lived in several countries, including China and the Netherlands. She attended graduate school in Fairbanks, Alaska, and has performed all over the world. While studying at UC San Diego, she commutes from her home in Golden Hill by motorbike.
Her past international performances include the 2013 premiere of the new-music opera “Becoming the System” in the Netherlands and the 2014 European opening of “Mr. Burns,” a post-electric/post-apocalyptic play based on an episode of “The Simpsons.”
“I feel like a world citizen,” she said. “I get on a plane to Australia and feel like I’m coming home, and I get on a plane to San Diego and feel like I’m coming home.”
This summer, Digney will serve for the second time as associate producer for the prestigious Ojai Music Festival and as a faculty member of the Banff Summer Music programs.
Many of her professional experiences are interwoven with those of Schick, who is a UC San Diego professor and the music director of the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus. He will conduct this weekend’s concerts (which include Mahler’s Symphony No. 4) and directs UC San Diego’s red fish blue fish ensemble, of which Digney is a member.
“I first met Steve when I was 18,” she said. “Steve is a phenomenal percussionist, curator, mentor and human being. He enhances every experience – particularly in rehearsal. You think it’s as good as it can be, and he’ll say a few words that will transform the performance completely.”
A self-described New Music specialist, Digney commissioned the solo piece that will debut this weekend. Called “M.Alone: A theatre and percussion concerto for Fiona Digney,” it was created by noted French composer/circus artist Roland Auzet.
Last year, Auzet came to San Diego to start composing the concerto through movement and theater workshops with Digney. He performed a riveting concert at Mandeville Auditorium on Jan. 31, dynamically using a car, instead of an instrument. Auzet has remained here to continue working on “M.Alone” with her.
“We started by my ‘percussing’ on three wooden chairs, exploring movement and character on the chairs,” Digney explained. “Now there will be three stations, one with a marimba, one a multi-percussion setup, and the three chairs.
“Aside from being an excellent percussionist, Roland being both a circus artist and theater director – and the way he sees the world with such curiosity – is fantastic.”
La Jolla Symphony & Chorus / It’s About Time: Cross Winds
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday (25-minute pre-concert lectures begin an hour before each performance)
Where: Mandeville Auditorium, 9500 Gilman Drive, UC San Diego, La Jolla
Tickets: $15 to $35
Phone: (858) 534-4637
Wood is a freelance writer.
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