PDQ Bach's Concerto for Simply Grand Piano and Orchestra
* Review: Palm Beach ArtsPaper: "Pianist Biegel clowns,
shines in P.D.Q. Bach at SoFla Symphony"
"The Simply Grand Concerto is a goofy mix of straight-ahead Classical-era writing in
the manner of early Beethoven and whimsical bits of Schickele shtick, such as a solo
piccolo playing on an exposed upbeat; a short rock cadence to end the main theme
(which makes clever use of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony); unexpected woodblocks and
gongs; passages that wander well into the late 20th century; bits of jazz and boogie
in the slow movement; a moment of the Light Cavalry Overture in the finale. Schickele
is able to always create a seemingly normal older universe in which the listener
immediately senses that something is strangely awry. He knows, in other words,
how to be a musical dramatist, so ably that the audience is listening with
hyper-attention in anticipation of the next joke. And there were the usual bits
of slapstick: Biegel couldn't figure out how to open the keyboard at the
beginning; a dancer in top hat and cane wandered out for a minute; Biegel
sat there waiting in the silence when he should have been playing the
cadenza, and gags that echoed keyboard humorists such as Victor Borge.
The modest audience Sunday afternoon seemed to have a good deal of fun
with the piece, laughing out loud in most places. It's also rather tricky
in spots for the pianist, but Biegel played everything with style and
ease, and he seemed to be having a wonderful time. He came out for an
encore, a tender, subtle reading of the well-known Waltz in C-sharp
minor (Op. 64, No. 2) of Chopin."
Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra patrons may hear more challenging, thought-provoking works this season,
but they won't have as much fun as they will at today's concert as Saturday night's show put the funny
in the symphony.
Pardon the pun, but after an evening of Peter Schickele humor, it's hard not to keep laughing.
Though he never stepped on stage, the composer was the star of the show as the FMSO gave his brand new piece,
"Concerto for Simply Grand Piano and Orchestra!" a vivid performance.
Technically, the piece was by P.D.Q. Bach, the long lost son of Johann Sebastian Bach, or rather, the
brainchild of Schickele, who graduated from Fargo Central High School. His fictional foil – who was
conceived on a visit to town in the 1950s – allows the composer to poke fun at classical music convention
and the results tickled the funnybones of those in Festival Concert Hall.
Pianist Jeffrey Biegel was the right fit in the main role, playing for laughs while hitting all of the
right notes on the keyboard. It was the part he was meant to play, as he commissioned the work, with
various symphonies co-sponsoring the writing. Biegel is as deft on the keys as he is with slapstick,
mugging for the crowd, pretending to be sleeping, or impatiently waiting to play. When he did play,
it was, well, "Simply Grand."
While anyone can make jokes about how stuffy classical music can be, what makes Schickele such a gem is
his seamless blending of the serious and the spoof. He doesn't sacrifice sophistication for satire.
Schickele laughs at what he loves. He throws shade at Mozart and Haydn and breaks an homage to Mozart
into a boogie-woogie. [...]
Schickele, 81, sat in the front row for the show and took a bow with the well-deserved standing ovation at
show's end. It was wonderful to see him embraced for a lifetime of helping people laugh at and love good music.