Schickele signs on for a serious task

Concert: The composer best known for classical humor will show his less-whimsical musical side when he plays with the Lark String Quartet.

February 04, 1999|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Even classical music aficionados hear Peter Schickele's name and automatically think of a hilariously clever comedian responsible for unleashing the music of the infamous P.D.Q. Bach on an unsuspecting world.

But while the world's funniest musicologist has won fame via laughter in P.D.Q.'s immortal works such as "Iphigenia in Brooklyn," the "Pervertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons," and the semi-lovely "Shleptet in E-flat," most of his music is no laughing matter.

Indeed, Schickele is a serious composer as a Candlelight Concert audience will find out Saturday evening at 8 when the composer takes the Smith Theatre stage to perform with the Lark String Quartet.

The program will include the Opus 49 String Quartet of Dmitri Shostakovich, Alexander Borodin's endlessly melodic Quartet No. 2, and Schickele's Piano Quintet with him at the keyboard.

Born in 1935 in Ames, Iowa, and raised in Washington, D.C., and Fargo (no, not Hoople), N.D., Schickele studied composition with Roy Harris and Darius Milhaud -- major composers themselves -- and at New York City's Juilliard School.

He has composed music for feature films, among them the prize-winning "Silent Running," as well as for documentaries, television commercials and numerous "Sesame Street" segments. His "non-P.D.Q." fare may be heard on the RCA, CRD, Koch International and Virgin Classics recording labels.

By presenting the Lark String Quartet in concert, the Candlelight series continues to present some of the finest young up-and-coming chamber music organizations in the world.

One of the few string quartets made up exclusively of women, the Lark has distinguished itself by breaking down boundaries between old and new, familiar and unusual. While the musicians excel in traditional repertoire quartets by composers such as Schumann and Borodin, they have reached out to commission new music from the marvelously talented contemporary American composer Aaron Jay Kernis, and to resurrect the music of Amy Beach, the turn-of-the-century Bostonian who became the first prominent female composer in American history.

The Lark, which attracts such distinguished collaborators as cellist David Soyer of the Guarneri String Quartet and pianist Gary Graffman, has recently become a force on the international circuit with audiences in Germany, Austria and Scandinavia clamoring for return performances.

"In trying to categorize string players, it's vital to remember that they fall sharply into two kinds: leaders and others," wrote the acerbic British clarinetist Jack Brymer in his autobiography.

What we have in this talented quartet, it would appear, are Larks who not only sing, but lead as well.

The public is invited to a free pre-concert lecture at Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College at 6: 30 p.m. Saturday. Ticket information: 410-715-0034 or 301-596-6203.

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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