A Fresh Look at the Classics

Classic Arts Features   A Fresh Look at the Classics
Peter W. Goodman talks to Peter Schickele, who hosts three New York Philharmonic concert-lectures this season, starting with Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony on November 30.

"People who don't know classical musicians personally have the idea that they are very stuffy people," says Peter Schickele, who is decidedly not stuffy himself. "But anyone who does know musicians, orchestral and chamber, knows they are a font of humor."

Mr. Schickele, best known as the discoverer and chief exponent of the mysterious, if not mythical, career of the unlamented P. D.Q. Bach, is also a highly regarded composer on his own, and familiar to public-radio audiences for the program Schickele Mix. He will bring all his talents to bear, starting on Wednesday, November 30, as host of the first of a series of three Inside the Music concert-lectures, a new Philharmonic initiative that's designed to take orchestral music off its pedestal.

In discussing Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 (led by conductor Iván Fischer), Mr. Schickele hopes to help "demystify classical music. I want to talk about the fact that, in the past, if people loved the movement [of a symphony], they used to clap after the movement," he says. "It was not the rule that they had to wait until the end. Sometimes they clapped during the movement. Sometimes the orchestra repeated the movement."

Mr. Schickele knows that he personally can't change the traditions, but, he says, "I will be talking about the fact that these things were not brought down off the mountain by Moses; they are part of a lively tradition."

It's a message that is meant not just for the young: "Adults, too, get very excited when they are put close to the music," he said, "when they are put in a position to not only have things picked apart and pointed to, but also in some cases to ask questions."

Inside the Music is one of two hosted concert events at the Philharmonic this season. The other three-concert series, Hear & Now, which focuses on new works, will be hosted by composer Steven Stucky. His conversations with three of today's most exciting composers will complement performances of their recently composed works.

Mr. Schickele, however, may go where no other host would dare, even singing along with the orchestra. "It's a little nervy of me," he admits.

Peter W. Goodman, formerly a music critic for Newsday, is author of Morton Gould: American Salute (Amadeus).

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