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​A long-awaited homecoming for PDQ Bach

by John Showalter | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Music | March 8th, 2017

Those who have been following the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra during the 2016-2017 season realize that their concerts have been evoking a more personal, intimate feeling. Whether it was the “Intimate Tango” of this January, the “Orchestra and Guitar” of November 2016, or “The Great Romantics” of September 2016, the Masterworks series has focused on a more earthy, passionate relationship with the audience than the equally astounding blockbuster-themed previous season.

This concert promises to be the most personal yet this season. At the very least, it will certainly have a youth-oriented appeal. The first half of the concert will feature the talents of the young musicians in the F-M Area Senior High Youth Symphony, who will be playing alongside the standard symphony orchestra. After that, the second half of the concert will mark the long-awaited homecoming of one of Fargo’s own musically-gifted native sons, Peter Schickele, also known as PDQ Bach.

This evening will mark a great experience for the aspiring musicians in our community. FM Symphony Orchestra director Linda Boyd said, “Typically the strongest players sit in front. That way they are closer to the audience and more likely to be heard.” However, during the night of this concert the young musicians will be the ones seated in front, with the more experienced members in back. “It gives the students the best possible experience,” said Boyd.

The youth symphony will be performing Norwegian Dance No. 1 by 19th century Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Grieg is perhaps best known for the incidental music he wrote to be played during the performance of famed Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s play “Peer Gynt.” In particular, “Morning Mood” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King” have seen use in any number of golden age animations. The piece promises to be a nice little jaunt for both the audience and the orchestra.

The crown jewel of the evening, however, is the return of Peter Schickele to his old stomping grounds. While not born in Fargo, his parents moved here when he was young. Growing up in the 1950s, his love of music led him not only to play bassoon in the FM Symphony as a student, but to play chamber music privately for individuals around town. From there he went to study music at Juilliard and found he had a great skill for creating parodies of classical music, which jump-started his career.

Taking on the performance name of “PDQ Bach,” Schickele went on to make his name as a parodist of classical music, almost a “Weird Al” of classical. “He was the closest thing we had to a counterculture figure in classical music,” said Boyd, who fondly remembered listening to his work as a student herself.

Schickele’s work as PDQ Bach has led to him winning the Grammy for best comic album four years in a row. Not only that, but he would host a show on National Public Radio called “Schickele Mix,” where he introduced thousands of listeners to his eclectic taste in music.

Being in his early 80s now, it almost seemed as if health problems would keep Schickele from attending this concert, but fortunately he has made a recovery and will not only be attending, but will also be performing and speaking at “Urban Overture” at the Radisson Downtown on Wednesday, March 15th, which is free to the public and features music and hors d’oeuvres. Those who are interested may also wish to attend a talk that Schickele will be giving on Friday, March 17 at the NDSU Beckwith Recital Hall, titled “My Fargo Memoir.” Tickets are available on the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony website.

Schickele’s contribution to this concert will be twofold. Following the side-by-side performance with the youth symphony, the orchestra will play “The Carnival of the Animals” by French composer Camille Saint-Saens. Already a lighthearted piece of music on its own, it has inspired a number of different people to pen narrations to go along with the different segments, from Ogden Nash to our very own Peter Schickele. The plan had originally been to narrate himself, but due to the aforementioned health issues, Pam Strait of Theatre B stepped up to perform Schickele’s narration.

To complete the evening, guest pianist Jeffrey Biegel and the orchestra will perform a new piece by PDQ Bach himself titled, “Concerto for Simply Grand Piano and Orchestra!” Biegel commissioned the project two years ago, having spearheaded it with several large donors and a consortium of sixteen orchestras (including the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra). Schickele gladly accepted the commission to compose a new piano concerto for Biegel, as well as giving Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra the opportunity for its performance as one of its primary backers. 

The piece made its debut in Colorado, but circumstances are such that this will be the first time that the composer himself has been able to attend a live performance of his new piece. Hearing his newest piece for the first time in his very own hometown is bound to be the highlight of the evening for Mr. Schickele, and who knows, perhaps the highlight of his year!

This upcoming concert is proof that classical music can be fun and approachable. And with one of Fargo’s talented native sons returning to his home soil and gracing us with his newest work, the concert and events leading up to it are bound to be memorable.

IF YOU GO:

Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Masterworks IV concerts with guest artist Jeffrey Biegel

Saturday, March 18 at 7:30 pm

Sunday, March 19 at 2:00 pm

NDSU Festival Concert Hall

Tickets: $30-$38 adult, $15-$18 Student

www.fmsymphony.org or at the door

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