"Gimme a B," shouted the cheerleader, and the near-capacity audience in the Kennedy Center answered him with a resounding "B!" worthy of RFK Stadium, where the acoustics are nowhere near so good. The dialogue continued: "Gimme an E!" "E!" It took a while (the name being spelled was one letter longer than "Redskins"), but gradually it became clear that the Hogettes (!) were urging the audience to spell out "Beethoven" and the National Symphony was exploring "New Horizons in Music Appreciation." It worked, but they should use composers with snappier names: Brahms and Haydn for sure -- maybe even Bax or Egk.
The cheerleading, the musicological sportscasting of Frank Herzog and Professor Peter Schickele, the brief, stellar appearance of Glenn Brenner as bat boy and the tense competition of conductor Andrew Litton versus the National Symphony added a mind-bending dimension to Beethoven's tired, old Fifth Symphony -- at least the first movement, which was all they could get through with everything else that was going on. "Litton is a right-handed conductor," the audience was told, "he has conducted 24 concerts this season and won every one of them." Unfortunately, the rest of the evening was devoted to the derivative music of Schickele and the abominations of his dubious "discovery," P.D.Q. Bach. The evening opened with an incoherent suite from the opera "The Civilian Barber," which has been discovered only in fragments. "We don't even know the plot," Schickele apologized. "Of course, with some complete operas, you don't know the plot either." There was not a single original idea in Schickele's own Chaconne a son gou t, except perhaps the idea of plagiarizing every tune the composer could remember. It may be hard to resist music in which the big tune of Brahms' First Symphony bumps into "Old Folks at Home" and almost everything Tchaikovsky wrote, but one should try.
In the P.D.Q. Bach Variations on an Unusually Simple-Minded Theme for Piano and Orchestra, Schickele played so fast that he was pulled over by a traffic policeman who asked, "Is this your piano?" A good question; Schickele played it as though (like so much of his music) it was stolen.