Having been away for holidays or otherwise busy about many things, it was a most delightful experience to be back at the Cultural Centre for my Saturday concert. The evening's fare was a bit unusual. It consisted of only two pieces, the first by Richard Strauss and the second by a very innovative contemporary American composer John Adams.
The first piece was a symphonic poem called Don Quixote, based on Miguel de Cervantes famous episodic novel parodying the foolishness of an elderly gentleman whose head was seized by the romanticism associated with "courageous exploits" of the knights of chivalry which he has read in books at a time when such knights had become an anachronism in Renaissance Europe. and who actually took to the road "as if" he really were a knight in shining armour out to rescue damsels in distress. His "lady" was merely the daughter of a small innkeeper. The music had 10 variations on the main theme and a finale, with the cello representing Don Quixote and the bass clarinet representing his accompanying squire Sancho Panza. The various variations were supposed to depict various key scenes in the novel like Don Quixote charging at the windmill which he took to be a monster, plunging into an army in the midst of a battle (a flock of sheep), Don Quixote recounting his dreams, rushing to the rescue of a maiden (a statue in a religious procession), Don Quixote dreaming of his lady Dulcinea, Don Quixote meeting three peasant women on donkey which Sancho Panza persuaded Don Quixote was his Dulcinea with her two companions, Don Quixote sitting on a bench with wind from bellows rushing at him but imagining that he is charging about on horse back at great speed, Don Quixote riding a boat without any means of moving it and getting crushed under a giant mill-wheel, Don Quixote seeing two priests but mistaking them for magicians, Don Quixote being made to give up his dreams of more adventure by a neighbor who played along with him in a mock duel in which he defeated the poor old fool and the sorrows of a Don Quixote robbed of his dreams. The music was rich and varied and all parts of the orchestra fully utilized but I don't know why, the orchestra somehow seemed to be in less than its best in this piece.
The next piece was much better. It was Harmonielehre or "the book of harmony" and according to the programme notes, it was a "huge study of tone harmony, part textbook, part philosophical rumination that Arnold Schoenberg published in 1911" This piece is also a parody but of a different sort: it parodies certain types of music. It was a minimalist work in three movements, a kind of pastische of late romantic music in which the composer threw in imitative bits of the music of Mahler, Sibelius, Debussy and Schoenberg. The result is a strange hodge podge of different styles and a sonic feast much to the delight of my hi fi concert buddies. There are mixed into it some folkloric elements which fascinated Adams as he was studying the symbolism in Jung's mythology about the collective unconscious.at the the time he wrote the piece. The final part is a myth associated with the Medieval mystic Meister Echkart. This piece was first played by Edo de Waart and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra many many years ago. So it probably meant a lot to our departing conductor. The sonic texture is undoubtedly very rich and most exciting to hear. De Waart got such long applauses that he must have come out more than 7 times! The audience obviously loved his music. So did I.