Peter Schickele Meets P.D.Q. Bach
with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra
Bob Carr Performing Arts Center, Orlando, FL May 25th, 2002
Carl F. Gauze
Not many people take themselves more seriously than the classical music set. That's one of the things that makes Mr. Schickele's performance so amazing -- he actually gets to make fun of the Bach clan, and people seem to accept it. For those of you with a limited classical background, P.D.Q. was the twenty-first of Johann Sebastian Bach's 20 children. His work rested in well-deserved obscurity until he was discovered in the mid-1950s by Professor Schickele in a musty Bavarian castle. The entire satire revolves around a little appreciated fact about baroque music -- most of it was written for a single performance, then discarded. What music of Bach and Mozart exists today exists largely by accident. Over the years, numerous tunes now part of the classical repertory were literally found in barns and shops and stuffed into obscure bookshelves in monasteries. Mr. Schickele merely carried this idea to its logical conclusion, and used it an artifice for his own very distorted takes on composition. After all, how else could you perform a piece like "Pervertimento"? This is silliness grounded very firmly in a complete and through technical understanding of composition.
"Yes, yes, but how was the show?" a whining reader might query. Well, I found it a bit uneven, and there was a rather unfortunate emphasis on the musical form known as "The Round." Think "Row, Row, Row Your boat" with an oboist lurking in the shrubs. We open with four or five of them in a good a warm up, but they reappear in a longer form in the second half of the program as "The Art of the Ground Round." The second half focused more on P.D.Q. and less on arrangements by Schickele, which is why most of us showed up. Another rather long set of arrangements of Beatles songs filled up a largish bit of the first half. While Schickele's arrangements are quite interesting, we're still about 50 years away from complete acceptance of McCartney and Lennon's oeuvre (that's Latin for "boxed set") in the symphony hall. There was a deft recovery from this overly serious segment with the very funny "Songs From Shakespeare." Schickele takes some of the Bard's greatest sound bites and arranges them to Fats Waller vocals or a boogie-woogie march. This is the sort of stuff the Schickele crew shows up for, and more would have been appreciated.
Given that there was a full symphony available for his use, Schickele did not give it much use. He did have two excellent singers supporting him, the diminutive Michële Eaton and her huge soprano voice, and the imposing David Düsing, and man with a pony tale, and umlaut, AND fine voice. They did excellent work supporting Schickele arrangements, and when they joined the full orchestra for P.D.Q.'s "Oedipus Tex," the results were astounding. Here was the Schickele we had come to see -- portraying P.D.Q.'s distorted light opera classic of a cowboy coming to grips with a family he never knew. The refrain of "Save it for your horse" stuck in our heads as the show wrapped up, leaving us with that most treasured of all musical measures of success -- a tune you hum on your way home. But it took two curtain calls to get the audience on its feet, and even at that the ovation was not as impressive as the retiring symphony board president received. It was a P.D.Q. evening, but I'm not sure how many people will be Bach.