“Don Quixote takes himself seriously, and Strauss understands this,” Brey notes. “When he’s off tilting at windmills, he gets heroic battle music. When he’s jonesing after his girlfriend, you get the most meltingly beautiful love theme. Strauss leaves it to the audience to understand the tragedy implicit in the fact that this gentleman has lost his mind.”
A retired gentleman obsessed with books of chivalry, Don Quixote convinces himself that he is a valiant knight, leaving his squire, Sancho Panza, to clean up the mess. For the 15th time together, Principal Cello Carter Brey becomes the bemused knight and Principal Viola Cynthia Phelps plays his beleaguered squire when the New York Philharmonic performs Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, November 9–14, led by Leonard Slatkin.
“I’ve learned a lot in my years of playing with Cindy,” Brey says. “Carter is one of the great, great Don Quixotes,” says Phelps.
Phelps perhaps came closest to embodying her besieged character back when she was principal viola of the Minnesota Orchestra. “I broke a string right before my first big solo entrance, and I had to grab my stand partner’s instrument. He in turn grabbed the No. 3’s viola, and she restrung mine for me.”
The performance is part of Bernstein’s Philharmonic: A Centennial Festival. Bernstein made his Philharmonic debut at age 25, then the Orchestra’s Assistant Conductor, leading Don Quixote — famously filling in with a few hours’ notice and without rehearsal for an ailing Bruno Walter. The New York Times ran a front-page story the next day, calling his performance “a good American success story.”
Break a string (or better yet, don’t!), Carter and Cindy!